By Todd Ceisner
Up until 3:20 p.m. or so Sunday afternoon, Edwin Evers had caught 52 fish during the MLF Lake Conroe Bass Pro Tour. Just two of them tipped the scales at more than 4 pounds.
He’d built a sizable lead in the late going of the Championship Round, but his advantage was still tenuous considering the venue’s reputation for kicking out mount-worthy bass. He needed an exclamation point.
With one flick of a dropshot toward a tree up on the bank in a quiet canal he'd made 3 1/2 laps in during the course of the day, he finally connected with a Texas giant and punctuated the victory in the process. Evers’ final fish of the tournament was an 8-01 – just one of two 8-pound plus fish caught this week – and snuffed out any possible last-minute heroics from those trying to chase him down.
Evers led by 9 1/2 pounds after the first period, but saw his cushion winnowed down to less than 3 1/2 pounds entering the final 2 1/2 hours of competition. He boated seven fish in the last period, capped it off with the biggest fish of his MLF career, and won by more than 11 pounds over Texan Jeff Sprague. He finished with tournament highs in fish caught (24) and weight (51-12).
The win gives Evers three MLF victories, matching Kevin VanDam’s total, and gives him the lead in Bass Pro Tour points after two events, which also clinched him a spot in the upcoming 30-man MLF Heritage Cup. He said this victory felt different than his other three MLF triumphs because the results of those were embargoed until the event aired on television.
“A win is phenomenal,” he said. “This is probably one of my most cherished wins ever because it came against one of the most elite group of anglers ever assembled. It’s hard to believe I did it.”
Sprague was one of a few finalists who seemed to take turns making runs at Evers throughout the day, but none could ever draw closer than 3-06. Sprague boated 20 fish for 40-08.
Boyd Duckett, who won the Knockout Round on Saturday, was in the top 5 all day and settled for 3rd with 35-15 (20 fish), punctuating a strong comeback from a 78th-place showing at the season opener. Brent Ehrler caught 12 fish for 20-04 in the third period to move up to 4th with 34-13 overall (19 fish). David Walker caught a 5-pounder and another close to 4 pounds in the third to ease up to 5th with 34-07 (15 fish).
Here’s how the rest of the 10 finalists finished up:
6. Jordan Lee: 13, 27-08
7. Randall Tharp: 7, 17-03
8. Wesley Strader: 5, 9-11
9. Gary Klein: 4, 7-00
10. Stephen Browning: 4, 6-02
After staging its first two events in the last three weeks, the Bass Pro Tour is off until late March when it will visit the Raleigh, N.C., area for an event that will employ three different lakes during the tournament. In the meantime, many in the field will now shift their focus to preparing for the Bassmaster Classic, slated for March 15-17 at the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tenn.
For the second straight day, Evers tore through the first period on a blistering pace. He notched 13 fish for 23-11 today to serve notice that he wouldn’t be wandering off from his best area to look for other potential backup spots. No other finalist caught more than six fish in the opening period.
“It’s championship Sunday and you try to catch everything you can and never stop because they all count,” he said. “Every fish is magnified under this format. I was just hoping to get some bites and get some confidence going first thing. Those fish seemed to be more active in the morning.”
Jeff Sprague overcame a slow start today to finish 2nd.
Action slowed for him in the second (4, 6-12) while a few others started to get their footing. At one point, he considered leaving the canal that he’d been in all day, but his plan B area was a minimum 30-minute boat ride away and he wasn’t certain that it hadn’t already been fished by another competitor. He committed to the area he was in and picked up the pace again in the third, adding six more fish to his scorecard to put some more distance between himself and the field.
He alternated between pitching a Berkley Havoc Pit Boss and a 7/16-ounce version of the Andy’s Custom Bass Lures E Series Finesse jig that he used during his win at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic along with casting a vibrating jig along the shoreline, trying to entice bites from fish setting up to spawn (full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published this week).
