Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 05/06/2012

Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Dandridge, TN – Entering the final day of the Douglas Lake Challenge, Britt Myers knew that he had his work cut out for him if he was to hoist the first blue trophy of his career.  Over the first three days of competition, the South Carolina pro deep cranked his way to a lead of nearly 6-pounds over Jeremy Starks, who had spent the majority of the tournament camped on one super-school of Douglas largemouth. 

After weighing-in a 19-8 limit on Saturday, Myers prophetically stated that even though he held a substantial lead, the tournament was anything but over.  “Everything is going good and I do have a decent lead….but I could stumble and have a 10- or 11-pound day and Jeremy Starks could have a 20-pound day and win the tournament,” he stated.

Jeremy StarksOn Sunday, Myers went to work with dogged determination, hitting dozens of deep water spots in hopes of connecting with the quality largemouth gorging on large gizzard shad that had propelled him to the top of the leader board.  The big bites never came, but Myers put together a decent limit weighing 14-7, forcing Starks to surpass the 20-pound mark on Sunday to have a shot at winning the fourth Elite Series tournament of the 2012 season.

Starks did just that, crossing the stage with Sunday’s second heaviest limit weighing 22-5 to boost his total weight to 81-2 and claim the second Elite Series victory of his career by 2-pounds, 1-ounce over Myers.

Along with the $100,000, Starks, who sat out the 2011 season with a medical exemption, also qualified for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake in Oklahoma – the first Classic of his career.

Knowing that he had a lot of ground to make up on the leader, Starks said that he knew the area he had relied on over the first three days still had the potential to surrender a massive limit. “I felt like I could really catch 25-pounds there,” he explained.  “I jumped off two big fish and I thought that it was really going to cost me.”

Jeremy StarksKeying on a massive school of bass that he found using his electronics, Starks said that the suspended fish were nearly impossible to catch, but when the bass were on the bottom, they were easy to target. “It was just strictly a timing deal,” he said.  “When the fish got on the bottom, they were easy to catch.”

Starks said that the most important factor was getting his bait to the bottom.  Every single fish that he brought to the scales was caught while long lining or “strolling,” where he would put his reel in free spool and troll upwards of 300 yards of line before reengaging the reel and cranking in the bait. “Once you figured out how to get them to bite, you could catch them every cast,” he said.  “You absolutely had to crank the fire out of the bait.”

Using both a Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite reel and Abu Garcia Revo reel, Starks said that he would pack as much line as possible on either spool. He declined to divulge what pound test or brand of line he used.  He relied primarily on one crankbait – a Strike King Series 6XD.  Early in the morning and when it was overcast, he threw Blue and Chartreuse, and switched to a Sexy Blueback Herring color when the conditions were bright.  He also mixed in a Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips Express, but said that the bait didn’t play a major role.

While mining a single area put Starks in the position to win, it was a decision late in the day on Sunday that proved to be the difference.  With a solid limit in the livewell, Starks left his area with less than an hour of fishing time left and called an audible.  “I was running down the lake with intentions of going down to the dam.  I knew that they were supposed to start pulling current, so I stopped at a mouth of a creek.  I idled around until I found the fish, and on my first cast I caught a 4-pounder.  I lost two fish on my next two casts, and then I caught two 5-pounders.  I ended up culling three times in the last 15-minutes.

“I was relaxed today because the pressure was on Britt, not me,” continued Starks. “At the beginning of the year, I started writing ‘one at a time’ on my hand before every day (with a Sharpie).  It’s made me fish differently.  Every time I start to panic, I see that written on my hand and really calm down.”

2nd Place: Britt Myers (79-1)
For the second tournament in a row, Britt Myers was one of the last two anglers standing on the Elite Series stage on championship Sunday.  Unfortunately for the likable South Carolina pro, he again found himself congratulating the tournament winner, rather than hoisting his first Elite Series trophy. 

After opening the tournament with 21-1 to settle in a tie for 3rd Place, Myers jumped into the lead on Friday with the tournament’s heaviest limit weighing 24-1.  He stretched his lead to 5-pounds, 13-ounces on Saturday after weighing-in another 19-8. 

