Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 03/13/2011

Shaw Grigsby

Story by Matt Pangrac and Brent Conway - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush

Tavares, FL - At first glance of the 2011 Elite Series schedule, the season’s first stop at the Harris Chain of Lakes looked like it should be a sight fisherman’s dream. However, practice portrayed a different story. The water was warm enough, but Mother Nature appeared to have a different opinion on how the week would play out.

Early on, it seemed certain that the lookers wouldn’t have enough beds to plow for a win. Apparently Shaw Grigsby, who took the lead Friday with over 29 pounds of bedding bass, didn’t get that memo. He methodically worked a stretch of bed-lined canal with a surgeon’s precision to open up a wide lead heading into Sunday.

However, despite an 11-pound lead going into the final day of the tournament, there were a myriad of questions swirling in Shaw Grigsby’s head. At the top of the list was whether the lead would be enough to stave off the wolves that were below him on the leader board waiting for their chance to strike should the Day Three leader stumble. 
It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, after all. Brian Snowden’s 10-pound lead that evaporated on the final day of the 2008 Showdown at the very same body of water had to be bouncing around in Shaw’s head. And despite his living legend status, he hadn’t closed a deal since 2000 – so another question was if, at 55, the veteran pro still had enough gas in the tank to win his ninth tour-level tournament.

Of course, anyone who knows Shaw (who all but wrote the book on sight fishing), or has watched his television show for five minutes, knows that he doesn’t suffer from a lack of energy. However, energy on the final day might not be the problem.

A four-day onslaught of tournament pressure in the canal Shaw shared with fellow pros Grant Goldbeck and Pat Golden, coupled with a local tournament that was on the water on Sunday, had the potential to be too much for the already skittish bedding bass.

As the first anglers came through the weigh-in line, it was clear that Sunday’s finale had been a grind. In fact, the first angler to the stage, Cliff “Cajun Baby” Crochet remarked that after being the hero all week to make the first cut of the season, he’d “zeroed” on the day it mattered most.

In reality, zero or not, it would’ve taken nothing short of a miracle to catch Shaw, who boated 12 pounds, 9 ounces on Sunday to capture win number nine with a four-day total weight of 75-4. With the $100,000.00 in prize money, Shaw is also the first Elite Series angler to punch his ticket to the 2012 Classic via a victory – a new wrinkle in the qualification process for 2011.

Second place went to Grant Goldbeck, who started the tournament in 97th place after weighing a lone one-pounder Thursday, and mounted what is likely the greatest comeback in BASS history. Goldbeck weighed 16 pounds, 13 ounces on the day to finish with a total weight of 67-14 and capture the best finish of his career.

Stephen Browning ended the week in third place after weighing 16 pounds, 3 ounces Sunday, boosting his final weight to 66-9, and Kevin VanDam was forced to settle for the fourth place spot after boating the day’s heaviest limit at 17 pounds, three ounces, giving him 65-13 on the week.

Elite Series rookie Jonathan VanDam made a statement by finishing the week strong with a combined weight of 56-13 after weighing 11 pounds, 8 ounces on the day, and Pat Golden, who’d started the week as the tournament leader, finished with 55-5 after weighing just 6 pounds, 3 ounces on the final day.

1st Place: Shaw Grigsby
After wrapping up Saturday on the Harris Chain with a commanding 11 pound, 10 ounce lead, Florida’s Shaw Grigsby finally allowed himself to think about the possibility of hoisting the trophy on Sunday afternoon. “I hope that there’s enough left for me to hang on because that’s all that I’m trying to do now,” he said backstage.

With just two small bass in the boat within the first three hours of fishing on Sunday, Grigsby attempted to do just that – hang on to the lead that he had amassed over the course of the previous three competition days.

