February 15, 2003 by Gary Mortenson
Mississippi native nets first-place finish in dominating fashion
MORGAN CITY, La. - Today was the day Paul Elias finally got the monkey off his back. After going nearly five years without a victory in a major bass-fishing tournament, Elias made sure that the outcome of today's FLW final on the Atchafalaya Basin was never in doubt. With his fellow competitors unable to crack the 29-pound barrier, Elias blew past the rest of the field, parlaying a two-day catch of 34 pounds, 2 ounces into his very first FLW Tour title.
Not surprisingly, Elias was more than happy to savor his victory for as long as he could.
"It's been almost five years since I won a major tournament, and it really starts playing with your head after a while," said Elias, whose last recorded victory was a Bass Pro Shop Legends event in 1998. "I've been close so many times before, and that's why this victory is so sweet.
"This is the best victory I've ever had," Elias continued. "It's even better than winning the Bassmaster Classic because I had my family here to see it."
Elias - who landed the majority of his catch on a combination of spinner baits, buzzbaits and tubes - said his primary fishing hole was almost too difficult to navigate successfully at times.
"I was having to run some skinny water to get where I was going," said Elias, a resident of Pachuta, Miss. "There was barely even enough room for my camera boat. But the area held a lot of fish because it was the deepest water for many miles."
After landing the largest stringer of the day in the semifinals at the same spot, Elias' prime fishing hole produced the largest stringer again in today's competition - a 16-pound, 13-ounce sack.
"For me, the key was using fast-moving baits," said Elias. "I also executed a lot better than I have in the past."
With Elias' wife and family in the audience cheering him on to "bring it on home," Elias not only won the tournament title, but also took home a whopping check for $100,000.
"It's just been a great week," he said. "It's been a long time coming."
Chapman nets second place, highest-ever FLW Tour finish
Although Bill Chapman finished the tournament in second place with a two-day catch of 28 pounds, 1 ounce, the native of Salt Rock, W. Va., said he had very few regrets. Sure, he would have liked to have won his first-ever FLW Tour event, but when all was said and done, Chapman said he would return home with a clear conscience.
"It was so close," he said. "I knew I needed a big fish, but I just wasn't able to get that big bite today. Overall, though, I had a great week. You really can't complain about winning $35,000 doing something you really love."
Chapman used a combination of Zoom lizards, Brush Hawgs and tube baits to land the majority of his catch. However, although many anglers struggled to navigate the difficult and expansive waters of the Atchafalaya Basin all week, Chapman said he had no such problem.
"I grew up on the Ohio River, and this water is exactly like that only with more fish," he said. "And if I didn't lose that 8-pounder yesterday, I might have been able to pull this off. But don't worry, I'm going to win one of these tournaments some day."
Lefebre grows up quickly
Fishing in his very first season on the FLW Tour, Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., used a two-day catch of 27 pounds, 14 ounces to grab third place overall, net a $20,000 check and win the respect of his peers almost overnight. Not bad for four days of fishing.
"This is the biggest show on television, and I still can't believe I'm here," said Lefebre, who graduated last year from the EverStart Northern Division. "I can't even put this week into words. It really means a lot to me. These are some of the best fishermen in the world. It's definitely the most satisfying tournament of my career."
Lefebre landed the majority of today's catch using ISG tube baits.
"And a lot of Pepto Bismo," he said.
Jimmy Millsaps of Canton, Ga., finished the tournament in fourth place after netting a total catch of 26 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I had a great time," said Millsaps, who took home a check for $16,000. "I just love this place. I caught a lot of fish and met a lot of good people."
Andre Moore of Scottsdale, Ariz., took a philosophical approach concerning his fifth-place victory.
"Yesterday, I kind of stumbled a bit," said Moore, who used a total catch of 25 pounds to land $14,000 in tournament winnings. "But I managed to catch five fish all week. In the end, you can't determine the size of your bites. And that's the difference."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 finalists were Gary Klein (sixth) of Weatherford, Texas, with a two-day catch of 20 pounds, 7 ounces; Wes Thomas (seventh) of Hanover, Ind., with a catch of 19 pounds, 10 ounces; J.T. Kenney (eighth) of Frostburg, Md., with a catch of 18 pounds, 13 ounces; Jack Bell (ninth) of Kane, Pa., with a catch of 13 pounds, 11 ounces; and Dwayne Horton (10th) of Knoxville, Tenn., with a catch of 10 pounds, 12 ounces.
FLW action resumes March 12-15 at Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C.
Quick Bites: FLW Atchafalaya Basin, Day 4