From extreme winds canceling the first two days of the event – a first in Toyota Series history – to a one-day, winner-take-all shootout format, to an overcrowded lake and a last-second winning kicker, the big border reservoir was the setting of easily one of the more memorable tournaments in recent history.
And standing atop when the wind and tournament finally settled was Rick Harris … but just barely.
Now, that may not seem true considering his 21-pound, 13-ounce winning bag was 3 pounds more than second place. Nothing “barely” about that. No, the “barely” part comes because he was seconds away from coming in with just three fish.
You see, for most of his day, there was nothing that showed Harris was having anything close to a winning day. At 11:30 a.m. he didn’t even have a fish.
“I started in Highport because I thought I could get some keepers in there flipping a jig and cranking, but it was just too crowded,” Harris said, as a 340-boat high school tournament made it tough for many of the anglers to find anything to themselves.
Hoping to get away from the crowds, he made the run to Big Mineral where he targeted banks with steep rock where he figured fish would move up to spawn even if he couldn’t see them. His thinking was proven right when he was finally able to connect with a fish on a ¾-ounce BOOYAH Covert Spinnerbait spinnerbait and then a 6-11 kicker on a homemade jig with a Reins Ring Craw trailer. However, despite “plucking around, jumping spots” to find fresh, untouched areas to himself, there were none to be found.
Remembering he had some fish he’d marked on beds in practice back near Highport, he opted to see if they might still be there. The chances were slim with the canceled days in between and the crowd of anglers, but he hoped the dingier water meant made a couple might’ve gone unseen.
Sure enough, he caught one he could no longer see but had marked, but that was all he could muster until the final, dramatic moments.
“I told my co-angler we had to leave by 3:25 p.m. and I had looked down at my watch to see it was 3:25 p.m.,” Harris said. “So, I was about to leave to come in. I was turning the boat and was reeling in my jig because I was done, and I saw a big fish swirl on it. I immediately pitched back under the walkway I was fishing and caught a 2-pounder. I knew that was not the fish I saw and figured it was the male. So, I pitched back in and caught the female, another 6-11. It was back-to-back pitches.”
Even after taking home the win, Harris admits he still couldn’t believe those two fish were there.
“I mean, they were by a dock, under a walkway,” Harris said. “It was textbook, but somehow they got missed.
“I know that stuff happens. I’ve caught some big ones in the last 5 minutes of tournaments before. So you keep going until you can’t. It takes 30 seconds to catch a big one. So, if you have 30 seconds you have a chance.”
He does admit a big part of him being able to maintain that focus was because of the days off. With winds in excess of 30 mph on Thursday and Friday canceling fishing, Harris says he was finally able to rest for a couple of days after nonstop guiding and tournaments since the beginning of February. It also allowed him to formulate a game plan of hitting areas he felt would be protected from that strong wind the previous two days. And in the end, it all came together.
“It’s insane,” Harris said of his dramatic win. “At Rayburn, I finished 141st. So, to come here and win means everything, and especially the way it happened. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and today it was.”
1. Rick Harris – 21 – 13 (5) – $41,500
2. Jeff Reynolds – 18 – 13 (5) – $16,500 (includes $1,000 Phoenix Bonus)
3. Evan Barnes – 18 – 11 (5) – $12,000
4. Todd Castledine – 18 – 02 (5) – $10,000
5. Jake Goodrum – 17 – 09 (5) – $9,000
6. Kyle Hall – 16 – 09 (5) – $8,000
7. Kris Wilson – 16 – 08 (5) – $7,000
8. Bret Stafford – 15 – 15 (5) – $6,000
9. Jason Bonds – 15 – 13 (5) – $5,000
10. Tommy Martin – 15 – 02 (5) – $4,000