By BassFan Staff
The prevailing notion heading into the final day of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic was that anybody in the top 7 of the standings after day 2 had a chance to win on lunker-rich Lake Conroe. Nobody seriously considered the guy in 15th place.
Jordan Lee, a 25-year-old Alabamian who's quickly risen to the top echelon of professional fishing by logging one money finish after another and an impressive string of single-digit placements, staged the biggest comeback in the event's 47-year history on Sunday by leap-frogging 14 competitors to win the sport's premier event. He also became the third-youngest angler to hoist the Classic trophy.
He did it by catching a 27-04 stringer that was the heaviest of the tournament by a wide margin. The Auburn University grad's 56-10 total eclipsed runner-up and fellow Auburn alum Steve Kennedy by 1-09.
Lee said the possibility of winning was not a consideration when he launched his boat on Sunday morning.
"There was not a thought in my mind all day that I had a chance, being that far behind against this group of anglers," he said. "It was just my day to catch a big bag and a lot of people struggled.
"It was one of those times when it was meant to be. It was my day."
Kennedy boxed 21-15 to finish with 55-01. Brent Ehrler, who'd led after each of the first 2 days, managed just 11-10 on the final day for a 54-14 aggregate.
James Elam ended up 4th with 50-04 by virtue of a four-fish, 12-07 final-day haul. Ott DeFoe completed the top 5 with an 18-10 stringer that gave him a 48-12 total and a third career top-5 Classic result.
Here are the numbers for the remainder of the top 12:
6. Mike Iaconelli: 48-07
7. Bradley Roy: 47-04
8. Bobby Lane: 47-04
9. Jared Lintner: 46-09
10. Kevin VanDam: 46-02
11. Edwin Evers: 45-11
12. Jacob Powroznik: 43-12
Lee's remarkable rally eclipsed the one staged by Randy Howell in 2014 at Lake Guntersville, where Howell started the final day in 11th place and went on to capture his first Classic title. The 13 1/2-pound deficit that Lee overcame also surpassed the 9-pound, 10-ounce margin that Rick Clunn erased in rallying to win the 1990 Classic at the James River.
The only anglers younger than Lee to win the Classic were Stanley Mitchell, who was 21 in 1981, and the late Bryan Kerchal, who was 23 in 1994.
Lee made his Classic debut in 2014 at his home lake (Guntersville) as the collegiate champion and finished 6th. He's racked up a slew of strong finishes in just 2-plus years as a tour pro and has made a quick ascension to No. 8 in the BassFan World Rankings, but this was his first triumph at the game's top level.
He spent the final day fishing in just one spot – and not entirely by choice. His engine broke down and he ended up returning to the launch an hour early in the boat of a spectator.
He prevailed despite weighing short bags on two of the three days (he caught just three keepers on day 1 and four on day 2). His final-day sack, which was reminiscent of Edwin Evers' day-3 stringer last year at Grand Lake, was just a couple of pounds short of his first two days' weights combined.
He did most of his day-3 work with a jig in 5 to 6 feet of water.
"That was the slowest I've ever fished and I've never fished one spot all day in my life," he said. "What can you say?
"Just looking at the names on the trophy of the people who've won this, it's just crazy to do it at this age. I'm just really blessed. All the younger people out there, this is for them – the up-and-coming anglers who want to fish on the Elites. It shows that with hard work and persistence, you can win the Classic."
It was a less-than-stellar day for Ehrler, but an even tougher one for some other contenders. Dave Lefebre, who began the day in 2nd place, weighed just a single 2-pounder and plummeted to 14th. Defending champion Evers, looking to join Clunn and Kevin VanDam as the event's only back-to-back winners, boxed two fish and dropped from 3rd to 11th.
Mike Iaconelli saw his day get off to a promising start when he caught a 9-pounder early, but added just a single 2-pounder and finished the day right where he'd started – in 6th place.
Most of the Classic field will have this week off prior to returning to Elite Series competition April 6-9 at Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Lee Kept His Focus
> Day 3: 5, 27-04 (12, 56-10)
Lee could’ve easily come unglued mentally early Sunday. On the way to where he planned to start the day, his outboard began to malfunction and as he approached the spot, he was essentially reduced to idle speed.
Ultimately, though, the mechanical issue proved to be a blessing as it forced him to commit to the area that eventually produced the winning stringer.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I’ve never had that experience in a tournament. I got to the place I wanted to be. It got me there. That’s all I wanted was to get there and fish all day.”
When he did arrive, a couple local fishermen were there as well.