Britt MyersKnowing that his closest competitor, Jeremy Starks, was well within striking distance and mining a school of big deep water largemouth, Myers knew that he would need yet another solid effort on Sunday to take the title.  He did everything that he could do, hitting dozens of spots with a deep diving crankbait over the course of the day.  In the end, his 14-7 limit wasn’t enough, and he finished in 2nd Place with a total weight of 79-1.

“Dude, I did everything that I could do,” said Myers behind the weigh-in stage.  “If I can finish in 2nd Place throughout the rest of the year and not win a tournament, it’s all good.” 

Like Starks, Myers relied exclusively on deep cranking throughout the week and also employed the long lining technique that allowed him to reach incredible depths with the bait. “There wasn’t hardly anybody doing it, and when it got out there, it seemed like everyone was doing it. It’s something that I learned back home, but we don’t get to do it a lot because it’s not really necessary.  This was a rare deal, and it will be a while before you see this technique used again.” 

Myers relied primarily on a silent Strike King Series 6XD crankbait and also mixed in a Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips Express. “The Hot Lips got really deep, but it was kind of erratic, so when we had cloud cover I’d switch to the Series 6XD.”

While Starks camped on one area, Myers often made less than five casts before making a move.  “When I got a bite, it was usually on the first cast,” he explained.  “Once I figured that out, I’d just make one or two casts.  If I had any indication that I was going to get a bite, I’d stay there a little bit longer.”

Physically exhausted after pulling a deep diving plug for four straight days, Myers said that he was looking forward to taking some time off. “I’m worn out.  I’m really glad that it’s over, because I worked really hard this week and I left it all on the table.  I went 100% the entire day and I don’t regret any of my decisions.” 

3rd Place: Aaron Martens (74-5)
After taking the lead on Thursday with a limit weighing 23-14, Alabama’s Aaron Martens remained in the hunt each of the following two days but struggled to regain the momentum from the opening round.  With limits of 17-6 and 16-8 on Friday and Saturday, he entered championship Sunday in 3rd Place.

With 16-9, Martens finished in 3rd with a total weight of 74-5, and with 97 Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year Points, moved up to 56th in the standings to keep his hopes of a 2013 Classic qualification alive. 

Martens relied on three different baits throughout the tournament including a Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips Express (in several colors), a Mann’s 30+ crankbait, and a Flutter Spoon.  He threw the crankbaits on 10-pound-test SunLine Shooter.  On Sunday, he mixed in a Carolina-rigged trick worm when the bite got tough. 

Aaron Martens

Martens said that as the schools of offshore bass began to break up and scatter as the week progressed, it became more difficult to target the quality fish that he had located during practice.  On Sunday, he said that he spent several hours experimenting.  “I ended up being a dork for a couple hours,” he laughed. “I threw that Carolina-rig, and then I cranked for a little bit, and I even pulled out a shaky head just to try and get few fish in the boat.”  In the last hour of the day, he picked up the Flutter Spoon and boated six keepers to salvage his day. 

Relying on way points that he marked during a scouting trip to Douglas in December, Martens said that he located schools of bass on his graph.  “When I saw an arch or two, I’d pinpoint the location and then back off and try to catch them.” 

When throwing the crankbait, Martens would employ the “kneel-and-reel” technique to maximize the depth of the bait. “I was able to get it about three or four feet deeper,” he explained.  “I was just making long casts.”

Dean Rojas4th Place: Dean Rojas (73-13)
After finishing the first day of the Douglas Lake Challenge in a tie for 8th Place, Arizona’s Dean Rojas made his move on Friday, jumping into the Top 5 with a 22-pound limit.  On Saturday, he remained within striking distance by adding another 17-13 to his total. 

On Sunday, Rojas remained consistent, bringing in a limit weighing 17-9 to finish in 4th Place with a total weight of 73-13. 

After catching several bedding bass during the opening round, Rojas stumbled on a productive point towards the end of the day that turned out to be his most productive area for the next two days.  “On Thursday, I had 15-minutes until I checked-in, and I pulled up on a little point and hung a good one,” he explained. “I ended up culling three times in 12-minutes. 

