June 23, 2002 by Gary Mortenson
Oklahoma native nets $210,000 first-place prize in closest-ever FLW final
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - With a little less than two hours to go in the finals, Sam Newby knew he was in trouble. With overcast skies and drizzling rain wreaking havoc on his prime fishing location, Newby realized that in order to win the tournament, he'd have to make the biggest gamble of his fishing career. With seconds ticking away, Newby turned his boat around and made a 25-mile run to a spot where he'd seen two huge bedding fish only days before. But the question remained: Would those fish still be there?
And if so, could he catch them?
"Sometimes you need to gamble," he said. "I only had about 11 pounds of fish in the boat at noon and I knew I wasn't going to win the tournament with what I had. If there was ever a day to gamble, it was today."
After reaching his cove, the one he'd saved for an absolute emergency, Newby set to work. However, after just a few casts, it was clear that his dramatic move would pay immediate dividends.
"After 50 minutes of fishing, I landed five fish including three of my largest fish of the day," said Newby. "Coming back in, I knew I had a decent chance to win the tournament. But then again, on this lake, you never know what's going to happen. Any of these guys could have hauled in a couple of 5-pounders; I just didn't know what to expect."
Back at the weigh-in, Newby watched patiently as some of the best pros ever assembled on the final day of FLW competition came to the scales. As the weights continued to climb, Newby watched Dean Rojas take over the leaderboard with a five-fish weight of 16 pounds. Finally, it was Newby's turn to weigh in his last fish. After a dramatic pause, FLW Outdoors tournament host Charlie Evans made the announcement: Newby's weight was 16 pounds, 1 ounce. Although a few anglers still had to weigh in their fish, none of the anglers would even come close to matching the totals set by the Oklahoma native.
Newby, who had only started fishing the FLW Tour back in January, had recorded his first victory - by a whopping total of 1 ounce. Not only that, but he did it against five - count them, five - former FLW champions as well as 2002 Angler of the Year Jay Yelas.
Not bad for a rookie.
"I don't know what to say," said Newby, a resident of Pocola, Okla. "I've been shooting for this all year. It's just fantastic. Anytime you can go to a lake and catch 16 pounds of fish a day, it's awesome. But to do it and then be handed a check for over $200,000, it's just incredible. This is the biggest win of my career by far."
Newby, 39, said he ultimately landed his three biggest fish sight-fishing with a 1/2-ounce, black and blue OMFL jig.
In the end it appeared that, in one short afternoon, Newby had accomplished a lifetime dream - and then some.
"Ever since I was a little boy, I always knew I wanted to be a professional fisherman," he said. "I love this. It's always what I wanted to do. But to do this up here - I'd never fished north of Missouri before in my life - it's just awesome."
Rojas puts tough second-place finish in perspective
After losing out on a $210,000 payday by 1 ounce, Dean Rojas could be forgiven for being just a tad bit bitter about today's outcome. However, anyone who knows Rojas knows that it's not his nature to dwell on the past. And today was no exception.
"I had a perfect tournament. I didn't lose any fish and I stuck to my gameplan the entire time," he said. "In the end, I came up 1 ounce short, and you know what? It's probably going to happen again. I've beaten guys by 1 ounce before, and that's just the way it goes. I'm hardly disappointed."
Hauling in a monster payday for second place didn't hurt either.
"I caught between 16 and 17 pounds all week, and that's exactly what I tried to do," said Rojas, a resident of Lake Havasu City, Ariz. "It's my best-ever finish on the FLW Tour, and I'm going to leave with a check for $105,000. That's not too bad."
Rojas, who ultimately finished in third place in the 2002 Angler-of-the-Year standings, said he used just about his entire tackle box to land his limit in today's competition.
"I caught fish sight-fishing, on Carolina rigs and flukes," he said. "I did it all today. I ran to the south about 10 miles and I ran to the north another 10 miles. I tried just about everything I could think of to generate those big bites. In the end, I was totally satisfied with my performance. I just came up a little short."
After a brief pause, Rojas finished his thought.
"I'll tell you what," said Rojas, speaking just above a whisper with the first hint of defiance in his voice all day. "I AMgoing to win one of these things."
Few would bet against him.
After long drought, Moynagh snags third place
Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., hadn't been to an FLW final in nearly two years. So, when he hit the water to start today's competition, he promised himself that he'd make the most of it. Although Moynagh didn't get the first-place trophy he was ultimately looking for, his 14-pound catch was good enough for a highly respectable third-place finish and a much-needed boost in confidence.
"When you look at the pay schedule and realize that you're taking home a check for over $50,000, third place is a nice consolation," he said. "I was starting to think that I'd never get back here."
Moynagh, who watched a few monster smallmouth break off his line during today's competition, said he was very close to winning the title on Lake Champlain.
"I had a couple of absolute hogs on the line today, but they're still swimming out there," he said. "Those fish would have made it interesting. But that's the way it goes. Overall, I'm happy with my performance."
Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., was equally happy with his fourth-place finish.
"It was a great tournament, it really was," said Martin, who turned in a catch of 13 pounds, 14 ounces to win $39,000 in prize money. "I came in here with a goal to make the top 20 and I did that. I even had an opportunity to win it, but I wound up losing three fish. And that made a big difference."
Day-three leader Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., took home fifth place and a check for $33,500 after landing a 13-pound, 9-ounce catch.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pro finalists were Tommy Biffle (sixth) of Wagoner, Okla., with a catch of 13 pounds; David Dudley (seventh) of Manteo, N.C., with a catch of 12 pounds, 7 ounces; Mark Hardin (eighth) of Canton, Ga., with a catch of 12 pounds, 4 ounces; Jay Yelas (ninth) of Tyler, Texas, with a catch of 6 pounds, 15 ounces; and Rick Clunn (tenth) of Ava, Mo., with a catch of 6 pounds, 4 ounces.
FLW Tour action resumes Sept. 11-14 at the 2002 FLW Championship on Cross Lake in Shreveport, La.
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