Lee frogs to second Heavy Hitters title, VanDam closes career with $100,000 big bass - Major League Fishing
Lee frogs to second Heavy Hitters title, VanDam closes career with $100,000 big bass
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Lee frogs to second Heavy Hitters title, VanDam closes career with $100,000 big bass

Image for Lee frogs to second Heavy Hitters title, VanDam closes career with $100,000 big bass
For the second time in his career, Jordan Lee hoisted a Heavy Hitters champion trophy belt. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Jordan Lee.
May 23, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The first time Jordan Lee ever tasted tournament victory, competing on Lake Guntersville at age 17, he earned the win throwing a topwater frog. Ever since, he’s continued to hone his skills with his favorite technique, waiting for an opportunity to show them on the national stage.

When he finally got the chance at General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, Lee made sure to take advantage. 

Lee caught each of his seven scorable bass during Thursday’s Championship Round and nearly all his weight throughout the event walking a Berkley Swamp Lord over matted hydrilla on Lake Toho. His 27-pound, 14-ounce final-day total proved just enough to clinch a second Heavy Hitters championship belt.

“It doesn’t get any better,” Lee said. “It literally does not. I won my first tournament ever when I was 17 throwing a frog in stuff like that, and you don’t get the chance in any tournament, really, to throw it over grass like this.”

While Lee spent most of the week atop SCORETRACKER®, it took some late heroics for him to overcome an afternoon lull during the Championship Round. With less than 45 minutes remaining before lines out, he caught the scorable bass he needed to retake the lead from Keith Poche, then slammed the door shut by boating a 3-15 with seven minutes remaining. He edged Poche — who hooked and lost a pair of bass that might have erased his deficit, including one in the final five minutes — by 4-4.

The first angler to claim a second Heavy Hitters title, Lee earned $100,000 for the triumph. Meanwhile, Kevin VanDam finished his legendary career on a high note. VanDam claimed the $100,000 prize for the biggest bass of the Championship Round with a 7-12 he caught in the third period.

Here’s how the Top 10 anglers finished the Championship Round:

  1. Jordan Lee — 27-14 (7)
  2. Keith Poche — 23-10 (5)
  3. Matt Becker — 19-4 (5)
  4. Kevin VanDam — 18-14 (4)
  5. Brandon Coulter — 12-5 (3)
  6. Bryan Thrift — 8-7 (2)
  7. Todd Faircloth — 8-1 (2)
  8. Brent Ehrler — 7-0 (1)
  9. Dakota Ebare — 6-12 (2)
  10. Alton Jones Jr. — 0-0 (0)

Complete results

Lee’s frogging expertise looms large on tough final day

Jordan Lee’s going home with $110,000 thanks to winning the Championship Round as well as the Berkley Big Bass bonus from the Qualifying Round. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Lee entered this week as the clear favorite thanks to his two prior wins on the Kissimmee Chain in Bass Pro Tour competition, including the inaugural Heavy Hitters event in June 2020. And for much of the event, he made it look easy. He led Group B through both days of qualifying, stacking more than 60 pounds on SCORETRACKER® during a Day 1 he called “insane,” then won the Knockout Round. 

Come Championship Thursday, though, his fish proved far less cooperative. Whether due to five days of fishing pressure, the variable minimum weight increasing to 3 pounds or the calm, blue-sky conditions that greeted the Top 10, the entire field had to grind for bites, Lee included. It took him two hours to book his first scorable bass.

But, leaning on the hundreds of hours he’s spent frogging mats on Guntersville through the years, the Alabama native eventually figured out which tricks to try to generate just enough bites. He crawled his frog painfully slowly, especially when he knew he was around active fish. He also doctored one frog, removing the silicone strand legs and replacing them with super-glued jig rattles, saying the added noise helps attract bass through the thicker slop.

Most important was knowing where to look amid a sea of hydrilla. Lee learned during practice that he could get more bites through bigger mats than small, matted clumps. From there, he covered water to identify which areas were better than others, using the extra practice time he earned during the Qualifying Round to expand his list of waypoints. That proved vital, as Lee said certain mats stopped producing during the course of the event due to fishing pressure and boat traffic.

“They had to be hollow underneath, … and where you had that kind of cheese,” Lee explained. “They weren’t way out on the outside where there was isolated clumps. I was looking for the bigger mats in areas where they just looked fresh almost, and I was looking for blowholes, where fish come up, blowing through the mat.