“There was a duck boat up there and a guy catfishing,” he said. “I get there and I’m like, ‘This is a great way to start.’ I asked nicely if I could fish there and the guy was nice about it. He fired up his motor and he (left). I was like, ‘Maybe it’ll stir them up.’”
He caught a short fish pretty quickly, but then went 90 minutes before his first keeper jumped on his homemade football jig that he was dragging across a hard spot on a point in 6 feet of water. He totaled eight keepers for the day.
“The bites were spread throughout the day,” he said. “The bite actually got better at the end of the day before I had to leave. I had to leave a little early. I think more were pulling up.”
Lee was in 37th place after day 1 and moved up to 15th on Saturday with a four-fish, 21-00 effort. At one point Sunday, while doubting his chances to win, he thought about the decisions he’d made earlier in the event.
“I was looking back on the last two days and I’m like, if I’d have maybe come to this spot an hour earlier yesterday and just milked it, it would’ve looked like that again,” he said. “It was one of those dream days, though. You can’t ask for anything more. I never thought there was any chance all day for me. Even with 27, I knew there wasn’t a chance. You never know.”
Lee was essentially stuck on his spot all day due to an equipment failure.
Without the ability to run around, it made him relax and work the area over.
“I wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “I knew it’d cost me (some time) at the end of the day, but I didn’t need to run around. There was no point to running around. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen here. I felt like I probably did that too much in this tournament because you don’t get bit for an hour and a half. I usually move, but I told my camera guy it was a blessing in disguise not being able to go anywhere. That was the only spot that gave me a chance.”
When he was ready to leave, he rode with Joe McElroy, a resident of Cullman, Ala., Lee’s hometown. McElroy was a marshal this week and he had brought his boat to Texas. He was part of Lee’s gallery and when it became apparent Lee’s outboard wasn’t going to cooperate, McElroy’s boat had to pass an on-the-water safety inspection before Lee was allowed to transport his fish back to the ramp.
“I called (B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon) all day to make sure because I knew this would be terrible if I messed something up,” Lee said.
Lee left his spot at 2:20 and arrived back at the ramp roughly 30 minutes prior to check-in.
Under Elite Series Rule C15, “… In breakdown situations and with the Marshal’s permission, anglers may transfer their fish to another competitor’s boat, or a tournament official designated rescue boat, and ride to check-in, and they may leave their Marshals with the disabled boat.”
This marks the second major B.A.S.S. event this year in which the winner finished the day or rode back to check-in in a different boat from the one they started the day in. At the Cherokee Lake Elite Series, Jacob Wheeler incurred a breakdown and spent part of the day fishing out of Dustin Connell's boat.
2nd: Kennedy Came Close
> Day 3: 5, 21-15 (15, 55-01)
Kennedy would have won the Classic if not for Lee's heroics. On the flip side, he knows he was doomed by his own lack of execution – he farmed numerous quality bites on day 1 and two more on day 3 that would've put him over the top.
He also came to the scale with only four fish on the middle day, although he boated every bite he got.
"I'm extremely disappointed about my first day," he said. "I'd been saying ever after day 2, I had the bites to be leading this thing and then some. Jordan just beat me, though – he caught a huge bag of fish.
"What I was doing, you're going to lose fish. I was fishing for reaction strikes in nasty places, and you're not going to catch them all. I don't know if I would've changed anything because it was a feat just to get them to bite, and I really had fun today."
He threw three different-colored jigs throughout the event, swimming them most of the time and occasionally pitching them. He caught eight or nine keepers on the final day, including a 5 1/2-pounder, but lost a 5 and a 4.
"I would've won the tournament if I'd have caught those. I weighed one that was 2 3/4 or maybe 3 at the most."
Steve Kennedy focused on fishing brush all week.
3rd: Ehrler Bummed
> Day 3: 5, 11-10 (15, 54-14)
Ehrler stuck to his plan of flipping shallow brush on the northern end, but never was able to trigger a big bite like he had on the first two days. He wound up collecting his fourth top-5 finish in a Forrest Wood Cup or Classic.
“Honestly, it sucks,” said Ehrler, who had a 2-pound, 3-ounce lead entering the day. “I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been up there and not won. I’ve come from behind and won as well. It stings and it stings even more knowing how close it was.
“It’s a crazy event. It’s a marathon and I thought I had the opportunity to win. I was around the right fish, but struggled today. I only needed 13 to 14 pounds to win. Jordan did a great job and deserved to win.”
He boxed a limit this morning flipping a weightless Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits D Shad, but when the wind picked up, he opted for a Texas-rigged creature bait under a 1/4-oz. weight.