Shaw GrigsbyLacking a kicker bite, the veteran tournament angler managed to grind out a 12 pound, 9 ounce limit in the same small canal pond that had treated him so well the previous three days. With a four day total of 75-4, Grigsby outdistanced his nearest competitor by just over seven pounds. As a result, he claimed his first Elite Series victory, ninth win with B.A.S.S., and first win in over a decade.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a win or a time that I’ve been on stage when I couldn’t talk about my sponsors or describe things,” said Grigsby after the win. “Today I was blown away. You start to question if you still have it and I guess that I still do. To win at basically 55 years-old is just awesome.”

Aside from proving to himself that he can still be a factor at the top of the leader board, Grigsby also claimed the first Elite Series birth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic by way of his victory. It’s a fact that he said is almost as sweet as the win. “Winning is great but the Classic birth is just a load off of me. To make the Classic and know that it’s in the bag is so nice.”

Grigsby said during practice, he had a feeling that the small pond at the back of a canal in the Mid Florida Lakes area could pay off. “I found a lot of big fish in practice so I knew that the Mid Florida area was the place that I wanted to fish because it had the most big ones in it,” he explained. After clouds and wind hampered the Day One sight fishing bite, Grigsby said that it picked up on Day Two. “All the ones that I’d seen in practice were still there on the second day and it was a slugfest from there.”

Shaw GrigsbyAfter a massive 29 pound, 8 ounce limit on Day Two and an 18 pound, 12 ounce effort on Day Three, Grigsby said that the bedding bass were skittish and tough to catch on Sunday. “It was rare where I could pull up and catch a fish. I had to switch baits on almost every fish. I think that the fish were over fished and very few were left. When you get in there and pound them for three days, they’re tough.”

Add to that the fact that Grigsby shared the area with eventual second place finisher Grant Goldbeck for the duration of the event and sixth place finisher Pat Golden for the majority of the four days, and the bass became even tougher to entice. 

“All day I worried,” said Grigsby. “I never had confidence that I had it until right at the end. It was really fun fishing in there with (Grant). I knew that he was my main competition so I kept an eye on him. When I knew that he only had four bass, I knew that I had it.”

Throughout the tournament, the sight fishing master utilized a variety of baits and rod and reel combinations to coax the Florida strain largemouth into biting. “I’d say that five of the fish I weighed came on a Quantum PT spinning reel, 8-pound-test Stren Fluorocarbon line and a ring worm,” he said. “The rest came on a white Ragetail Craw or Rodent and a variety of Strike King plastics rigged on a Quantum Tour Hackney or Tour Grigsby rod and Quantum Smoke reel.”

“I knew that when I went into the area in practice it was a really good deal,” concluded Grigsby. “I just didn’t know that it would be THE deal.”

2nd Place: Grant Goldbeck
When you start the week at the bottom of the leader board, there’s literally only one direction you can head. Fortunately, rather than dwell on his single-fish day to start the season, Goldbeck relied on the confidence he’d garnered from practice to mount the epic comeback.

“I knew what the area was capable of producing,” he said. “I was really praying for a 35-pound stringer (Friday), which was entirely possible to do. I think if a guy would’ve had that area to himself every single day, it would’ve been unreal the weights that you would be seeing. It was just loaded with big fish.”

Grant Goldbeck

As was reported, Goldbeck shook a bass off his line that was in the six- to seven-pound class because he thought it was the buck. He admitted that the lost anchor fish was on his mind over the course of the final day. 

“I looked at the fish I’d shook off twice,” he said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t ever able to get her to lock on to the bed. That’s definitely one that I’d like to get back.”

In addition to the lost fish from Saturday, Goldbeck said then that there was a “giant” he’d mistaken for a grass carp, but never saw her in the canal Sunday. “The canal was just full of big fish,” he said.

“There were some big fish that Shaw had, that were in the eight- and nine-pound range, that he never got to commit, and a couple that I’d found on my end of the canal,” Goldbeck explained.