“It’s Guntersville 101. I do this every fall since I was 16, the exact fishing that I did this week. It was no different. The grass was the same, and it was just awesome because of how identical it fishes to there.” 

Lee used beefed-up tackle to throw his Swamp Lords, which he believes was important. He primarily wielded a Jordan Lee signature series 7-6 heavy rod from Abu Garcia — designed to be a flipping stick — instead of his usual, 7-3 frog rod. He also turned to a 7-9 punching rod in the thickest mats, spooling both with 50-pound Berkley X5 braid. The heavier rods gave him more power to winch bass out of the thick grass.

Jordan Lee won both qualifying days, the Knockout Round and the Championship Round at Heavy Hitters. Photo by Tyler Brinks

“I didn’t want to mess up the mats,” Lee said. “That’s kind of what I’ve learned about going in and getting them — you ruin a place. You’ve got to drag them out. You can catch a fish right there in the same hole that you’ve caught one before, and that happened a ton this week where you’d find them just packed in out of the same spot.”

Lee bounced from spot to spot Thursday morning before landing on a mat that produced a three-fish flurry in the final half hour of Period 1, giving him the lead. He extended his advantage with two more scorable bass around noon. 

Then, his bite went dormant. Lee went more than two hours without adding to his total. During that time, several anglers crept within one scorable bass of his lead, and Poche eventually passed him with a little more than 90 minutes left in the competition day.

Lee didn’t panic, though. He returned to one of the mats he’d fished early in the morning. While he didn’t get any bites there initially, he’d noticed that it didn’t show signs of fishing pressure. The decision proved to be worth $100,000.

“I thought there was some fish around there,” Lee said. “I had some bites throughout the week right there. But I just decided that was really my only other place I thought wasn’t getting a lot of fishing pressure.”

While Lee lifting a trophy (or, in this case, a belt) has become a common sight at the highest level of tournament fishing, this win stands out to him for how he pulled it off. Just how rare is it to win a national-level event on a frog? The last time it happened was nearly four years ago, when Lee Livesay won a Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Chickamauga in October of 2020 — an event that only occurred at that point on the calendar because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m really just blown away how good it was to me this week, catching them one of my favorite ways, fishing this heavy hydrilla,” Lee said. “I grew up fishing like this. I was really comfortable when I found this bite. And it was just a special bite. It got tougher as the week went on, but I stayed patient, and man, it was just awesome.”

VanDam goes out in style

Kevin VanDam capped off his career by winning the $100,000 Berkley Big Bass at Heavy Hitters. Photo by Phoenix Moore

For the second time in the past 10 months, VanDam nearly wrote a storybook ending to his unmatched career. VanDam, who finished second in his final Bass Pro Tour regular-season event at Saginaw Bay last year before retiring from national touring competition, held the lead for about an hour Thursday morning in his final event.

While he ultimately fell short of adding another win to his résumé, VanDam still managed to do what he’s done so many times before: Walk away with more money in his pocket than any of his competitors. Between the cash prize for catching the biggest bass of the Championship Round and his fourth-place finish, VanDam pocketed $118,000. 

As soon as the 7-12 lunker that earned him the big-bass bonus ate his Strike King Thunder Cricket, VanDam knew what it could mean, telling MLFNOW! viewers “that’s $100,000 right there” before he even had it in the boat. 

“I knew when I saw it jump that it was the one,” VanDam said. “I thought it was a lot bigger than what it was. It was a great big body and just skinny. When it jumped, it looked like an 8 1/2-pounder, 9-pounder. But still, 7-12 and $100,000, that’s a good consolation prize, for sure.” 

Ever the competitor, VanDam admitted he “wanted to win this thing bad.” Fishing scattered hydrilla and hard spots in Lake Cypress, he felt like he was around the fish to do so, but the calm conditions Thursday made it tough to generate enough bites. 

Still, extending his farewell event to the final day and walking away with the biggest paycheck made for a fitting end to a legendary competitive career.

“I had a great week all in all,” he said. “Caught all my fish fishing my way, power fishing with a Strike King Thunder Cricket with a Blade Minnow, KVD style — burning and churning, fishing scattered grass, just fishing my strengths. So, it’s been an awesome ending to kind of a strange year, transitioning into another career, into the television side of it.”