Alton Jones Jr. came to the Red River this week feeling down. He left riding a high he couldn’t put into words.
The 24-year-old son of Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Alton Jones won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open by catching the biggest bag of the three-day event during the 12-man finale Saturday.
With a five-bass limit weighing 13 pounds, 14 ounces on Saturday, Jones finished with 35-14. Todd Murray of Prairieville, La., finished second with 32-2.
“It’s kind of like I don’t know how I got here,” said Jones. “There’s nothing to say other than, wow.”
Jones was hoping to join his father on the Elite Series next year by finishing in the Top 5 of the point standings through the Northern Opens. But, he fell one point short on the final day at New York’s Lake Champlain last Friday, then made the 27-hour drive to the Red River.
“Last week was definitely gut-wrenching,” said Jones, who admitted shedding some tears after the last angler to weigh in bumped him out of the final Elite Series qualifying spot.
With a 15th-place finish in the first Central Open this season to go with his win Saturday, Jones will have a good chance to make the Elite Series through the Central Opens when the three-tournament series concludes later this month on the Atchafalaya Basin in Morgan City, La.
Even better, Jones earned a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro on Lake Conroe near Houston, Texas. The berth is contingent on him fishing the final Central Open.
His father, Alton Sr., has already qualified for the Classic through the Elite Series. Alton Sr. had to wait 26 years to fish a Classic in his home state of Texas.
“This is incredible to be going to my first Classic in my home state,” said Alton Jr., who, like his father, lives in Lorena, Texas. “Conroe is only about three hours from the house.”
Alton Sr. and his wife, Jimmy Sue, drove from Lorena to attend Saturday’s weigh-in.
“You always tend to think of your children as children,” said Alton Sr. “What I saw today was a mature young man I’m very proud of.”
Jones was in sixth place after the first day with 10-11. He caught only four keepers on Friday, but one of them was a 5-pound, 15-ounce largemouth that vaulted him into a first-place lead of 2 ounces going into the final day.
“Yesterday when I caught that big one, I felt it was just my time,” Jones said. “It just felt right. A fish like that doesn’t happen by chance after so many people had fished that area.”
Jones said the big fish came from a community hole that had a boat on it every other time he’d tried to fish it. He caught it on a Missile Baits D-Bomb in the California love color pattern with a 1/4-ounce weight.
“California love has a lot of red in it,” Jones said. “It’s just a real different color. I’m convinced that light weight was key too, because so many other people had fished there.”
Jones caught only five keepers on the first day, four the second, and then landed an estimated 20 keepers Saturday in culling up to 13-8. He used a 3/8th-ounce drop shot with a Robo Worm in the margarita mutilator color pattern to catch most of those fish Saturday.
Jones took the grand prize of a $45,000 Skeeter ZX200/Yamaha VF200LA rig and $7,595 in cash.
On Friday, Tommy Murray of Bedford, Texas, caught what would be the second-biggest bag of the tournament of 13-0, which included the Phoenix Boats Big Bass weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces. It came on a Lucky Craft Rick Clunn 1.5 squarebill crankbait. Murray managed only 1-12 on the final day and dropped to 11th place.
Todd Murray moved up from fifth place to second on Saturday with a limit weighing 11-2. He said he caught 90 percent of his fish on a 3/8th-ounce white tandem willowleaf War Eagle spinnerbait around submerged laydowns.
Mike Pedroza of Sibley, La., finished third with 30-15, Billy McCaghren Jr. of Mayflower, Ark., was fourth with 29-7, and Darrell Lyons of Hemphill, Texas, was fifth with 28-15.
The co-angler division had its own special story. Marvin Delong of Colfax, La., took the first place prize of a Triton 179TrX/Mercury 115ELPT rig valued at $30,000. It was his first ever Bassmaster tournament.
“I’ve been a member of B.A.S.S. for a long time,” Delong said. “I decided I was just going to give it a try. It’s been an incredible experience.”
Delong said he caught all of his fish on a quarter-ounce Texas rigged plastic worm, and his bag included a solid 3-plus pound bass each day. With a three-bass co-angler limit every day, Delong finished with 20 pounds, 5 ounces. Charlie Hewitt of Prairieville, La., was second with 17-1. Quentin Cappo of Prairieville, La., was third with 15-13.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $750 went to Tommy Murray of Bedford, Texas, with a 6-2 bass. Nathaniel “Rudy” Rudisill of Bossier City, La., weighed in a 4-13 to earn the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award on the co-angler side worth $250.
Alton Jones Jr. also received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2. Finishing as the Day 2 leader on the co-angler side, Marvin Delong of Colfax, La., received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.
Skylar Hamilton of Dandridge, Tenn., earned the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $500 for being the highest-finishing angler using A.R.E. products.