Grant GoldbeckOn not poaching the other’s fish, Goldbeck revealed that he and Shaw had worked out an arraignment whereby each would have their respective waters – each containing giant bedding bass. “We agreed to not touch them, it was as simple as that,” he said.

“But between those fish that were ‘off limits’ was about 300 yards of canal. It was war between there, I promise.”

Flipping an XCite Raptor Tail Craw Jr. in Okeechobee Craw to beds for 98% of his weight, Goldbeck explained that, short of victory, he was pleased with the week and the resolve he’d shown.

“I just wish I could’ve filled out my limit, but only managed four today to kind of make things a little more interesting. There was a couple of times in the day where I thought that I should fill out my limit so I didn’t look slouchy on stage, but I didn’t want to waste the time because I was focused on catching the big fish I knew I’d need to win.”

Aside from leaving the canal early the first day of the tournament, Grant said that he has no regrets on the week. “It was a fun run, that’s for sure! That’s the reason I do this – because I love this sport. It was still an awesome week.” 

3rd Place: Stephen Browning
Arkansas pro Stephen Browning capped off a great week on The Harris Chain with another solid day at the office on Sunday. Browning who was able to capitalize on some critical moves throughout the event held the hot seat for a brief stint until he was bumped out by eventual second place finisher Grant Goldbeck.

Browning spent the week casting instead of looking – and until Sunday the majority of his week had been spent in Griffin. He switched up and went into Dora on the final day thinking he’d burned his water.

“I’d caught about all I could out (of Griffin),” he said. “I actually went into Dora yesterday afternoon and got a few bites and decided I’d spend the day in there today. I had a lot of confidence in just a small little area in there, and it worked out pretty well for me today.”

Stephen Browning

Browning revealed that it was an area that he and Rick Clunn had rotated through Saturday afternoon, though today it was all Browning's. “Rick was gracious enough to not even come in there today,” he said.

“I owe him a big thanks because it wasn’t very much water. You really had to find a little deeper area up next to the bank – in fact, that was a key element for me all week.”

Browning’s primary technique was flipping a five-inch Z-Man Zinkerz Texas-rigged with a ¼-ounce weight and 40-pound braid to shoreline cover. “Anytime you can get around flat reeds with that thing, you’d better hang on because they were going to nail it,” he said.

“It would be even better if you could get it mixed in with eel grass. They seemed to really like that, but you really had to let it sit. I think these fish were really on beds, but I wasn’t looking at them.”

In hindsight, Browning said that he’s very pleased with his decision-making and performance in the season opener. “I was really in a good grove this week,” he said. “I made a lot of decisions this week, and really had to go with my gut a lot.”

4th Place: Kevin VanDam
Knowing that he was all but out of contention to for the win, VanDam’s goal for the day was to make up as much ground as possible; however, the day didn’t start off as he’d planned. “It really started off a lot slower than I was hoping,” he said.

“In fact, yesterday was a little bit of a struggle – I never got any of those big bites. Today was no different, but I just made it happen.”

Kevin VanDam

KVD pointed out that the only real option he had Sunday, and really all weekend, was to stick with his pattern. “I was winding my little KVD 1.5 all week,” he said. “I could’ve set up on beds, but that’s not how I fish.”

VanDam said earlier in the week that he was going to have to slow down, which in KVD terminology means that there won’t be a wake behind his boat apparently. “I tried to experiment a little by flipping this week, but every time I’d get back to my little crankbait I’d get bit,” he said.

“But really, what I mean by slowing down is that you have to make repeated casts and be really methodical with everything.”

VanDam revealed that he fished the same exact bait he won the Classic with – focusing on outside grass lines in Harris and Little Harris. “I switched up the second day to the crankbait,” he said. “I finally decided that was the thing that I needed to be doing, and I never put it down.”

In a tournament where winders were few, VanDam once again stands out by throwing the square bill with smashing success. “There’s a lot of situations where this bait could work,” he said. “A lot of these fish are spawning, so you can flip them up – which I did some of – or you can get them to react. That’s what I like doing.”

