Jordon Lee, the 27-year old Alabama whiz kid, who has taken professional bass fishing by storm in recent years, put another $100,000 notch on his belt Sunday, winning the inaugural Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour event with a virtuoso performance on Florida’s Lake Garcia. The venue for the final day of the event moved the top 10 finishers from the Kissimmee Chain to Garcia, a 3,000-acre impoundment east of Vero Beach, to give the anglers a shot at less-pressured water.
Lee won a national collegiate championship in 2013 at the age of 21, and put back-to-back Bassmaster Classic trophies on his mantle in Grant, Ala., in 2017 and 2018. At the age of 27, Lee owns the most prolific Top 10 success rate in the sport: He’s made the Top 10 in just over 35 percent of his tour-level tournaments – which is a remarkable accomplishment.
After finding an area of clean water on the north end of Lake Garcia in the final period of the Championship Round, Lee put together a flurry of 2- and 3-pounders in the final two hours winding a vibrating jig through the Kissimmee grass and hydrilla, adding over 32 pounds in the period to distance himself from Edwin Evers and Jared Lintner. Lee finished the day with 55 pounds, 1 ounce on 26 bass to Evers’ 44-3 and Lintner’s 33-9.
“The third period was an unbelievable period,” Lee said. (Each day’s fishing was divided into three 2:30 minute pishing periods.) “I fished my way into that last area and got bite after bite after bite – and caught good ones, too – and just found myself in a spot with clear water and a lot of fish. Fish were moving in to spawn, so there were bigger fish in there. Edwin was coming on strong right there at the end, so it feels pretty darn good.”
Evers did his best to overtake Lee. The Oklahoma pro matched Lee fish-for-fish in the final 2 ½ hours of competition – Evers and Lee both caught 16 fish – but couldn’t match Lee’s quality. Only three of Evers’ fish in the period were over 2 pounds, while 11 of Lee’s were between 2-4 and 4-11.
“I had the bites today, I just wasn’t on the right fish,” Evers said. “It was that simple. I thought I’d find a few bigger ones, but I never could get on bigger ones consistently.”
In fact, nobody found any of the famed Florida giants on Sunday—biggest fish of the day was Jared Lintner’s 5-05.
Lintner looked like he might be the man to beat until Lee and Evers, both throwing high-speed bladed jigs that played well in the numbers game, put the hammer down in the final period. The Southern California pro put back-to-back fish of 4-1 and 3-15 late in Period 1 flipping a 3-inch hand-poured black/blue/silver-flake craw, and then took the lead just before the end of Period 2 with the 5-05.
His flipping bite faltered in the final period, though. Lintner landed only six scorable fish in the final 2 ½ hours, all but one of them between 1-3 and 1-7.
Sunday’s round was punctuated for many in the field by penalties—dropping a fish on deck, hitting the gunwale or other accidents earn a two minute time-out for anglers, reducing their fishing time. (The penalties are aimed at ensuring careful handling and survival of the fish.) For a time, Michael Neal spent nearly as much time in the penalty box as with a rod in his hand. Halfway through the day the Tennessee pro had seven penalties, which ranged from the fish barely touching the carpet to setting the hook too hard and having a fish come flying into the boat. He eventually settled down, but never really managed to move into contention for the top spots—he finished 7th with 21-08.
In fact, winner Jordan Lee got a penalty with six minutes to go, requiring him to sit and wait as Edwin Evers made a furious rally to try to close the gap. At one point, Evers put six bass in the boat in 20 minutes. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. The amazing number of fish in Lee’s spot—and his ability to charm them into the boat--was too much for anybody to overcome.
The battle for fourth through seventh was the tightest grouping of the day. Anthony Gagliardi finished fourth with 24-5, trailed by Alton Jones, Jr., (23-3), Randy Howell (22-2) and Michael Neal (21-8). Jess Sprague (18-9), Dustin Connell (14-12) and Takahiro Omori (12-11) finished out the Championship Rounds standings.
Stage Two of the MLF Bass Pro Tour kicks off Feb. 12-17 in Conroe, Texas, where the 80-angler field will compete on Lake Conroe. This 21,000-acre impoundment of the San Jacinto River north of Houston hosted the 2017 Bassmaster Classic (won by Jordan Lee) and the Toyota Texas Bass Classic (MLF angler Dave Lefebre won the 2009 TTBC there), and is one of Texas’ most prolific producers of trophy-sized largemouth.
-Joel Shangle, MLF