March 19, 2005 by Jennifer Simmons
COLUMBUS, Miss. - As the old saying goes, "when the going gets tough, the tough get tougher," and at this week's EverStart Series Central Division event on the Columbus Pool, none were as tough as Matthew Mize.
The pro from Ben Lomond, Ark., was in ninth place after day one with a 13-pound, 15-ounce sack. But on day one, competitors weren't having much trouble catching them, to the surprise of many. True to predictions, it all went south on day two, as angler after angler fell in the standings. Mize was not immune to the struggle - he caught only 6 pounds, 8 ounces Thursday - but he squeaked into the top 10 by holding on to his ninth-place status.
He returned to his opening-day form on day three when the bite got really tough and led the field with 13 pounds, 10 ounces, huge when compared to the skinny weights brought in by many of his fellow top-10 anglers.
He entered the final day of competition in the catbird seat with nine hungry pros wanting desperately to unseat him. In the end, no one came close. Mize caught his heaviest five-bass limit of the tournament Saturday - 16 pounds, 12 ounces - for a two-day total of bass that weighed 30 pounds, 6 ounces, exactly 5 pounds heavier than the two-day weight of second-place pro Dick Shaffer of Rockford, Ohio.
So how'd he do it? The whole field said that fishing slowly was the key, and Mize was no exception. With the fish in a holding pattern before the spawn, they were not in a feisty mood and did not respond well to aggressive fishing tactics. Catching fish this week on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway often meant having the patience of Job as you dead-sticked a bait all day.
"I was fishing clear holes in the back of mud flats," Mize said. "I ended up catching them 4 feet deep. The holes might only be 40 yards long and 20 yards wide. I fished very slow. (The bass) were holding, waiting on the water temperature to settle in."
Mize said he caught his bass this week on a spinnerbait, a lizard, a Brush Hog and a Senko, with June bug and watermelon being the primary colors. Most of the field seemed to find success - if they found it - on spinnerbaits and Brush Hogs.
"I think (the fish) just wanted something different every day," Mize said.
Clearwater hot spots the ticket to victory
Yesterday, Mize reported that he planned to visit his hot spot from days one and two today, hoping it had replenished itself. It had. Three of his day-four fish were caught in that spot, including his biggest one, a near 6-pounder.
"I found two places with 4 feet of water - clear water," he said. "They were bunched up in both of them. I caught three down here (in the Columbus Pool) and then locked through at 10 o'clock."
When he hit his second spot in Aberdeen, he found locals who were more than willing to let Mize have his chance at the fish.
"There were two locals in there," he said. "They put their rods down and just watched."
Overall, Mize caught nine keepers today, culling four times. He said he was not affected by the changing weather conditions that haunted competitors all week. After two days of gloomy, cold weather, the sun came out Friday and the air temperatures warmed a few degrees. Most anglers suffered in the sun and fared a little better today when the clouds and rain returned.
"(The weather) worked just right for me," Mize said. "I think I could have caught them in the clouds or sun."
The win was not only Mize's first FLW Outdoors victory but was also his first EverStart top-10 finish. This is his third year to fish the EverStart Series, and he has never finished lower than 25th in the standings.
For the win, Mize earned $10,000 cash plus a fully rigged Ranger boat.
Close but no cigar
Mize's closest competition was a formidable challenger - former EverStart Series Championship victor Dick Shaffer, who has scored 23 top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors events since 1995, with five of them coming in the EverStart Series.
Shaffer caught only three bass today, but they were good ones, weighing in at 12 pounds, 13 ounces to boost his two-day total to 25 pounds, 6 ounces. He caught his bass on an 8-inch green pumpkin Zoom lizard.
"I've been really fortunate," Shaffer said. "I've been getting a big bite every day and haven't lost any that I've hooked."
Shaffer also fished slowly to catch his bass, but he did it under protest. "I didn't like it," he said. "I'd throw the lizard as far as I could throw it and let it hit bottom. I was just casting it out and dragging it back in. I've never fished this slow in my life."
Shaffer said he was fishing in 3 to 5 feet of water in an area that had a little bit of grass in it. "(The fish) moved out into the grass the last two days," he said. "I prefer to throw a jig and spinnerbait, but I couldn't get bit on them. Everybody else did, though."
Shaffer said he fares well on river systems, being familiar with them thanks to his riverine home waters in Ohio. He earned $10,000 cash for finishing in second place.
Dupler moves up to third
Columbus resident Will Dupler wasn't even signed up to fish this week's tournament, but after a phone call from tournament director Chris Jones, Dupler, the local Ranger dealer, agreed to fish the pro side after Jones told him there was a shortage of boaters. It paid off for Dupler, who caught 11 pounds, 11 ounces Saturday to earn $8,900 as the third-place pro.
Dupler led day one with 19 pounds but caught only 5 pounds, 11 ounces on day two, still enough to send him to the finals in third place. He stumbled again Friday, bringing in only 3 pounds, 6 ounces, but improved his position by four places Saturday with his 11-plus-pound catch that brought his two-day total to 15 pounds, 1 ounce.
"The first day we were in a gravel pit down in Alabama that was real tough to get to," said Dupler, a BFL veteran. "The second day (the corps of engineers) pulled the water, and we had to leave within an hour. Yesterday the cold front moved in, and it was tough for everybody."
Dupler, who counts Mize's parents as longtime friends, said he contemplated Friday night about how he might be able to take the lead away from his young buddy.
"I sat there and thought about how to catch little Mize, and I thought, `I'm going to need a big sack,'" he said.
Indeed, Dupler went for broke today and fished only for big bites, and he got them. He threw a 1/4-ounce jig all day and used a custom-built rod made by a friend to catch his bass. Although he had to drive through extremely shallow water to get to his spot - he estimates it was 1 foot or less for about a hundred yards - he actually fished in about 6 feet of water, which is about as deep as it gets.
"I'm just an old man that's happy," he said.
Harrell, Hudnall score top-fives
Biloxi pro Bobby Harrell scored his first top-10 finish this week and ended the tournament in fourth with a two-day total of 13 pounds, 6 ounces. Tommy Hudnall of Prattville, Ala., also earned his first top-10 and finished fifth with 12 pounds, 9 ounces over two days.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top 10 pros on the Columbus Pool:
6th: Sam Newby of Pocola, Okla., five bass, 11-6
7th: Ramie Colson Jr. of Cadiz, Ky., six bass, 8-10
8th: Chris Bowers of Pearl, Miss., three bass, 4-14
9th: Scott Hoing of Diana, Texas, one bass, 2-4
10th: Greg Ingram of Owasso, Okla., one bass, 1-7
Colson gets a ride
Opening-round leader Ramie Colson Jr. of Cadiz, Ky., finished the tournament in seventh place with a two-day total of 6 pounds, 2 ounces. After a day plagued with motor trouble, Colson benefited from some Good Samaritan actions by fellow pro Jim Tutt.
"I had motor problems, and I couldn't reach (rooming partner) Russ Moran," Colson said. He then called the tournament director, who hooked him up with Tutt, who had remained in town to work the Evinrude booth at the weigh-in site.
"Jim got there and brought a boat to me," Colson said. "I offered money to him, and he wouldn't take it. It just killed me that I couldn't get to my fish today."
Colson was making a two-lock run south but couldn't make it due to the motor trouble and pesky lock schedule.
"It was 10:45 before I made my first cast," he said. "My mom, dad, wife and son came down to see me. I didn't win, but I made the top 10."
More EverStart action
The EverStart Series Central Division will next visit Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach, Mo., April 20-23.
The next EverStart Series stop is a Western Division event on Lake Mead near Henderson, Nev., April 6-9.