By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor


A year ago today, Takahiro Omori was buried at the bottom of the Bassmaster Elite Series standings, having just posted his second straight 108th-place finish to start the new season. He had a whopping 6 points to his credit.

There's no telling how he'll do in the second regular-season event this year, as it's still seven weeks away. However, he can't do any better than he did in the first.

The veteran Texan by way of Japan closed out a dominant victory at Alabama's Lake Martin, catching a day-best 14-pound stringer to finish with a four-day total of 59-08. His victory margin over runner-up Roy Hawk was an even 7 pounds.

It was the second Elite triumph in the span of 22 months for the 2004 Classic winner who'd endured an 11-year victory drought before prevailing at Wheeler Lake in April 2016. This was his fifth career tour-level victory and second at Martin, where he also topped the field in a 2001 FLW Tour event. The six-figure payday pushed his career B.A.S.S. earnings past the $2 million mark.

"This one was very surprising because after my practice, I didn't expect to do that great," he said. "I learned something every day and this is where I ended up."

Hawk, the former WON Bass U.S. Open winner and longtime Western ace, came within one place of winning his Elite debut. He boxed 11-02 on day 4 to finish with a 52-08 aggregate.

The next five anglers in the standings all concluded with 50 pounds and some change. Adrian Avena had 50-13 (11-10 on day 4), Jared Lintner 50-10 (12-09), Luke Clausen 50-07 (9-04), Justin Lucas 50-05 (12-06) and Andy Montgomery 50-02 (10-02).

Here are the totals for the remainder of the top 12:

8. Mark Menendez: 49-01
9. Jonathan VanDam: 47-09
10. Dean Rojas: 47-04
11. Brett Hite: 44-15
12. Dustin Connell: 44-14

Amazingly, Clausen and Dustin Connell (the 2017 Rookie of the Year) are the only members of the top 12 who'll compete in next month's Classic. The other nine (excluding Hawk) all finished outside the top 40 on last year's points list.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Omori fished hard throughout day 4 despite his substantial lead.

The Classic will take place March 16-18 at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. The regular season resumes April 6 at the Sabine River in Texas.

Omori Exhausted

> Day 4: 5, 14-00 (20, 59-08)

Omori made things look pretty easy throughout the event, but he said that any perception that it was indeed a cakewalk is mistaken.

"I fished hard all four days," he said. "Even though I had a 4-pound lead today, I still fished my hardest. I never knew I'd won until it was over. I'm so tired and hungry."

A single non-descript area up the Tallapoosa River that he had all to himself surrendered the vast majority of his weigh-in fish, which were enticed by a square-bill crankbait. Basically just a run-of-the-mill sand bar with current flowing across, it was always productive during the day's first hour.

If not for a pair of 6-pound-plus giants caught on back-to-back casts by day-1 leader Cliff Prince, Omori would've led the derby from start to finish. He took full command on day 2 and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

His hot spot gave him four fish on day 4, including a 4-14 bruiser. He picked up No. 5 at a locale farther down the river and made a couple of upgrades in the afternoon.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Roy Hawk came within one place of winning his Elite Series debut.

"I felt pretty confident when I had about 12 pounds, which was around noon," he said. "I knew Roy would need 16 to catch me."

Details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the coming days.

2nd: Hawk Ecstatic

> Day 4: 5, 11-02 (20, 52-08)

For Hawk, it was a great start to his Elite Series tenure.

"I'm super-stoked," he said. "I couldn't ask for too much more than this. It's a big relief because the Elites are a big burden financially and this will really help with that.

"It just feels good it feels like things are going to work out and that everything's going to be okay."

He went through about a dozen keepers on day 4, including a lot more spotted bass than he'd been catching.

"They were just snapping in this one area and I even flipped a spot out of a bush way back in a creek. I ended up weighing four spots and a largemouth and my biggest one was a 3-pound spot.

"I didn't lose any that would've helped. Out of my first five bites this morning, I caught two and lost three, but none of the ones I lost were 3- or 4-pounders. They'd have been good at the time, but I don't think they would've done me any good at the end."

He focused primarily on woody cover, throwing a square-bill crankbait and flipping a jig.

3rd: Strong Start for Avena

> Day 4: 5, 11-10 (20, 50-13)

Avena posted his best finish in two-plus seasons on the Elite Series.

"It feels good," he said. "I really don't have any complaints. I lost my trolling motor on the first day and lost three hours of fishing and I climbed from 62nd to 3rd (in the standings), so I'm pretty stoked about it.

"I was a little upset today when I didn't capitalize on the shallow bite in the afternoon. I scrambled around and tried to make it happen, but I wasn't able to get any of those bites. When you're in that position, you have to try to win. Tak blew it out, but we didn't know that at the time he could've come in with 8 or 9 pounds."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Adrian Avena recovered from a tough day 1 to post his best Elite Series finish.

