By Todd Ceisner
Jeremy Lawyer figured it would take a 20-pound stringer today to give himself a chance to win the Grand Lake FLW Tour. He figured day-3 leader Bryan Thrift would surely catch a decent weight just by getting out of bed this morning.
Turns out 13 pounds, 14 ounces is all it took. Nothing more, nothing less.
That’s exactly what Lawyer needed when he hauled his fish on stage this afternoon at Wolf Creek Park in Grove, Okla., roughly an hour’s drive from his home in Sarcoxie, Mo. And 13-14 is what his limit weighed, giving him a 62-12 aggregate and putting him in a tie with Tour rookie Michael Matthee, who’d weighed in 17-13 a few minutes prior.
With Thrift still left to weigh in (and needing 9-12 to clinch the win), Lawyer was credited with the lead by virtue of FLW’s day-4 tiebreaker, which resolves ties based on an angler’s day-3 standing – Lawyer was in second place after Saturday and Matthee fourth. When Thrift only delivered one fish for 4-06, Lawyer was left in disbelief at having won his first Tour title essentially in his backyard.
It’s believed to be the first time in Tour history that a tiebreaker has been applied to determine the winner. According to BassFan research, the previous smallest margin of victory in a full field, four-day cumulative weight Tour event (FLW went to that format in 2010) was three ounces set in 2012 at the Potomac River, where Scott Martin edged Justin Lucas. Anthony Gagliardi won the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray by one ounce over Scott Canterbury.
There were just 83 limits caught at Grand this week. Lawyer took some pride in knowing he was the only competitor to catch five each day of the event, but the gravity of everything was still sinking in a couple hours after it happened.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Lawyer said while waiting to enjoy a celebratory dinner with close friends and family at the Rib Crib in Grove. “I never dreamed in my lifetime that Thrift would have one bass. I figured I’d need 20 because he’d catch 15 or 16 with his eyes closed.”
And knowing he had nowhere near 20 at day’s end, Lawyer had resigned himself to thinking he was fishing for second place.
Instead, that spot ultimately belonged to Matthee, a native of South Africa who competed in the Forrest Wood Cup last year as a result of being the top finisher in the International Division at the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship. In just his fourth Tour event, Matthee found his comfort zone at Grand with a spinnerbait, a commonly-used lure in his native country.
“It’s going to take a while to get over it,” he said. “It’s one ounce. I’m proud of what I’ve done. It hurts, but I’m not disappointed. That’s just fishing at the end of the day. Honestly, I feel blessed that I could be in the top 10 and finish second. It’s just awesome. Coming from Africa, I can’t expect much, so I’m super grateful where I finished and I’m super excited that I did so well.”
When Matthee was asked if he’d have rather returned to the water for a sudden-death fish off against Lawyer, he didn’t hesitate. He referenced the 2011 Toyota Texas Bass Classic at Lake Conroe, where a tie between Keith Combs and Mike Iaconelli was settled in sudden-death fashion with Combs prevailing.
“That would be freaking amazing,” Matthee said. “That’d be a good idea.”
For obvious reasons, Lawyer preferred the way it shook out.
South African angler Michael Matthee came within an ounce of winning at Grand today.
“I do feel sorry for Matthee,” he said, referencing his own runner-up finish at the 2015 BFL All-American, which he won the following year. “I’ve been there and understand what he’s feeling. He can get even with me some other time.”
Miles Burghoff continued to impress as a Tour rookie, catching the day’s biggest stringer (18-12) to finish third with 61-03 and move into second in the Angler of the Year points with three regular-season events remaining. John Cox caught 17-05 to rebound from a two-fish showing on Saturday and finish fourth with 59-09. Bradford Beavers tallied 13-14 today and locked up fifth with 58-04.
Faced with challenging conditions all week (receding water, shifting winds combined with a lake full of pre-spawners), Lawyer kept it simple by relying on his many years of experience at Grand. This was his 10th FLW event there and his sixth top-10 finish.
He said today’s calm and sunny weather was the curveball he was looking to get thrown at the other finalists.
“That definitely played into my hands,” he said. “The biggest myth out there, not for every lake, but on Grand is you don’t need wind to catch them on spinnerbaits. Those fish bask in the sun when it’s calm. That’s why I tried to stay out of the wind most of the time.”
He said all 20 of his fish were caught on a spinnerbait. He had various versions tied on for different conditions and scenarios, but where he was putting them was what mattered most.
“Behind boat docks mainly – somewhere a fish never sees one,” he said.
Additional details about his winning pattern and of those in the top five will be published later this week. Lawyer won a Central FLW Series last fall at Lake of the Ozarks in his native Missouri, but he said this one was a much bigger thrill.