"I started there on the second morning and caught 22-pounds, and yesterday, I had another 18-pounds off of the spot.” Rojas caught the majority of his fish on the first three days deep cranking with a Spro Little John DD crankbait and mixed in a Spro K-Finesse Jig. 

On Sunday, his sweet spot ran dry and he was forced to run up the river and fish shallow for bass that he located in practice.  “I started froggin’ and I really got into them.  The water was clear, nobody else was up there, and I just crushed them,” he said.  “For me, this week was a victory.  I’m ready to move on to the next one.”

5th Place: Randy Howell (72-12)
Alabama’s Randy Howell entered Douglas Lake on a serious roll.  In the first three Elite Series tournaments of the season, Howell had recorded three Top 15 finishes, including a 14th Place finish just two weeks ago at Bull Shoals. 

With 23-3 on Sunday, Howell finished in 5th Place with a total weight of 72-12, and in the process, took a 26 point lead over David Walker in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year race at the midway point of the season.

“When you’re fishing these deep water places, it’s just a timing deal,” said Howell. “I didn’t do anything different today.  I moved around, but I keyed on four schools that I thought held bigger fish. I just rotated through them about four or five times. I had a great day.” 

Randy Howell

Like many of the competitors in the Top 12, Howell relied on a combination of a deep diving crankbait and a spoon to do the majority of his damage.  “All my fish came on a Lake Fork spoon, a Mann’s 30+ crankbait, and a Sebile jigging spoon.  It was a combination of all three baits each day.” 

Howell said that each day he had to relocate the active schools that were following the large shad.  “The whole deal was keeping your eyes on your graph.  It was tough to stay on them, but the hardest part was getting the fish to bite because so many other people were fishing the same schools of fish.”

With the TTAOY lead, Howell said that he’s looking to keep the momentum through the second half of the year. “It’s really a blessing,” he said. “I hope that I’m able to lead it the rest of the season.  That would be awesome.” 

Andy Montgomery6th Place: Andy Montgomery (69-12)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I just never got any good bites today.  It has kind of been an on one day and off the next tournament for me this week.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was keying on the big schools of gizzard shad that were out on the deep spots.”

Primary Baits:  Strike King Sexy Spoon, Strike King Shadalicious Swimbait

Key To The Week:  “My bigger bites came on certain areas.  The key was just being able to get on those areas and fish them at the right time. There was a lot of traffic out there.” 

Week In Review:  “I was using big baits and fishing for big fish this week.  If you could pull up on a good school you could do well.  You could pull up and get them to bite, but you needed to have the big ones bite first or it would break up the school.”

Ott DeFoe7th Place: Ott Defoe (69-12)
Final Day Thoughts:  “It was very difficult everyday out there.  You had to get your bait in a very small area to trigger a fish to bite.  It is literally a matter of a few inches between the fish biting or not.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was keying on the deeper water where the big shad live.  Just cranking and throwing a big swimbait was basically what the deal was for me.”

Primary Baits:  Unamed Swimbait, Unamed Deep Diving Crankbait

Key To The Week:  “The key for me this week was focusing on the 25 to 40 foot depth range.  I never weighed in a fish that I caught less than 25 feet.”

Week In Review:  “I caught kind of what I expected this week, but these guys really caught them good here.  I am really pretty happy with how my tournament went.”

Jeff Kriet8th Place: Jeff Kriet (69-6)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I caught them pretty good all day today.  I was able to move around more today and get on some of the schools that I hadn’t been able to hit earlier in the week.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was just cranking mostly this week.  If I couldn’t get them to bite that, I would just fish the area with the spoon.”

Primary Baits:  Strike King 6XD, Unamed Spoon

Key To The Week:  “Being able to let the fish rest was crucial.  If you could let the school rest and then come back to them you could really catch them.  The Hydrowave was also a big key for me.”

Week In Review:  “This was a big tournament for me this week.  Being able to get out and fish deep like I like to do is always a good deal.  It’s the halfway point in the season and I am in good position to make the Classic at Grand, so that is what I am focused on.”