He fished for deep spotted bass each morning and then switched to pursuing the bigger largemouths in shallow water later on. He ran both programs in Kawaliga Creek.

A 6 1/2-pounder he caught on day 2 was the foundation for his strong finish.

"I caught a few decent largemouths in practice, but you can never expect to catch one that big around here."

4th: Lintner Happy

> Day 4: 5, 12-09 (20, 50-10)

Linter was another guy who had two lousy finishes in February last year, so he's glad he won't have a big whole to try to dig his way out of the rest of the season.

"It's good to get some momentum going and my confidence level will obviously be high," he said. "I'm trusting my decisions, which is the way you want to do it. If you start doubting yourself out here, you're finished."

He caught close to 30 keepers on the day 4, most of them spotted bass in the opening hours. He chased largemouths from 9:30 to 2 o'clock and caught three a pair of 12-inches and a 4 3/4-pounder. He went back to the spots after that and culled up a couple of times.

"Right at the end of the day I lost a spot that would've culled and might've gotten me to 3rd place," he said. "But overall, I feel really fortunate, especially with the largemouths. I caught some good ones (throughout the tournament) on baits with treble hooks and I didn't lose any."

He threw small swimbaits for the spots and rattlebaits and square-bills for the largemouths.

5th: Much Better Start for Clausen

> Day 4: 5, 9-04 (20, 50-07)

Clausen didn't have a great final day, but considering he finished 110th (dead last) in the 2017 opener at Cherokee, he'll take the single-digit finish.

"This is a pretty big improvement from that," he said. "I got some good momentum toward the end of last year and I feel like it's continued into this year and it's certainly nice to be going into the Classic coming off a good tournament.

"I wasn't very happy with falling a couple of places today it was a pretty frustrating day but coming out of practice I wouldn't have predicted a top 12 finish for myself by any means. I learned quite a bit through the course of the tournament and if it had stayed sunny, I might've had a chance to win."

He caught eight or nine keepers on day 4, none of which reached the 2-pound mark.

"The way Tak blew it out, I would've needed 18 or 19 pounds today to win and that wasn't going to happen the way I was fishing."

He caught exclusively spotted bass from a popular area near the dam using a finesse worm and a soft stickbait.

Notable

> Day 4 stats 12 anglers, 12 limits.

Day 4 (Final) Standings

1. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 20, 59-08 -- 110 -- $101,000
Day 1: 5, 18-02 -- Day 2: 5, 14-09 -- Day 3: 5, 12-13 -- Day 4: 5, 14-00

2. Roy Hawk -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 20, 52-08 -- 109 -- $26,000
Day 1: 5, 11-11 -- Day 2: 5, 17-01 -- Day 3: 5, 12-10 -- Day 4: 5, 11-02

3. Adrian Avena -- Vineland, NJ -- 20, 50-13 -- 108 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 10-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-05 -- Day 3: 5, 12-14 -- Day 4: 5, 11-10

4. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 20, 50-10 -- 107 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 13-15 -- Day 2: 5, 12-14 -- Day 3: 5, 11-04 -- Day 4: 5, 12-09

5. Luke Clausen -- Otis Orchards, WA -- 20, 50-07 -- 106 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 12-12 -- Day 2: 5, 15-04 -- Day 3: 5, 13-03 -- Day 4: 5, 09-04

6. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 20, 50-05 -- 105 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 13-09 -- Day 2: 5, 11-11 -- Day 3: 5, 12-11 -- Day 4: 5, 12-06

7. Andy Montgomery -- Blacksburg, SC -- 20, 50-02 -- 104 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 11-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-09 -- Day 3: 5, 13-11 -- Day 4: 5, 10-02

8. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 20, 49-01 -- 103 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 17-09 -- Day 2: 5, 07-01 -- Day 3: 5, 13-04 -- Day 4: 5, 11-03

9. Jonathon VanDam -- Gobles, MI -- 20, 47-09 -- 102 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 13-08 -- Day 2: 5, 10-10 -- Day 3: 5, 11-12 -- Day 4: 5, 11-11

10. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 20, 47-04 -- 101 -- $11,500
Day 1: 5, 13-10 -- Day 2: 5, 11-15 -- Day 3: 5, 10-04 -- Day 4: 5, 11-07

11. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 20, 44-15 -- 100 -- $11,000
Day 1: 5, 10-12 -- Day 2: 5, 13-00 -- Day 3: 5, 11-14 -- Day 4: 5, 09-05

12. Dustin Connell -- Clanton, AL -- 20, 44-14 -- 99 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 10-15 -- Day 2: 5, 12-10 -- Day 3: 5, 11-15 -- Day 4: 5, 09-06