“The D Shad would get pushed with the wind and I was trying to fish smaller, key targets so I needed it to fall right there,” he said.
Ultimately, he thinks the cumulative effect of several days of fishing pressure from a number of anglers caught up to the fish.
“The whole day I knew what I had and didn’t have enough,” he said. “I didn’t know if would be that close. All I needed was one bite. I could’ve caught an 8. As it sits, a 4-pounder would’ve won the tournament.”
4th: Elam was 1 Short
> Day 3: 4, 12-07 (13, 50-04)
Elam managed just five keeper bites on the final day – he lost the first one, which he estimated at 3 pounds. It wouldn't have helped him in the standings as he finished 4-10 behind Ehrler.
His stringer was topped by a 5 1/2-pounder.
"My bites were very scattered through the course of the day," he said. "Every day was slow for me – it was a grind every single day."
Overall, he was satisfied with his showing.
"I totally made something out of nothing, I feel like. I think I messed up in practice by not spending enough time in the area I ended up fishing (the north end of the lake with many of the other contenders), but as far as the tournament, the execution was all good."
5th: Strong Finish for DeFoe
> Day 3: 5, 18-10 (15, 48-12)
DeFoe concluded the event with his best bag of the week to register yet another strong Classic showing. It was anchored by a 9-09 bruiser that ate a topwater plug.
"I think more fish definitely pulled up to spawn," he said. "It seemed like there were a lot of new ones."
"I caught that big one off a bed (although he wasn't sight-fishing) at 10:45. I had one good-size one on before that, but it came off."
When asked if he's fishing better than he ever has during his career, the Angler of the Year leader responded, "I don't want to say no, but at the same time dumb stuff happens that shouldn't. Like on that good one I lost this morning, I could feel my drag start slipping – it probably got loose in the rod box and I didn't check it.
"I do feel like I'm fishing hard all the time, though, and with the confidence that I'm never out of it."
6th: Deep Bite Burned Ike
> Day 3: 2, 10-15 (12, 48-07)
Iaconelli split time on day 3 between his deep 'A' plan, and his shallow 'B' plan. He boated his only two keepers early from the deep spot, and said those two bites coaxed him into lingering out there longer than he should have.
"Coming into the tournament, I felt like the bigger bites were going to come from 8 to 12 feet of water, but I think the more stable bite was up shallow," he noted. "I should've headed (shallow) sooner today, but I thought I could get one more big bite out deep. It just never happened."
He used a Carolina-rigged lizard and a shaky-head in his offshore area, which he described as a "hard spot" situated in 12 feet of water. The shallow location he fished was the same one Kennedy, Ehrler and several others milked throughout the tournament.
About the shallow area, he said: "It was a really simple setup. It's just a little flat with some very minor depth changes. At most, the depth varied by only 6 or 12 inches. There were little ditches and ponds scattered all over the flat, and the fish were relating to those depth changes and migrating in and out of the flat."
7th: Lane Boated a Bunch
> Day 4: 5, 19-07 (14, 47-04)
Lane was another competitor who caught his best stringer on the last day. He worked his way through about 18 keepers to compile it.
"I wish I'd made some smarter decisions (on day 2) and expanded on my area because there was plenty of fish there to be caught," he said. "I caught some flipping and I caught some 3 1/2- to 4-pound fry-guarders on a Berkley Bottom Hopper (straight-tailed worm).
"I figured out how to catch the fry-guarders. I'd see one and throw to it and it'd swim off, then I'd just leave the worm sitting there until it swam back. Then I'd snap the worm up like a bream jumping off the bottom, almost to the surface, and they'd waylay it."
Brent Ehrler fell short of winning the Classic by less than two pounds.
9th: Lintner Got Going Early
> Day 3: 5, 19-10 (15, 46-09)
Jared Lintner had his best day of the tournament Sunday and he improved 10 places to secure his best career Classic finish. He was one of just three finishers in the top 10 to record limits all three days.
If he had to change anything about how he fished the tournament, he’d have focused more on fish keying on the shad spawn than he did.
“I did it today and caught a 4-pounder,” he said. “It’s not easy, but if you can get a good quality fish early, it’s not much of a grind. I was fishing super slow.”
He also caught one off a bed and two others that he saw up shallow.
14th: Lefebre Puzzled
> Day 3: 1, 1-15 (11, 43-00)
Lefebre had more bites today than he had on days 1 and 2 combined, but he wasn’t able to execute on the day it mattered most.
“I missed a 6-pounder and a 4 in the last half hour,” he said. “I was around the fish to win.”