It’s been proven time and again that when KVD can fish to his strengths good things generally happen. “All I did was fish my strengths all week,” he said. “When you can do that and succeed, it’s a real treat.”

5th Place: Jonathon VanDam
A Top 5 in your first outing as an Elite Series pro is solid, to say the least. Despite the pedigree, young Jonathon VanDam is out to chart his own course. Unfortunately, a late penalty put a little damper on the mood Sunday.

“It was a slow day for me anyway,” he said. “I didn’t catch many – only had one good bite really. I was surprised with the bag I had, to tell you the truth. Unfortunately, I had some issues with the cranking battery and was two minutes late coming back in.”

Jonathon VanDam

Despite the mechanical challenges, JVD’s week was strong – and it started (as usual) with a solid practice. “The area I’d found was a pretty decent area with a lot of fish coming to it,” he said.

“The other thing was that I didn’t have any pressure on me all week. There was a lot of guys sight fishing, and I chose to find something off the main lake. It really panned out for me.”

Running only two miles to Dora, Jonathan worked a 1,000-yard stretch of reeds with a Zoom Speed Worm on a 5/16-ounce weight. “Most of it was reeds, but there was some Kissimmee grass mixed in some places,” he said.

“It was something that the fish were using to spawn on – a good hard bottom. Typical stuff that you might expect to find fish on this time of year.”

Looking back on his first stop in the big leagues, JVD is understandably pleased. “It’s a pretty awesome deal – just a dream come true,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been around all my life and something that I’ve wanted to do since I can remember. I’m here now, and it’s just awesome!”

6th Place: Pat Golden
With a great start to the season, Pat Golden can’t complain about the week. “I did some gambling this morning, but that’s what you do when you’re trying to win,” he said. “I went and fished some entirely new water than I had all week.

“I fished it until about 12:00, but I wasn’t able to ever connect with a big fish.”

Pat spent 85% of the week sight fishing with a 6-inch watermelon/red Senko, lest part of Saturday afternoon where he flipped a 4-inch Reaction Innovations tube. He said that he elected to return to his flipping water (an area he’d found during practice) and got “some great flipping bites” Saturday.

Pat Golden

Unfortunately, they’d vanished overnight. “I don’t know what happened to them,” he said.

“I went in there and got a limit, but around lunchtime I knew that something needed to happen. When you’re 11 pounds down, you need to really do something big in order to win. I tried to do that today, but it didn’t work the way I’d hoped it would.”

Golden ran back to the area he’d been fishing – the canal outside Haines – but it had been largely picked over. “Grant and Shaw had pretty much picked it to pieces by the time I got back in there,” he said.

“I was able to pick up a couple bucks, but that was about it so I came on in.”

Overall, he lead a day and finished inside the Super Six. With hindsight being 20/20, Pat revealed that he likely made a mistake Saturday when he left his productive sight-fishing waters. “I should’ve never left it, but that’s easy to say after the fact,” he said.

“I put myself in a hole, but I did it with the best of intentions. I knew that I needed to have like 25 pounds or better yesterday, but I didn’t get it. But all in all, it was still a great week.”

7th Place: Chris Lane
Final Day Thoughts: “Today started out pretty good and I caught a limit quick. They were smaller fish so I kept looking around. I found three big ones on beds but by the time the sun came over the trees, they were just hard to see. Not catching that big fish really put a hurting on me.

Pattern: “I was fishing the frog in pads, cattail lines, and any other type of cover.”

Baits: Gambler Cane Toad

Key to the Week: “Sticking with my key bait and really just fishing. I kind of got off that pattern today by bed fishing, but overall I stuck with my game plan.”

Week in Review: “With a Top 12, I can’t complain at all. I just put the hammer down the best that I could. I was really surprised that the fish on the beds bit as well as they did the entire week. I really wasn’t expecting that.”

