By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Among the many things Jordan Lee has proven during his still-young pro bass fishing career is that he excels in special events. A couple of weeks shy of his 29th birthday, he came into Heavy Hitters at Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes with two Bassmaster Classic victories and a win in the first-ever MLF Bass Pro Tour event on his ledger.
Now he's the inaugural Heavy Hitters champion, and he's $200,000 richer for his efforts.
Lee completely dominated the Championship Round of the combination points event/big fish derby at the venue where he won the first BPT tournament 16 months ago. He caught 12 scoreable fish (which had to be 3 pounds or heavier in the finals) for 52-09, outpacing runner-up Bryan Thrift by more than 19 pounds to earn the $100,000 top prize. He also caught the day's biggest fish, a 7-04 specimen that bit a hair jig during the first of the three 2 1/2-hour periods, which was worth an additional $100,000.
The only thing that went sideways for Lee all week was Michael Neal catching an 8-15 monster in the final half-hour of Thursday's Knockout Round, edging out the 8-14 Lee had caught earlier in the day and depriving him of an additional $50,000. He was admittedly "bummed out" when that occurred, but there was nothing gloomy about his performance in the finals of the event that marked the circuit's return after a nearly 3-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was just a dream day out there," he said. "All I've ever wanted to do was be out here competing against the best in the world, and to come out on top on a special week like this means a lot.
"I just have to thank MLF for letting us get out and compete this week. I just wanted to fish so we could get one under our belts (after the long layoff) and I just happened to win it. I'm super-proud and it's just a blessing."
The latter half of the day included little drama as Lee took total command of the leaderboard with a second-period flurry that pushed his advantage into the 20-pound range. A little over an hour after catching his big one, he boated four on a crankbait that averaged 4 pounds apiece from an isolated offshore brush pile in a 25-minute span just before 11 o'clock. He was never threatened after that.
The only question was whether someone would pull a Neal and catch a fish weighing 7-05 or more to snatch the second six-figure check from his grasp. It didn't happen, although Thrift made a run at it with a 6-11 in the final period.
"Weeks like this don't come around very often, when everything just goes your way," Lee said. "I had confidence going in because I felt like I'd found something (in practice) that was special and different and I played my cards right. I didn't hammer on them too hard (on previous days), I held back, and today I just kind of let 'er go.
"The goal is always to get to the Championship Round and once you get there, you want to show out. Today was just an epic day – the big ones were biting."
As a capper, he's also the new leader in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race. He'll start the final regular-season event at Lake Champlain (July 10-15) with a 7-point advantage over Fletcher Shryock.
Bryan Thrift settled for a runner-up finish for the second time this season.
Thrift, who also registered a 6-02 en route to his second runner-up showing of the season, finished with 33-03 on seven fish. Knockout Round winner Mark Rose was 3rd with 21-14, followed by Justin Lucas with 19-15 and Skeet Reese with 17-12. Rose, Lucas and Reese each caught five scoreables.
"I'm not disappointed with my performance," Rose said. "I felt going into the day that I could win, but they didn't bite today. I did the best I could and tried to honor God in the process and left the results up to Him. I had the $100,000 fish on, but it came off in the hydrilla.
"You've got to keep things in perspective because in this format you're going to finish at the top, at the bottom and everywhere in between. If you can stay focused and learn from your mistakes, it'll help you become a better angler."
Lucas caught all five of his fish in the first period.
"After my start this morning, I thought it was going to be an incredible day," he said. "Then they started pulling current in the second period and it totally killed that bite. That's fishing – you live and you learn."
Said Reese: "For as little as I got on (in practice), I was pretty happy to milk one area for a 5th-place finish. You always want to win because it's not very often that you get that opportunity, but I had a good event."
Gary Klein and Jacob Wheeler both zeroed for the day. Klein said he missed six bites that would've counted and Wheeler caught quite a few that would've scored on previous days when the minimum was 2 pounds.
(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish)
1. Jordan Lee -- 12, 52-09 -- 7-04
2. Bryan Thrift -- 7, 33-03 -- 6-11
3. Mark Rose -- 5, 21-14 -- 5-01
4. Justin Lucas -- 5, 19-15 -- 4-05
5. Skeet Reese -- 5, 17-12 -- 3-13
6. Zack Birge -- 4, 13-08 -- 3-09
7. Dustin Connell -- 3, 10-11 -- 4-09
8. Adrian Avena -- 2, 8-01 -- 4-08
9. Gary Klein -- 0, 0-00 -- 0-00
10. Jacob Wheeler -- 0, 0-00 -- 0-00