KISSIMMEE, Fla., Jan. 20, 2001 - Near the end of the $431,450 BASSMASTER Top 150 on Lake Tohopekalgia Saturday, record-smashing Arizona pro Dean Rojas was the only person worried about the outcome. As it turned out, he could have stayed in bed.
But Rojas was back at it Saturday, putting the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable performances in B.A.S.S. history. His 13 1/2-pound five-bass limit did the unthinkable - breaking the 100-pound mark - as Rojas increased his record to 108 pounds, 12 ounces for a five-bass limit catch in a four-day tournament.
After his nine fellow finalists had weighed in, Rojas maintained a 2-pound, 4-ounce lead before he brought his final-round catch to the scales. When the scales had stopped spinning, Rojas had scored a 15-pound, 2-ounce victory and walked away with the $110,000.
"I was nervous about my lead," said Rojas, who enjoyed a cushion of nearly18 pounds entering Saturday's final round. "I was so afraid somebody would catch a big bag today and catch up to me.
"I'm so excited I'm almost in tears—God, what a tournament. I had a fantastic week; I only missed one fish all week, which was a 6-pounder. But I couldn't have dreamed this. Who could imagine catching 100 pounds in one tournament?"
Who could have imagined destroying the B.A.S.S. record for a one-day, five-bass catch with 45 pounds, 2 ounces? Rojas did just that on the opening round and followed it up with a 34-9 the next day. He broke the four-day tournament record with just three days of fishing before completing the Saturday task.
Arkansas' Mark Davis, who brought in the largest catch Saturday (18-14), finished second with 93-10. Aaron Martens of California placed third with 85-15, followed by Texan Jay Yelas (80-1). Shaw Grigsby of Florida rounded out the top five with 75-4.
Like the other leaders, Rojas did most of his damage while sight-fishing for shallow spawning bass. His success came on two Texas-rigged soft-plastic lures - a Lake Fork Tackle Lizard and Hawg Caller Log Crawler - rigged with a 3/16-ounce Lake Fork Tackle Titanium weight on 25-pound Izor monofilament. Although Saturday's overcast and rainy weather limited sight-fishing for visible bass, Rojas scored on the same lures (as well as a Smithwick Devil's Horse jerkbait) fished in shallow vegetation.
After his masterful performance, Rojas left Kissimmee marveling at Lake Toho and the Kissimmee Chain, which surrendered two 40-pound-plus limits and 21 bass that topped the 10-pound mark this week. "You hear about California having all these big bass, but they haven't got squat compared to this lake," he said.
Mark Davis was astonished at catching a 41-10 limit on day two and 93-10 overall -both records if not for Rojas' heroics. "It could only happen to me," he said, smiling. "I congratulate Dean. What he did this week in catching over 100 pounds is amazing. I never thought I would see that happen."
Davis' sight-fishing strategy involved fishing a smoke-colored Strike King Denny Brauer Flipping Tube. On Saturday, he changed areas completely and caught the largest limit of the day on a gold-and-black Strike King Premier Diamond Shad.
The Arkansas pro and two-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year took big-bass honors in the final round with a 7-pound, 11-ounce largemouth.
Other winners on Saturday included two Apopka youngsters who took top honors in the BASSMASTER CastingKids contest. Nick Anderson won the 7 to 10 age bracket, while Eddie Cole took the 11 to 14 division. This fun-filled national program encourages children to perfect the skills of casting, pitching, and flipping. Local B.A.S.S. clubs conduct the events and provide instruction to all youngsters.