Classic In Depth–Alton Jones–Fourth Place

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story and photos by Dan O’Sullivan

The 2012 Bassmaster Classic is complete, the final standings are in the record books and the champion; Chris Lane, is on his victory lap. The press releases have been drafted and broadcast, and the high level details have been retold, but we at Advanced Angler want a little more.

The top 10 shaped up like this:
1 Chris Lane – 51-6
2 Greg Vinson – 47-15
3 Keith Poche – 45-15
4 Alton Jones – 45-14
5 Ott Defoe – 44-14
6 Timmy Horton – 44-13
7 Dustin Wilks – 44-12
8 Edwin Evers – 43-8
9 Todd Faircloth – 40-15
10 Bill Lowen – 40-15


But, that’s only a look at the story. We look to go in depth with the top finishers; those who carved their day in the spotlight and challenged for the victory. While we will get the down and dirty details with many of the top finishers.

Alton Jones is a veteran of 186 Bassmaster tournament entries and 14 Bassmaster Classics. His 2008 Bassmaster Classic Championship at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina cemented him as one of the best anglers in the business. When you add a Classic victory to his 40 top 10 finishes, five Bassmaster wins and more than $2 million in career earnings; Jones is a living hall of famer. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t enjoy adding a second Classic title to that résumé.

Practice
With the experience of a veteran, Jones spent two days at the Red River before the waterway went off limits in December. But, rather than simply drive through the river hoping to see areas that he might fish; Jones went the extra mile.

“I actually only went on the water one of the days in pre-practice,” said the Woodway, Tex. pro “I flew over the Red River in a helicopter on the other day because I can observe areas much more efficiently from the air than from just reading a map, or driving it in my Skeeter.”

What he was looking for were several things. First, he was looking for backwater areas that had clean water, aquatic vegetation and accessibility by the water. Second, he was looking for little areas that might end up being tournament waters if the Shreveport / Bossier City area received heavy rains prior to the event. “I had several little ponds located that might have been accessible if we reached flood stages,” he said. “You just can’t locate them from the water.”

He revealed that he had circled all of the areas in that flight that ended up being top producers in the tournament. He had identified waters that competitors in the top 10 fished in, and all he had to do during official practice was narrow down his selections.

Thinking back to his 14th place finish at the 2009 Classic on the Red River; Jones realized that he had two smaller days on days one and two, then had a big day on the final day to move up the leaderboard. “I fished in Pool 4 for the first two days,” he said. “Then fished in Pool 5 the final day. That made me start my practice in Pool 5 this year.”

He would never leave. “Once I found a good combination of numbers of strikes and what I felt were good quality fish, I decided to stay in Pool 5 for the tournament,” he said. “I based my decision on maximizing my fishing time by avoiding the locks.”


Day One
When practice was complete, Jones decided not fill up the tanks of his Skeeter boat. “I purposefully left only about a quarter tank of fuel in my boat,” he said. “Partly because I felt like I needed to be able to float shallower, but also because if I know in the back of my mind I have enough fuel to make a run; I will, and i felt strongly that I needed to fish slowly for this event.”

He started to head into a backwater pond in the Port Lake just across from Red River South Marina; but, when he realized he was fourth in line to get into the pond, he went to his secondary spot. That spot happened to be less than 500 yards from the takeoff, and he would share it with five other competitors.
Aaron Martens, Kevin VanDam, Jeff Kriet, Davy Hite and Kevin Wirth all elected to start there.

It didn’t take long for the anglers to leave that location, and before long, Jones would have it to himself. “The other guys left fairly early, and I figured they would do the same thing in my primary area,” he said. “After catching a limit in his first stop, he went to the other area at 11:00, and found it less crowded.”

The anglers in that hole were John Crews, Marty Robinson and Chris Lane; the eventual winner. “Lane had caught a good limit in there and had run to Pool 4,” Jones said. “I got in there and caught nearly 14 pounds in about two hours and left to see if I could find anything to improve my stringer in the rest of Port Lake.”

