GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Their eyes met, and smiles spread wide across both men's faces.
Four-time Classic winner Rick Clunn was walking across the Bass Pro Shops parking lot toward Mark Tucker's truck, coming to congratulate the fellow Missouri angler on his Open victory and Classic berth.
"I got a lot more gray hairs over nothing," said Tucker, fishing the Opens after 10 seasons on the top circuit.
"Don't let them tell you you didn't put in your dues," Clunn responded.
The talk of Tucker's victory in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open and earning its Classic berth turned technical. He described to Clunn how he used mono line and a loop knot, which let his Rogue sit at the proper depth along the rocks he targeted. Tucker said he just twitched it to induce strikes.
"Hardly anybody throws that Rogue anymore," Clunn said.
"You can't even find them," Tucker said.
Tucker described how he found his pattern. He floated off the ramp on a practice day and saw rocks near shore. He said wind was blowing baitfish near the boulders dotting the shoreline, with 8 feet of water on one side and 2 on the other, and bass were ambushing them.
On Day 1, he caught one while he was still zipping up his rainsuit. He had three in three casts en route to a 16-10 day and a lead he never relinquished. He added 17-4 on Day 2 but the winds changed and he struggled to 12-1 on the final day to finish with 45-15.
Casey Scanlon of Lenexa, Kan., had two good days then made a run for the title. Bolstering by a 6-14 bass, Scanlon had the tournament's largest stringer at 19-1, falling just 11 ounces short with a 45-4 total.
Weighing in last, Tucker was sweating it. He jumped in celebration when his total was announced. Tucker was emotional earlier in the week when talking about how he had to decide to not continue on the Elite Series.
Anglers like Kelly Jordon understood. Like Clunn, Jordon was holding a seminar in the Bass Pro Shops and also came out to congratulate Tucker and hang around his boat with other well-wishers.
"You going to buy me dinner?" Jordon yelled from the other side of the boat.
"Yeah," Tucker yelled back enthusiastically.
Tucker got on the phone with his wife to discuss what this meant to them, and to tell her he won't be coming home just yet.
"I'm going to go to Shreveport," he said. "I got the time, it's if I got the money."
Reminded he just received a $10,000 check and a voucher for new boat, Tucker said, "Probably can't get it cashed around here."
He was off to Shreveport-Bossier City nonetheless, where he'll do some pre-pre-scouting for the 2012 Classic there. Clunn said it was a good call.
"There are three areas that are going to win it," Clunn said. "If you're not in there, you can kiss it goodbye."
Mark Tucker knew early on that Lewisville's spotted bass population had moved to the banks on the final day. Spotted bass (or Kentucky bass) are notoriously aggressive, and they kept Tucker busy for the first part of the day.
With warming weather and high skies, the spots are headed to shallow water to spawn. This transition period just before the spawn can make for very fickle fishing.
"The big ones eluded me, though," he said.
The biggest bass of the tournament eluded him as well. He lost the 9-pound-class bass right at the boat when the one treble hook stuck in the bass' head came free, taking Tucker's prized jerkbait with it.
He remained in the area hoping the Rogue would pop back up, but had to settle on something similar.
What might have been
Billy Cline drove off with his girlfriend, richer with a fourth-place check but certainly wondering what might have been.
The local angler knew Lewisville Lake, had won a Weekend Series tournament there, and was only 3 pounds, 13 ounces out of the lead heading into the final day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open.
He reported sleeping well the night before, not worrying about a former Elite Series pro leading. The only thing different was not having a pre-game meal from Whataburger.
"It was me against the fish," he said.
Cline lost, bringing in only two fish on the final day to fall from second to fourth and missing out on every angler's dream, the Classic.
Winds had changed direction, moving baitfish around, and he couldn't figure out the necessary adjustments in time. His bite had been hot from 1 to 3 p.m., and it just didn't come Saturday. He said he caught his last fish right before having to check in, or he would have fallen further.
"I guess they turned off my crankbait," he said of the fish. "I enjoyed the experience. It gets my name out there & some street cred."
The long ride home
Chris Zaldain stopped at the parking lot exit to check his rig one more time before starting the 1,600-mile journey back to San Jose, Calif.
"Twenty-five hours," he said, adding that he'll be back.
The angler has made the FLW championship the past four years but doesn't have a circuit close to fish, so he's planning on fishing all the Central Open events, so he'll be at Table Rock Lake for the second tournament April 28-30.
Like father ...
The Central Open was Farrell Coppin's first big B.A.S.S. tournament. The Muskogee, Okla., co-angler signed up with his son, Clayton.
"This is the first tournament where I've made the last day, and it's also the first on I've fished with my son," Farrell said. "This is really special."
Both Coppins found their way to the third and final day, where Farrell finished sixth overall with 11-5. Clayton won the co-angler division and took home a brand new Skeeter/Yamaha rig valued at $35,000.
"This is not easy to do, there's some tough competition out there," Clayton said. "The way that things were going this morning, I thought we were going to whack 'em. We didn't, but I got enough to win and that's all that matters."