He said it was reminiscent of the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup at Pittsburgh when he lost what could’ve been the winning fish on four different occasions on the final day.
“I’m more confused than anything,” he said. “Sometimes you feel like it’s meant to happen. I’m wondering why stuff happens. They weren’t biting like they were supposed to. The last two days, I knew where I’d get a bite. Today, I was fishing between the spots and I’d never had a bite doing that before, but today I got bit six times.”
His key bait this week was a 5/16-oz. prototype terminator jig in root beer green flake with a big chunk trailer in a matching color. The unique feature was he loaded it up with twice as much skirt material as he typically ties on a normal jig. He tried smaller profile jigs, but it was tougher to manage in the windy conditions.
> Day 3 stats: 25 anglers, 10 limits, 3 fours, 4 threes, 5 twos, 2 ones, 1 zero.
> The average weight of Lee's 12 fish was 4.72 pounds.
> There were 129 man-days on the water during the Classic (52 competitors on days 1 and 2, 25 on day 3) and only 53 limits were recorded.
1. Jordan Lee -- Guntersville, AL -- 12, 56-10 -- $300,000
Day 1: 3, 08-06 -- Day 2: 4, 21-00 -- Day 3: 5, 27-04
2. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 14, 55-01 -- $50,000
Day 1: 5, 17-07 -- Day 2: 4, 15-11 -- Day 3: 5, 21-15
3. Brent Ehrler -- Newport Beach, CA -- 15, 54-14 -- $47,500
Day 1: 5, 23-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-01 -- Day 3: 5, 11-10
4. James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 13, 50-04 -- $30,000
Day 1: 4, 20-01 -- Day 2: 5, 17-12 -- Day 3: 4, 12-07
5. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 48-12 -- $25,000
Day 1: 5, 13-13 -- Day 2: 5, 16-05 -- Day 3: 5, 18-10
6. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 12, 48-07 -- $22,000
Day 1: 5, 21-02 -- Day 2: 5, 16-06 -- Day 3: 2, 10-15
7. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 12, 47-04 -- $21,500
Day 1: 5, 22-01 -- Day 2: 5, 15-09 -- Day 3: 2, 09-10
8. Bobby Lane Jr. -- Lakeland, FL -- 14, 47-04 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 16-08 -- Day 2: 4, 11-05 -- Day 3: 5, 19-07
9. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 15, 46-09 -- $20,500
Day 1: 5, 14-10 -- Day 2: 5, 12-05 -- Day 3: 5, 19-10
10. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 14, 46-02 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 18-06 -- Day 2: 5, 17-13 -- Day 3: 4, 09-15
11. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 12, 45-11 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 18-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-13 -- Day 3: 2, 06-11
12. Jacob Powroznik -- North Prince George, VA -- 15, 43-12 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 14-09 -- Day 2: 5, 13-00 -- Day 3: 5, 16-03
13. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 13, 43-09 -- $15,000
Day 1: 3, 08-11 -- Day 2: 5, 18-08 -- Day 3: 5, 16-06
14. Dave Lefebre -- Erie, PA -- 11, 43-00 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 20-06 -- Day 2: 5, 20-11 -- Day 3: 1, 01-15
15. Timothy Klinger -- Boulder City, NV -- 14, 42-07 -- $15,000
Day 1: 4, 10-06 -- Day 2: 5, 13-01 -- Day 3: 5, 19-00
16. Ryan Lavigne -- Gonzales, LA -- 12, 41-09 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 13-03 -- Day 3: 2, 11-12
17. Randall Tharp -- Port St. Joe, FL -- 13, 40-14 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 3, 06-06 -- Day 3: 5, 18-08
18. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 13, 39-11 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 13-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-01 -- Day 3: 3, 08-10
19. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 11, 39-10 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 3, 09-02 -- Day 3: 3, 09-00
20. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 8, 32-14 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 20-11 -- Day 2: 1, 06-01 -- Day 3: 2, 06-02
21. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 10, 32-12 -- $13,000
Day 1: 4, 17-01 -- Day 2: 5, 13-02 -- Day 3: 1, 02-09
22. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 10, 32-10 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 19-04 -- Day 2: 1, 02-09 -- Day 3: 4, 10-13
23. Chris Zaldain -- Laughlin, NV -- 10, 31-08 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 15-15 -- Day 2: 2, 05-12 -- Day 3: 3, 09-13
24. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 9, 31-07 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 17-12 -- Day 2: 4, 13-11 -- Day 3: 0, 00-00
25. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 13, 29-07 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 11-00 -- Day 2: 5, 12-03 -- Day 3: 3, 06-04