Jay Yelas Wins Bassmaster Classic At Lay Lake
Texas Pro Scores 6-Pound-Plus Win in Fishing's Big Show
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., July 27, 2002 - Texas pro Jay Yelas put the finishing touches on one of the most dominant victories in Bassmasters Classic history Saturday on Lay Lake in Birmingham.
Just how dominating was Yelas' performance? Consider that the 36-year-old pro became only the fourth winner to lead the Classic from wire to wire. And with his 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth Saturday, he became the first Classic champion to take big-bass honors all three days of the Classic.
Entering Saturday's final round with a lead of nearly 10 pounds, Yelas had eliminated most of the suspense in the race for the $200,000 top prize and the most important title in fishing. As it turned out, that bass weighing 4-13 was enough to wrap up the most prestigious victory of his career.
"This is just the thrill of a lifetime for me," said Yelas, who joined the B.A.S.S. Millionaire Club with his $203,000 earnings. "I can't tell you how much this means to my career and to me personally.
"Winning the Classic makes your career as a professional fisherman. The Classic is the pinnacle of bass tournament fishing."
Yelas secured a victory lap in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Arena before a standing-room-only crowd by bringing in four bass weighing 10-11 Saturday to boost his three-day total to 45-13. That proved to be a lengthy cast away from his closest pursuer, California's Aaron Martens, who finished with 39-9.
Tennessee's David Walker finished third for the second consecutive Classic (35-13), followed by O.T. Fears of Oklahoma (31-6) and former Classic champion Larry Nixon of Arkansas (31-3).
Yelas had little reason to change tactics in the final round. Once again, he fished in the shadow of the Logan Martin Dam, spending the morning casting to schooling bass with a Berkley Popper topwater plug and Berkley Frenzy deep-diving crankbait. When the dam's turbines came to life about 10:15 a.m. and created current in the area, he again switched to a prototype Berkley Power Jig with a Power Frog trailer tied to 25-pound Trilene XT line.
That strategy produced a mixed bag of largemouth and spotted bass, as well as the biggest bass of the tournament each day.
"I think this was a really unique Classic because I don't think anyone has ever won it fishing a tailrace," he said. "It was a struggle today before they started generating water. I only had one small fish, but once the current started, I knew I was in pretty good shape."
Martens, a 29-year-old three-time B.A.S.S. winner competing in his fourth Classic, might have sealed his fate by deciding to target spotted bass instead of the heavier largemouths.
"Yes, that probably hurt me in the end," said Martens, who relied on a hand-tied hair jig and 4-inch Robo worm. "But from what I saw in practice, I thought I could catch 18- or 19-pound stringers of spots. There are some giant spots in this lake."
Walker, 37, said this third-place showing was not as frustrating as last year's close call on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans.
"Last year ... I lost two fish the second day that would have won the tournament," he said. "This Classic was a great deal of fun, and I'm totally satisfied with third because I know I did my best."
Walker's success came on a variety of lures, including a Lake Fork Trophy Tackle Tungsten Jig and Twitch Worm.