The 2017 Bassmaster Classic

Anticipation was intense for participants and fans of the sport. Local favorites, former champions and this year’s hottest anglers were the center of conversation. Prior to media day, outdoor press members could choose which 10 of the 52 contestants could be scheduled for interviews.

My first choice and session was with 25-year-old Jordan Lee.

I placed him ahead of the more experienced and decorated pros because with my zeal for recruiting and teaching kids to fish, and living in Illinois where bass-fishing teams first became recognized by a state high school athletic association, the choice was only natural.

Jordan says his mother took him to a Bassmaster Classic weigh-in when he was 15. This only increased his resolve to compete in bass tournaments as he had already begun bass fishing at age 10. Later, he and his brother Matt teamed up to win the College Bassmaster Championship twice for Auburn University.

As we watched him on our iPads, he landed a final-day limit at an ounce short of 22 pounds. It had looked like he had won. But even though Jordan started the day in 15th place and was way out of contention, he still had a magical, historic day with a limit of bid fish.

The weigh-in began with anglers qualified to fish the last day by being in the top 25 after the second day. This list started with Chris Zaldain, one who bested Aaron Martens by 12 ounces to qualify for the final day, who proceeded to the dramatic top six from where the winner usually comes.

Only nine of the top 25 had a limit of five bass. Results included one skunk, two with two, four then had three, and finally three had caught four fish. This is what made Lee’s final day’s catch of 27 pounds, 4 ounces so remarkable.

Lake Conroe has a 16-inch minimum limit that can skew comparisons. And this body of water has been host to many tournaments—large, small weekend and night contests—that cover every part of the lake with the most effective lures and techniques.

But there was one technique seen that is almost never used.

Lee’s key to victory was that he had found a point that had big bass hanging around. Jordan had been able to land just one there, but saw many others. On the last day, boat trouble stranded Lee on that spot. Even then he caught nothing until it began to rain.

As Lee struggled to put his rain gear on, he noticed his line swimming off with the dressed jig he’d casted and was just sitting still.

Then, he struck and landed a whopper.

Repeatedly casting and letting his bait sit stopped, he repeated this procedure until filling his limit with lunkers. Then he called officials to allow him to get an early ride in with a friend.

Lee has fished in 42 BASS tournaments, including this one, and has finished in the money in 34 of these, winning $658,479. And for someone born in 1991, it’s great.

But one can’t help but believe him when he said, “It’s not about the money; I just love to catch fish.”