With roughly 10 minutes to go, he reached for a spinning rod with a dropshot rigged with a junebug-colored Berkley PowerBait Bottom Hopper. He made a cast in the direction of the opposite shore where a tree was perched up on the bank. When he lifted up on his rod, he didn’t feel his weight. That’s because an 8-pounder had swam away with his bait, hook and all. After a brief fight, Evers lipped the fish and held it aloft, a sense of relief washing over him as he knew he’d just clinched the win.
“I always have it rigged and ready, especially when the fish are spawning,” he said. “I hadn’t caught anything on it the last couple days. I had a few bites, but I had not pushed it at all. I never dreamed that when I leaned into it that it would be an 8-pounder. I was so aggravated I hadn’t been catching bigger fish before that.”
Sprague had some missed opportunities today but made some adjustments and came away with a second straight top-10 finish to start the Bass Pro Tour chapter of his career.
“I had my chance at a boulder and had a chance at a spare and lost them both,” he said. “After I made an adjustment on my tackle, I didn’t lose anything. I’d been fishing with a setup that was comfortable, but I didn’t take into account I was fishing around pads and when those fish had the bait in their mouths, I was not able to really get a good hookset on them.”
It took him until almost 9:30 this morning to notch his first fish and that’s because a local angler was occupying one of his key stretches.
“I didn’t go in there because I didn’t want to mess with him and I also didn’t want to show him where the fish were,” he said. “I fished around on the outside, but never caught one, so I wasted a good portion of the first period blind-hogging my way around something I didn’t believe in.”
Once he was able to probe his key area, the fish seemed to keep coming to him. He caught six fish in the final 30 minutes of the first period, then tacked on seven more in both the second and third.
Ehrler came to Conroe with a score to settle after a bitter 3rd-place finish there at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. He left with another stellar result and locked up a spot in the Heritage Cup.
Brent Ehrler fires off a cast during Sunday's Championship Round at Lake Conroe.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s been a great week,” he said. “I’m glad it wasn’t that close. Edwin caught ‘em really well and I don’t think I could’ve done anything differently. I possibly could’ve changed things up today and finished 2nd, but I don’t think I could’ve won.”
He caught fish from dirt shallow out to 8 feet deep on a variety of baits targeting seawalls, docks and shallow wood cover.
Walker had some fish hooked today that he never saw, but considering how the week started, he’s thrilled with a top-5 outcome.
“I had the best day I had all week,” Walker said. “You want to fish as clean as you can. At takeoff on day 1, if someone had told me I’d wind up 5th, I’d have laughed at them.”
He started strong with 11-10 in the first period on just three fish. He added a 4 1/2-pounder in the second and a 5-pounder in the third to stay in the race for 2nd.
“I started with a bang,” he said. “You want to make them beat you so that’s something to be postitive about. When you let them beat you that’s when it stinks. I wanted to finish higher, but I did what I could do.”
Today, he focused his search on areas where he felt fish would be getting up to make a bed to spawn in. Every fish he caught today was on a 3/8-oz. Z-Man Evergreen JackHammer vibrating jig with a Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ trailer.
“There were a lot of pad roots and stems and dollar pads around,” he said. “It was a variety of depths, but the four big fish I caught today were all full of eggs.”
> Day 6 stats – 10 anglers (First period: 44 fish, 91-07; Second period: 39 fish, 76-03; Third period: 45 fish, 97-05; Total: 128 fish, 264-15)
1. Edwin Evers -- 24, 51-12 -- $100,000
2. Jeff Sprague -- 20, 40-08 -- $42,000
3. Boyd Duckett -- 20, 35-15 -- $30,000
4. Brent Ehrler -- 19, 34-13 -- $24,000
5. David Walker -- 15, 34-07 -- $18,000
6. Jordan Lee -- 13, 27-08 -- $16,800
7. Randall Tharp -- 7, 17-03 -- $15,600
8. Wesley Strader -- 5, 9-11 -- $14,400
9. Gary Klein -- 4, 7-00 -- $13,200
10. Stephen Browning -- 4, 6-02 -- $12,000