COLUMBIANA, Ala. — Keith Carson had never seen Lay Lake before this week, but leveraging two familiar features allowed the Florida pro to win the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open with a three-day total of 47 pounds, 1 ounce.
Carson placed second on Day 1 with 16-10 and then moved into the lead after catching the event’s heaviest bag — 18-10 — in the second round. On Saturday, he added 11-13 and won the top prize of $38,783 and a berth in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts.
Carson claimed his first Bassmaster win by fishing similarly to the way he fishes on his home waters.
“I was fishing grasslines near steeper banks up the river in front of the (Gaston) steam plant and about 2 miles north of the power plant,” Carson said. “I grew up fishing the St. Johns River and I’m very familiar with current.”
Working with the current created by Alabama Power Company’s release schedule from the Logan Martin Dam, Carson was able to keep himself in front of active fish most of the day. Discharge releases from the steam plant also helped his cause.
Carson pointed out that the inherently disjointed fall transition, complicated by a cold front that brought significant weather changes — partly cloudy, to rainy, to clear and bright — made consistency tough.
“I knew that whoever would grind the hardest would win,” he said. “There wasn’t any pattern, but there was one bait that I caught all my fish on. I used a Berkley Frittside 5 crankbait in the ghost morning dawn color.
“Coming here in December and not expecting a huge weight to blow this away, I said, ‘I’ll throw this because I’m going for 2- and 3-pounders.’ But I caught a 6, a 7 and lots of 3-pounders. I probably caught 30 fish today. It’s just an amazing bait.”
Carson said the bass responded best to a fast retrieve. He typically cranks with a 5.4:1 gear ratio, but he switched to a 6.6:1.
Making the right presentations got the ball rolling quickly Saturday. The final takeoff was delayed an hour and a half due to fog, but Carson didn’t take long to fill his limit.
“I had most of my weight in the first hour after takeoff,” he said. “I think they just bit that first hour after the fog cleared, but then they shut down.
“I just kept running water and kept hitting stuff and I made sure that I stayed in high-percentage areas, so whenever they did bite, I would be in a good area. I did make one cull in the last hour. I let go of a 1-pounder for a 2 1/2.”
Day 1 leader Jacob Walker kept himself near the top all week and finished second with 42-11. The pro from Alabaster, Ala., caught the tournament’s second-largest bag — 17-4 — on Day 1, added 13-0 on Day 2 and wrapped up with 12-7 Saturday.
“I’m a grass fisherman, but I knew it would get pounded in practice, so I’d have to have something else to lean on,” Walker said.
Walker caught his fish by swimming a 5/8-ounce white jig with a white Zoom Z-Craw trailer around grass and flipping matted vegetation with a Texas rig. His Texas-rig presentation consisted of a 3/4-ounce pegged weight and either a white Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver or a white Strike King Rage Bug.
Clint Miller of Jemison, Ala., finished third with 41-7. Miller placed third on Day 1 with 16-3 and gained a spot by adding a second-round limit of 15-10. After scoring kickers in the 6-pound range both of the first two days, Miller couldn’t find a big Saturday catch and weighed a limit of only 9-10.
Miller caught all of his bass on a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a 6-inch green pumpkin finesse worm. He spent most of Championship Saturday fishing particular sweet spots along docks and seawalls.
Carson won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 7-3 largemouth.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., won the co-angler division with 20-12. After placing 40th on Day 1 with 4-11, Przekurat added 10-13 on Day 2 and moved into the lead. A final-round limit of 5-4 allowed him to take the top prize of $15,187.
Przekurat caught his Day 3 bass on a drop shot, a shaky head and a Carolina rig.
Michael Elrod of Cropwell, Ala., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with a 4-5.
Twelve Opens anglers received invitations to fish the 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series. Four each came from the overall standings, the Eastern Opens and the Central Opens. Where anglers were double-qualified via the overall standings and either of the regional divisions’ standings, the invitations moved down the standings lists accordingly.
Invitees include: Bryan New, Justin Atkins, Matt Robertson and Marc Frazier from the overall standings; Jason Christie, Greg Hackney, Kenta Kimura and Darold Gleason from the Central Opens; Stracner, Martin, Justin Hamner and KJ Queen from the Eastern Opens. Schlapper has already earned an Elite Series invitation as winner of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
The tournament was hosted by Discover Shelby, AL.