February 16, 2002 by Gary Mortenson
Arkansas native uses dominating performance to capture second FLW title in eight months
FLORENCE, Ala. - Like all great champions, Larry Nixon stepped up his game when it mattered most. Despite struggling in the semifinals and qualifying in the 10th and last spot heading into the final round of competition, Nixon turned the tables on the rest of the field on day four by registering an impresive 16-pound, 9-ounce stringer to grab first place and a check for $110,000.
Although the native of Bee Branch, Ark., is no stranger to victory, this tournament appeared to be one of the most satisfying of Nixon's long and storied career.
"This is probably as good of a win as I've ever had," said Nixon, fresh off his 2001 FLW Tour title on Lake St. Clair last June. "When you're not on fish all week and you come through on the last day of a tournament, it's tremendously satisfying. It's just a fantastic day."
Before the day began, Nixon's plan was to target smallmouth bass off the flats of Lake Wheeler. But then the conditions changed. The fog rolled in, the wind picked up and the water levels shifted. It was then that Nixon decided to switch tactics on the fly. And as it turned out, it was a decision that won the tournament.
"When you're in 10th place, you have nothing to lose," said Nixon. "So, when I saw what the weather was going to do today, I decided to change tactics because I knew my original strategy probably wasn't going to work. I put on a jig and started (targeting) steep, vertical banks. I just had a feeling that if I stayed with it, I'd get five to 15 bites. And hopefully, that would be enough to win the tournament."
Using a black and blue jig with a pork trailer, Nixon landed a 4-pound, 10-ounce smallmouth bass not long after the morning takeoff had commenced. After that, Nixon began hauling in one fish after another.
"I knew what the fish were doing. The key was to keep reminding myself to fish slowly," said Nixon, who stayed in about 8 to 13 feet of water, the deepest depth that he had fished the entire tournament. "And once I caught that first fish, things really started to pick up. From that point on, there was no pressure.
By the time Nixon had checked in shortly after 1 p.m., he had finessed seven bites and landed all seven fish. But even then, Nixon was unsure if he would be victorious.
"I thought it would take about 13 or 14 pounds to win," he said. "So I thought I had a good chance. But in tournaments like this, you just never know what's going to happen. Sometimes you get your heart broken and sometimes things work out."
It is doubtful that things could have worked out much better.
Martens' struggles prove costly
Finishing in second place in an FLW tournament is usually grounds for much celebration. However, for Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif., a second-place check of $40,000 served only as a bittersweet reminder of what could have been. In uncharacteristic fashion, Martens lost six fish in one day, including two bass that weighed in over 7 pounds combined.
"I had a tough day," said Martens. "I'm happy, but I lost two big fish in about 10 minutes that could have won the tournament for me. It was really weird. I didn't lose any fish the first two days of the tournament, but today I lost six. And you can't do that if you're trying to win. For awhile there, I had tears in my eyes."
Martens, one of the best drop-shot fishermen in the country, said losing to Larry Nixon softened the blow.
"Overall, it turned out to be a good day," said Martens, who ultimately turned in a catch weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces. "I'm really happy for (Nixon). He is a great guy and a great fisherman. If I was going to get beat, I'm glad I lost to Larry."
Jones nearly goes wire to wire, finishes third
After a string of dominating performances over the first three days of competition, Alton Jones finally proved to be a mere mortal during the finals.
"Overall, I felt like I had the best grasp of the fish than anyone else in the tournament," said Jones, who weighed in a whopping 48 pounds, 6 ounces over the first three days of competition. "But we all know how this game can play out. I'm just thrilled that I had the finish that I had. I'm really happy for Larry."
Jones, who put on a clinic throughout the week fishing a ¼-ounce Riverside jig in the outer bends of creek channels, took solace in the fact that fished to near perfection even if it meant ultimately coming in third place.
"The wind really affected me this morning. And when the sun finally came out, I landed three fish right in a row," said Jones, who recorded an 8-pound, 9-ounce catch after leading the pro field in each of the first three days of the tournament. "It turned out to be too little, too late. But overall, I'm happy. I fished well and I didn't lose a fish all week."
Jones won $24,500 for his efforts.
Martin rebounds from subpar 2001 season
Although Scott Martin struggled mightily at times during last year's FLW Tour, it is apparent that the Florida native - one of the youngest anglers to ever win an FLW title - is back on track. Using a 8-pound, 8-ounce stringer, Martin finished the day in fourth place, winning a check for $20,000.
"I had a good tournament. The first day I was in 51st place, so I can't really complain about making the top 10," said Martin, son of legendary fisherman Roland Martin. "I'm just really excited to be fishing here against all of these great fisherman."
Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., finished in fifth spot after registering a total catch weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces. Williams took home a check for $17,5000.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 finalists were Mark Rose (sixth) of Marion, Ark., with a catch of 7 pounds, 9 ounces; two-time FLW Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt (seventh) of Cedar Park, Texas, with a catch of 4 pounds, 5 ounces; Eric Holt (eighth) of Galena, Mo., with a catch of 3 pounds, 12 ounces; Wesley Strader (ninth) of Spring City, Tenn., with a catch of 1 pound, 9 ounces; and Basil Bacon (tenth) of Springfield, Mo., with a catch of 1 pound.
The 2002 FLW Tour season continues March 13-16 at Lake Ouachita in Mt. Ida, Ark.
Quick Bites: FLW Lake Wheeler, Day 4