Day One – 13 pounds, 13 ounces – 16th place – four pounds behind day one leader Keith Poche.

Day Two
He was the first boat into the pond the second day of the tournament, followed by Crews, and eventually Robinson; who did not stay long. “I was able to get my first choice of areas in the pond and make the most of it,” said Jones. “I caught everything that I would weigh-in by noon, and then go looking again for spawning fish that would help me.”

He would catch four of his fish that day on spawning beds, and while he was careful not to burn the area too badly, he was also a little fearful that Crews or another angler would move in if he left, so he looked around more than he did fish.

Day Two – 17 pounds, 14 ounces – two day total of 31 pounds, 11 ounces, third place – 3 pounds, 13 ounces behind leader Chris Lane.

Day Three
Jones found fishing to be tougher on the final day of the tournament. “I was able to catch them earlier on day two despite the cold front because it came in later than expected,” he said. “On the morning of day two, the cold air didn’t hit until 4:00AM, so the water stayed warmer overnight.”

The same would not hold true on day three. The overnight lows started immediately, and the water temperatures chilled off quickly. “I had to slow way down and make sure I fished everything very thoroughly,” he said. “At one point, I had only two small keepers and I was starting to second guess myself, but I stuck it out.”


As the bright sun began warming the shallow water, fish began to move up, and by the time the water temperature reached 58-degrees, Jones said it was like a light switch had been turned on. “I probably caught 20 keepers that afternoon,” he said. “They all came in water less than two feet deep, and surprisingly, many of them came from water that was less than a foot off of little points in the pond.”

Day Three – 14 pounds, 3 ounces – three day total of 45 pounds, 14 ounces, fouth place – less than six pounds behind winner Chris Lane.

The Approach
Jones said that he located many of his fish in practice tossing a 3/8-ounce Booyah Jig with a YUM Muy Grande grub in the back. However, as the conditions became more volatile with weather changes, he relized he needed to slow down.
“I really fished slowly with a 6-inch YUM Dinger until I came across a bedding fish,” he said. “When I found a bedding fish, I would switch up to a YUM Vibra King Tube.”

He said he was fishing so slowly, that he would deploy his Power Poles and literally blanket cast the area for 20 minutes before moving on. “I would keep track of where I would place the Dinger and move it a little to the side before casting again,” he said. “I really worked it methodically; usually weightless, but in the wind I would add a 1/16-ounce weight to help keep it down.”

The Aftermath
Jones said that he realized the field got beaten by Lane. “I fished a really good tournament; with the exception of one lost four pounder,” he said. “That fish may have moved me up one or two places, but I wasn’t going to beat Chris (Lane); he fished too good of a tournament and just beat us all.

“Don’t get me wrong; it doesn’t make me happy to say that,” said Jones. “But, he did such a masterful job of managing his water and the locks that I have to give him a lot of credit for beating us all. I’m really happy for him and his family, and proud of him for the job he did.

“I’m sure in hindsight there are some decisions I could make differently, but you do the best you can and know that the Lord has a plan for you,” he said. “It was a good tournament all around.”


Gear
Jones primarily used two lures to weigh fish in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic:
Lure – 6-inch YUM Dinger Soft Stickbait in green pumpkin with purple flake he fished it weightless mostly, but when wind presented a problem, he added a 1/16-ounce tungsten worm weight for better presentation.
Rod – 6′ 9″ medium-heavy Kistler ZBone rod
Reel – Ardent Edge Elite 7.3:1 speed casting reel
Line – 50-pound-test braided line (unnamed brand)
Hook – 4/0 straight shank Paycheck baits Punch Hook

Lure – YUM Vibra King Tube – Green Pumpkin (for bedding fish)
Rod – 6’6″ medium-heavy Kistler Z Bone Rod
Reel – Ardent Edge Elite 7.3:1 speed casting reel
Line – 30-pound-test braided line (unnamed brand)
Hook – 3/0 straight shank Paycheck baits Punch Hook
Weight – 3/16-ounce Tungsten worm weight