The Walmart FLW Tour crowned a familiar champion June 9 as hometown favorite Jason Christie held on for his second win of the season and a cool $125,000.
“This was such a special week for me,” Christie said. “The way that I was catching them, it brought back a lot of memories.”
Christie hauled in 78 pounds and 1 ounce of fish throughout the tournament, meeting his five-bass limit each day and getting the most out of his favorite locations.
“Knowing the lake like I do allowed me to sit down and not move around,” Christie said. “I’d guess that about 90 percent of my fish were caught with my Power-Poles down, and you need confidence to do that.”
The sixth-year pro learned to fish on Grand Lake, and said he owes the success in his career to the lake and its local fishermen.
“While most people were out there probably telling stories about their wife and kids, I was telling my co-anglers stories about watching the willow trees grow up,” Christie said. “I’d point over at a bush or willow tree and say, ‘I remember when it was only that big. This place is responsible for teaching me how to fish.”
This tournament was a tight race all the way, and although Christie led from Day One, he was never a sure-fire winner by the numbers.
Fewer than 8 pounds separated the top-5 anglers after four days of competition. It was truly a last-minute showdown.
“It was a pretty stressful day for me,” Christie said. “Today started off like a train wreck. I didn’t get my first bite until 8:30 a.m. and it can unpinned on a tree, and I lost it. From that point on, it was pretty slow and steady all day. It actually took all day to catch what I caught.”
Christie was closely contended by Bryan Thrift, who caught 72 pounds, 12 ounces.
Thrift, from Shelby, N.C., is in his seventh season as a professional angler, and is in the running for the Angler of the Year award.
“It was an awesome tournament,” Thrift said. “My goal was just to move up the standings. So I’m feeling pretty good right now. I never thought I’d finish in second.”
Overall, it was a good day for young anglers. Christie and Thrift represent the newer wave of pro anglers, a group that has taken the sport by storm from a young age and widened its popularity. Joining that group is Stetson Blaylock.
Blaylock was the youngest winner on tour (21) in 2009, and four years later, he is in fifth place in the Angler of the Year standings with one tournament left.
His ninth-place finish also brought in a $13,000-plus paycheck.
“This tournament was good for me,” Blaylock said. “To come up here, planning to fish deep and then have to go shallow, and to still compete with these guys for a top-10 spot, I couldn't be happier.”
Blaylock, with only five years experience, has the potential to win big tournaments like this one, and that's something veterans like Andy Morgan can't deny.
“There's a surge with the younger guys, no doubt,” Morgan said. “I'm 41, when I started at 15, it wasn't a real cool thing to do, there weren't opportunities to start right out of high school. Now, you've got high school and college fishing and it's everywhere.”
Morgan is certainly not behind the wave—he leads the Angler of the Year standings by nine points with 802—and he knows how precious it is to be ahead.
“It's always good to be leading,” he said. “Everybody always says it's better to be in second or third, no, I'll take all the points I can get.”
The Tour moves to Tennessee's Lake Chicamauga near the end of the month, but local FLW fans might not have to wait long for the pros to make another visit to Grand Lake.
One after another, in front of a crowd of rolling cameras, the anglers went on about how great Grand was all week.
Jimmy Houston: “Grand has been fantastic; it's full of bass.”
Zell Rowland: “This lake has what I call and overabundance of 3-pound fish, just wait til they all grow to 5 pounds.”
Jay Yelas: “This lake is on fire.”
Those are a few of the many who praised the lake and the City of Grove for putting on one of the best fishing tournaments of the year.
Houston, who finished 4th and grabbed more than $24,000, couldn't leave the stage without having what he hoped would be the last word.
““It’s great to be here,” he said. “And I just want to add that nobody has better fishermen than the state of Oklahoma.”