8th Place: Alton Jones
Final Day Thoughts: “I knew that I was pretty much out of fish in the area that I’d been fishing so I just went in there with the trolling motor on high to try and find a new one that pulled up. I caught a four pounder and then I went looking for new water and ran canals. I knew that I had to make a move. 

Alton JonesPattern: “I was sight fishing with a little blind casting mixed in.”

Baits: 5” YUM Dinger in Junebug and Green Pumpkin with Purple Metal Flake and YUM Houdini Worm.

Key to the Week: “Any time you come to Florida during the spawn, you really have to fish slow. If you’re around other competitors and you’re fishing slower and picking your spots, you can catch fish. They want to look at the bait before eating it.”

Week in Review: “I was surprised that the sight fish kept reloading for the guys at the top. We live and we learn but I also had some areas with big fish in practice and they left. Different areas get hot and it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen.”  

9th Place: James Niggemeyer
Final Day Thoughts: “It was a grind today. I’m happy to have five fish because around 1:00 I just had two little ones. I locked eyes with a four pounder, a six pound and one that was around eight pounds. Any one of those would have been huge. They just wouldn’t eat the bait. That really made a difference in not having a lot of weight today.”

Pattern: “Sight fishing with a finesse worm and a drop shot rig. I did a little flipping early in the tournament.

Baits: Strike King Finesse Worm, Strike King Rodent Texas-rigged.

Key to the Week: “Figuring out how to get the better fish on beds to commit to the bait.”

Week in Review: “If you knew how many bites that I had in practice, I feel like I milked every last ounce that I weighed-in this week. I’m really happy.”

10th Place: Terry Scroggins
Final Day Thoughts: “Four days of fishing on the Harris Chain is tough because you just run out of fish. It’s hard to move around here and find new fish. It’s a little frustrating.” 

Terry ScrogginsPattern: “I did some sight fishing this week but my primary pattern was flipping arrowhead grass, pencil reeds, and cattails.”

Baits: YUM Money Craw, YUM Houdini Worm

Key to the Week: “Fishing slow enough to get the fish to bite. It’s hard to do that because you have to feel confident that there are fish in the area.”

Week in Review: “It’s been a fun week for me and I’m just glad to get out of here with a good finish and move on to the St. John’s River. I’m satisfied with how I finished. I grew up on the St. John’s so I can’t wait to get there next week.”   
11th Place: Rick Clunn
Final Day Thoughts: “Today, I gave up some of my primary water from day two and day three to Stephen Browning because we were sharing water and didn’t realize it until yesterday. Today, I just went scrounging and caught four.”

Pattern: “Working outside grass with the crankbait and then pitching the lizard in canals.”

Baits: Lucky Strike Black Neon Lizard and Lucky Strike RC 3

Key to the Week: “I have a foot that can’t stay off the trolling motor and even when I was trying to slow down, I just couldn’t. I used my Power Poles to really slow me down. I really feel like if I had those Power Poles for my whole career, it would have translated into six or seven additional wins. It forces you to slow down.”

Week in Review: “Except for trying to swing in a 5 pounder on the first day, I fished well and I made good decisions. It’s a good start for me.”

12th Place: Cliff Crochet
Final Day Thoughts: “I ran the same stuff today that I’ve ran all week long. I only weighed in one limit all week and I just didn’t get bit today. Late in the day, I messed with some big fish on beds that I never could catch.” 

Cliff CrochetPattern: “Thursday, I caught them flipping pads. On Friday and Saturday, I caught them on a frog.”

Baits: Bucket Lures Creature Bait and a SPRO Bronzeye Frog

Key to the Week: “The key to the frog bite what that I was catching the fish that were under duck seed grass. The duck seed blew out of my area and my fish went away.”

Week in Review: “I’m glad to have a good finish and hopefully carry that momentum on to the next tournament and into the rest of the year. Even though I finished dead last on Sunday, it’s still a good tournament.”