“What made it feel the best is that it was at home,” he said. “Half the town of Sarcoxie was here, or it felt that way. I had people following me all over the lake this week. The support has been great. If I had won at Rayburn, it’d have been awesome, but to do it here and have everyone get a piece of the action, that’s the icing on the cake.”
Matthee went to bed Saturday night worried that the cold temperatures would push the fish he’d been targeting off toward deeper water.
“If they did, I’d struggle because I like the shallow bite,” he said.
When he landed his third fish, a 4 1/2-pounder, his worry receded.
“I knew they were back up shallow because I caught it in two feet of water,” he said. “I got pretty excited.”
While others trained their focus on, around and behind docks, Matthee, who runs a cabinet manufacturing business in South Africa, was mostly dialed in on timber and rocks. All of his weigh-in fish fell for a spinnerbait as well.
Since finishing 162nd at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in the season opener, Matthee’s finishes have improved each tournament.
“Clearly, this is going to boost my confidence,” he said. “I had started to doubt myself. That 160th at Rayburn hurt my soul. I never doubted myself from a fishing capability standpoint. I know I can compete. It’s a matter of getting to learn the waters here and how fish move around. I know physically I can catch them, but I have to do my homework.”
Miles Burghoff hauls in a small keeper today.
Burghoff, whose worst finish this year is 36th (Lake Toho), also relied on a spinnerbait for the bulk of his bites, but the key over the past two days was fishing areas he figured others overlooked.
“I focused on less obvious and harder to reach areas,” he said. “If I came to a dock with a slip, I’d put the nose of the boat into the back of the slip and make a pitch or cast parallel to the dock and fish that way.”
He also targeted smaller pockets and today that strategy produced a 6-plus pound kicker.
“It was a good day,” he said. “It was probably the best bite I had all week. I culled three times, which was huge.”
Finishing seventh was a frustrating conclusion for Thrift, who was the runner-up in the 2013 FLW Tour stop at Grand.
“It was similar to practice today,” he said. “I wasn’t really keying on anything. I felt very fortunate to have been leading after three days based on small numbers of bites I’d gotten. I thought I could catch a couple, but it never worked out.”
He caught his only fish early on and got the vibe things would go his way, but after camping in one area for nearly half his day, he began scrambling.
“I never got enough clues to tell me what I needed to be doing,” he said. “Once you get that close to winning, it stinks to lose, but I wouldn’t second-guess anything I did today. To come in and see you only needed 10 pounds to win, that’s tough.”
*1. Jeremy Lawyer -- Sarcoxie, Mo -- 12-8 (5) -- 18-13 (5) -- 31-5 (10) -- 17-9 (5) – 13-14 (5) – 62-12 (20) -- $127,500
2. Michael Matthee -- Centurion, South Africa -- 9-3 (3) -- 19-13 (5) -- 29-0 (8) -- 15-15 (5) -- 17-13 (5) -- 62-12 (18) -- $30,200
3. Miles Burghoff -- Hixson, Tn -- 19-12 (5) -- 9-2 (3) -- 28-14 (8) -- 13-9 (5) -- 18-12 (5) -- 61-03 (18) -- $25,500
4. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 15-15 (5) -- 19-1 (5) -- 35-0 (10) -- 7-4 (2) -- 17-05 (5) -- 59-09 (17) -- $20,100
5. Bradford Beavers -- Summerville, SC -- 19-0 (5) -- 15-15 (5) -- 34-15 (10) -- 9-7 (4) -- 13-14 (5) -- 58-04 (19) -- $19,000
6. Billy McCaghren -- Mayflower, Ar -- 19-9 (5) -- 12-9 (5) -- 32-2 (10) -- 14-10 (5) -- 11-05 (3) -- 58-01 (18) -- $18,000
7. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 16-12 (5) -- 16-2 (5) -- 32-14 (10) -- 19-3 (5) – 4-06 (1) – 56-07 (16) -- $17,000
8. Brian Latimer -- Belton, SC -- 11-6 (3) -- 21-5 (5) -- 32-11 (8) -- 10-9 (3) -- 3-08 (1) -- 46-2 (12) -- $16,000
9. Jamie Horton -- Centerville, Al -- 13-14 (5) -- 19-0 (5) -- 32-14 (10) -- 8-12 (3) -- 1-11 (1) -- 43-05 (14) -- $15,000
10. Sheldon Collings -- Grove, Ok -- 14-5 (5) -- 10-7 (5) -- 24-12 (10) -- 14-13 (5) -- 0-0 (0) -- 39-9 (15) -- $14,000
* Winner as determined by FLW tiebreaker that resorts to an angler's standing after day 3.