Brandon Card9th Place: Brandon Card (68-0)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I actually started long lining today and it worked out for me.  I ran some new water today and was able to get my bait down really deep and get some of those fish to bite.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was just hitting a lot of spots that I knew about from fishing this lake in the past.  Basically just locating fish with my graph and cranking and fishing with a carolina rig.”

Primary Baits:  Custom Painted Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips, Zoom Lizard

Key To The Week:  “Knowing what areas normally hold fish on this lake helped a lot.  Also having a lot of spots to rotate through was helpful.”

Week In Review:  “It’s been an awesome week for me.  I was able to put a lot of the pressure aside with all my family here and just focus on the fishing.”

Mike McClelland10th Place: Mike McClelland (62-7)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I fished for big ones all day today because I knew I needed over twenty to even move up much.  I did catch one big one which saved me, but really didn’t have much to go with it.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was actually catching fish shallower than most of the guys.  I was focusing on the 12 to 18 foot range.  I think I was catching some pre-spawn and post-spawn fish.”

Primary Baits:  Bass-X Football Jig, Zoom Brush Hog (Trailer), Spro Fat Papa Crankbait

Key To The Week:  “I was idling around from deep to shallow on my spots to intentionally try to push the bait up and fire up the fish.  When I would get a lot of boat traffic around my areas that would also help.”

Mark Davis11th Place: Mark Davis (60-11)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I cranked all day and caught a lot of fish.  I probably could have caught a lot more numbers wise today, but the bigger fish seemed to want the plug.”

Primary Pattern:  “Basically I was just making super long casts and targeting schools of bass I had found using my electronics.”

Primary Baits:  Strike King 6XD

Key To The Week:  “The key for me was using my Lew’s reel to make super long casts and get my bait down there really deep.  I wasn’t doing that strolling business, so I had to rely on making a long cast and reaching a depth where those fish were positioned.”

Week In Review:  “I stuck with the same group of fish up the lake, and I just don’t think you can win up there.  I really thought you could have done better up there, but it just didn’t happen for me.”

Jamie Horton12th Place: Jamie Horton (55-10)
Final Day Thoughts: “I caught a few pretty early today on the crankbait, but that kind of slowed down and I had to switch to the carolina rig.  Later on in the day I left and went and flipped some bushes and caught a three pounder.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was mixing it up this week between fishing deep with a crankbait and carolina rig and also fishing shallow in the flooded bushes.”

Primary Baits:  Strike King 6XD, NetBait Mad Paca,

Key To The Week:  “I caught most all of my good fish this week concentrating on the deeper water.  I really feel like the better fish were all deep, and I was able to catch a few of them this week which was a big key to me getting to fish on the final day.”

Week In Review:  “I pretty much stayed in the same areas and fished the same ledges and bushes most of the week.  Mixing it up a little between the deep and shallow fish was working for me this week.”


Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4 Total Fish Total Weight
1 Jeremy Starks 5 16- 1 5 23- 1 5 19-11 5 22- 5 20 81- 2
2 Britt Myers 5 21- 1 5 24- 1 5 19- 8 5 14- 7 20 79- 1
3 Aaron Martens 5 23-14 5 17- 6 5 16- 8 5 16- 9 20 74- 5
4 Dean Rojas 5 16- 7 5 22- 0 5 17-13 5 17- 9 20 73-13
5 Randy Howell 5 16- 1 5 13- 9 5 19-15 5 23- 3 20 72-12
6 Andy Montgomery 5 21- 1 5 12-14 5 22- 6 5 13- 7 20 69-12
7 Ott DeFoe 5 14-14 5 18-13 5 19-12 5 16- 5 20 69-12
8 Jeff Kriet 5 17-15 5 16- 0 5 14-11 5 20-12 20 69- 6
9 Brandon Card 5 16- 1 5 17- 0 5 15- 7 5 19- 8 20 68- 0
10 Mike McClelland 5 16- 4 5 16- 0 5 15- 1 5 15- 2 20 62- 7
11 Mark Davis 5 13-12 5 14- 5 5 15- 1 5 17- 9 20 60-11
12 Jamie Horton 5 15-14 5 12- 9 5 14-12 5 12- 7 20 55-10