By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Justin Lucas was on his way to a really bad day 1 at the Grand Lake Bassmaster Elite Series last April. At 1 o'clock, he had two fish in his livewell that combined to weigh 3 pounds, at most.
His season had gotten off to a great start with a 6th-place showing in the opener at Lake Martin. Grand was the second stop on the circuit due to the postponement of the Sabine River derby because of flooded conditions.
He went into scramble mode and it paid off big-time.
"I picked up a spinning rod, just trying to salvage the day," he said. "I caught a couple of 2-pounders right away, and then one that was almost 6 pounds.
"Looking back at the year, that fish was huge for me," said Lucas, who ended up 13th in that tournament and went on to win the Angler of the Year title. "I was in 25th at the end of the day and if somebody had looked me up on BASSTrakk at 12:30, I'd have been like 105th."
Lucas, who'll compete on the MLF Bass Pro Tour in 2019, said the fish came from shallow water. He'd made a short pitch over a dark spot in the water that didn't appear to be anything special. The bait was a 6 1/4-inch Berkley Bottom Hopper worm, wacky-rigged.
"I picked up the rod and my line was swimming away," he said. "As soon as I felt it, I knew it was a big one. I started freaking out because I knew how big of a deal it would be to catch that one. It was nerve-wracking – there were boat docks and cables and wood all around.
"I probably fought it or 2 to 3 minutes and it was a monumental relief to get it into the boat. It was totally unexpected and it was the biggest fish I've ever caught at Grand, in practice or anything."
Following are entries from some other 2018 Elite Series anglers as to their most notable fish of the campaign.
"It was the final day of the (Bassmaster Classic) Bracket, me against Shin Fukae. All I had to do was beat him to make my first Classic. I found some fish graphing around and the first one I caught ignited them, and then I just proceeded to waylay them.
"The first one I caught was the most important. I knew there was a lot of bait there and I just got the vibe that I was going to be able to figure them out and catch them.
"I caught them on an old-fashioned spoon that I was up painting until 2 a.m. I couldn't sleep, so I was watching a YouTube video and the guy on there mentioned that pink and white were his favorite colors for (spotted bass) on cloudy days. I knew it was going to be cloudy and I know how spots will eat a morning dawn worm.
"I have that spoon hanging from my trophy."
"It'd have to be in the Classic. It was the last day and I was real far behind, but I had three pretty good ones in the livewell. In the last hour I went into a creek and started throwing a buzzbait and a swimjig.
"I had a 5-pounder roll on the buzzbait and miss it, and then I hooked another 5 on the swimjig and it came off when I tried to swing it into the boat. After that it was pretty tough, knowing I probably could've made the top 10 if I'd caught those two fish."
An oversized spotted bass offset Rookie of the Year Jake Whitaker's failure to catch a limit on the final day of the AOY Championship.
"I caught a 4-pound spot on the last day of the AOY Championship that wrapped up the Rookie of the Year for me. I didn't catch a limit that day – I only had four fish – but I had a big enough lead (in the points over fellow ROY contender Roy Hawk) and I kind of knew that one would put me over the edge.
I caught it on a (Cotton Cordell) Pencil Popper. I only had two fish at the time and I was just kind of struggling – I was getting the bites, but I just couldn't get hooked up. Soon after that, I caught my fourth one.
"Having that big one was just huge. It made up for not having that smaller fifth keeper."
"I'd have to say it was a smallmouth that was pushing 7 pounds at the St. Lawrence River. The reason I remember it so vividly is that I'd just fought one about that same size for 3 or 4 minutes that had come off. You know how you do when that happens and you're frustrated, you just lower your rod down and a bunch of slack goes into your line. Then all of a sudden, this other fish bites it.
"I can't remember whether it was 6-12 or 6-15, but it was a giant smallmouth. I did my best fishing of the year there and it was a good event for me (a 5th-place finish).
"Lake Travis, I caught an 8-08 on a wakebait. When it jumped it had three or four hooks plastered across its face and when I finally got it to the boat for the second time it had one hook hanging from its belly.
"I was shaking so bad; it probably took me 12 minutes to get it in. I'm not much for yelling, but every person in the marina there heard me scream and all the anglers who were fishing there came over asking how big it was."
"It was a fish I lost on the last day at the Mississippi River (an event he won). I set the hook and felt that it was solid, the hooks rotated away from the frog and everything was perfect. It was probably a 4-pound-plus fish and she popped off.
"I thought losing that one might've hurt, but I ended up having more weight than I thought. I figured I had 13 1/2 pounds or at the most 14, but I ended up with 16 1/2."
"It would've been the big one I caught at Grand Lake. I had a really good first day and the second day was okay, but I was struggling a little bit. I went to the spot where I'd caught some in the Classic the last time it was there – the same stretch and almost the same tree. I flipped my 4.5-inch Big Bite Fighting Frog on a lay down and caught a 5 1/2-pounder. That not only got me into the top 50, but really close to the top 20.
"There was only about 30 minutes left in the day and I needed that fish so bad. That made a big difference in the season for me. It was one of those bites you don't forget."