Missouri pro James Watson can definitely relate to one of the late Yogi Berra’s great quotes after winning the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open #3 presented by Allstate on the final day at Table Rock Lake.
It was definitely “déjà vu all over again” for Watson, who used a topwater pattern to win a Professional Angler Association (PAA) tournament on his home waters in September 2013, and then he relied on about the same pattern to win the pro division of the Central Open with a three-day total of 46 pounds, 4 ounces. Despite a slow start, he caught his heaviest limit of bass Saturday weighing 16-1.
“I was struggling to get a bite before noon,” Watson said. “It was the slowest morning I’ve had, but I just kept winging it. I followed the wind and looked for the right kind of rock and just kept plugging away.”
During all three days of competition, Watson had to play games with the wind. On Thursday he caught all of his fish in the wind, but the second day he had to find calm water to trigger bites.
The Nixa, Mo., pro relied on two topwater lures — the Luck-E-Strike Frantic Frog (a toad-style bait) and the River2Sea Whopper Plopper —to catch most of his fish. “I was running as much bank as I could and trying not to run the same bank twice,” he said. “I would try to find the biggest rock I could.”
Watson’s victory secured a berth for him in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro at Grand Lake in Oklahoma March 4-6. He also earned a top prize of a Skeeter/Yamaha valued at $45,000 and $7,918 in cash.
Jacob Wheeler of Indianapolis, Ind., caught the largest limit (17-9) of the tournament Saturday to move into second place with 42-12. Wheeler also relied on a topwater pattern as he ran both steep and flat banks. “The second day I figured out they wanted an (Accent) Game Changer buzzbait and a (Rapala) Skitter Walk with a shaved-off side that made it translucent,” he said.
The rest of the Top 5 pro division finishers were: Rick Clunn, Ava., Mo., in third place with 40-15; Joseph Brantley, Willard, Mo., fourth, 38-5; and Justin Margraves, Diana, Texas, fifth, 35-8.
Brien Vaughn of Kinmundy, Ill., won the co-angler division with 20-8 and took home the first-place prize of a Nitro/Mercury boat-and-motor combo valued at $30,000. Vaughn caught all of his fish on a topwater prop bait and a swimbait.
Elite Series pro Rick Clunn won the $750 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass Award on the pro side by catching a 5-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. Jason Newberry also weighed in a 5-13 largemouth to earn the $250 Bass Pro Shops Big Bass Award on the co-angler side.
James Watson received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on the second day. Finishing as Friday’s leader on the co-angler side, Jason Newberry received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.