Alton Jones Jr. was victorious after a weather-impacted Bass Pro Tour Stage Two event at Lake Fork.
The second event of the year on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour was held on the famed Lake Fork in East Texas. Like the first event in Louisiana, the weather did not cooperate, with frigid conditions throughout the week that altered the game plans of the anglers and caused delays and modifications to the tournament schedule.
But, like the first event of the season, some monster bass were caught, including five bass over ten pounds. The amount of seven-, eight-, and nine-pound bass was also impressive and helped further solidify Lake Fork's reputation as one of the best bass fishing lakes in the world.
In the end, the winner was Alton Jones Jr. with 13 bass for 46 pounds, 2 ounces, which edged out second-place angler (and Tour rookie) Dakota Ebare's haul by less than a pound. He earned impressive points towards the Angler of the Year race and $100,000, while Ebare took home $45,000.
Battling it out in the cold for the first two days, the anglers in each group were fishing in a cold front with temperamental Florida strain bass, a difficult situation for any angler. As usual, these pros made it look easy. The fish catches weren't high in volume across the board, but the top anglers figured something out, primarily with jerkbaits and forward-facing sonar. Others went old-school, flipping and pitching or throwing spinnerbaits in shallow water around standing timber and stumps.
The second day of fishing for both groups included more pleasant weather and they continued to catch big fish. Taking the win in Group A was Jacob Wheeler with 30 bass for 121 pounds. In Group B, Alton Jones, Sr. won with 28 bass for 117-01. Included in Jones' creel was an 11-2 fish caught on a crankbait. It wasn't even the biggest of the week, as Bradley Roy had an 11-11 on the first day of fishing.
Both Jones and Wheeler earned automatic bids in the Championship Round and skipped the Knockout Round.
The Knockout Round kicked off with temperatures below the freezing mark mixed with light rain. The forecast was for freezing rain and the entire area was under a Winter Weather Advisory; as a result, the day ended early. The anglers only fished two periods instead of the usual three.
Even with the shortened day, competitors had great success with more big bass and plenty of them. Ebare got off to a fast start with a jerkbait, boating a bass that weighed 8-15. He ended the day in second after a tremendous final period from Alton Jones, Jr.
Jones, Jr. was fishing flat-sided and squarebill crankbaits and a big spinnerbait as he caught 12 bass for 52-3. He had the most weight on the day and led the eight anglers advancing to the final round as he joined his father in the final ten.
After a one-day delay, the final ten anglers returned to Lake Fork to battle it out for the trophy. Due to the continued threat of freezing and cold temperatures, MLF officials pushed the morning back to an 11:00 a.m. start. The day was also shortened slightly and ended at 5:30 p.m.
The finale of this event was one of the best in recent memory as Jones took command in the second period from Ebare, and then Ebare landed a 4-13 and 6-8 to take the lead with less than an hour to go. Jones, Jr. responded with a 2-8 just moments later to regain the lead.
The final period saw several anglers, including Jacob Wheeler and Casey Ashley, catch fish and climb to within ten pounds of the lead. On a lake like this, all of them had a chance until the time expired.
Jones, Jr. did his damage during the week with a flat-sided crankbait and 3/4-ounce spinnerbait, targeting shallow wood cover along drains in the creek channel. Many of his fish came by watching his forward-facing sonar while seeing the fish, but the technology also helped him locate prime spots along the creek channel, including tree roots, undercut banks, and other key fish-holding areas.
After time ran out, he was emotional and thankful for his first career win. When addressing the camera, the senior Jones was just as happy as his son and had a true "proud dad" moment. Junior had been close several times before, but this is now the highlight of his career and it came in his home state of Texas.
"I'm so excited - I really didn't see this coming," Jones said at his Bass Pro Tour Trophy Presentation, as quoted by MajorLeagueFishing.com. "If you'd asked me halfway through our first day if I'd have a shot to win this thing, I would have said absolutely not. Somehow, someway, by the grace of God, it just kind of came together this week. They say when it's your time, it's your time and I guess it's just my time.
"There are so many great anglers here," Jones continued. "We've got a lot of really great anglers that have fished for a very long time and never won one. You see it all the time. I don't even feel like I'm that good of an angler. I don't know why it was me, but I just feel so blessed, so fortunate, so lucky and just thankful."
NEXT: JACOB WHEELER LOOKS TO KEEP BUILDING UPON HIS LEGACY FOLLOWING SUPERB SEASON
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