February 24, 2008 by Patrick Baker
JASPER, Texas - Houston pro Dicky Newberry has a lake house on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, so he knows this fishery as well as about anyone. But the veteran tournament fisherman said that knowledge has been a stumbling block to pulling off a big victory here in the past. He demolished his home-lake curse Saturday, changing his game plan to land one of the biggest sacks of the Stren Series Texas event and an even bigger payday, winning in dramatic fashion. Newberry fished a 1/2-ounce Rayburn red Rat-L-Trap on the outside edges of grass breaks, paralleling the drop near hydrilla, to catch staging bass in 5 to 10 feet of water over the first three days of the tournament for a total of 50 pounds, 2 ounces. He threw the Rat-L-Trap with an American Rodsmiths 7-foot, 2-inch flipping stick. "I caught about 15 to 20 fish a day, but I just didn't get a big bite all week long," he said of the first three days. Newberry had been alternating that pattern between Buck Bay and Veach Basin, but gave up on it early this morning after a high-pressure system moved in and it left him empty handed. So he moved to a staging area at Harvey Creek, tied on a football-head jig and let the fun begin. "On my first cast with a football-head jig ... I caught that big one, probably a 9-pounder," he said. "When I caught that big one at about 8 a.m., I said, `Man, this might be my turn.' It was really exciting. I just kept telling myself, `I got to catch another big one.'" Newberry proceeded to pull in several more good fish from the break at about 10 feet deep that fell to 25, rounding out his limit on the black-and-blue ¾-ounce Talon jig with bass "starting to hit it right when it broke" at about 12 feet. Then he decided to start shaking things up again to try to entice another big bite. He scanned the edge of the creek and a log caught his eye that reminded him of a fishing experience from his childhood. For whatever reason, he said he decided to tie on a Zoom fluke and throw to the area. "I threw a fluke up there, and I caught a 7-pounder." The fluke fish essentially sealed the deal for Newberry, who had put together an incredible 23-15 limit on the final day for a four-day total of 74-1. For the victory, Newberry earned $25,000 cash and a $40,000 fully rigged Ranger boat package. "Being a local really played against me before, because I'd run and gun too much," he said. "This year I stuck to my guns more and kept with my pattern." But after exhausting his initial rattling-crankbait pattern, it was knowing when to quit and move on - a type of knowledge honed by years of fishing under tournament pressure - that made all the difference. Newberry said he was especially glad that his wife drove up to see him stake claim to one of his biggest victories yet in a vaunted career. Newberry owns a business in Houston that requires his attention, so he doesn't have plans to move up to the tour and fish full time, though a victory like this suggests he'd have little trouble making a living on the angling trail either. He has notched 28 top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors circuits. For now, however, he said he is just happy to have finally won a Stren Series event on his home lake. Cecil second Willis, Texas, pro Russell Cecil held a solid lead Friday, and said then that he thought his chances were pretty good to put together a win. Pulling in a 19-pound, 10-ounce five-bass limit today made him feel even better - until he caught a glimpse of Newberry's bounty. "If someone would have told me I could be leading this thing and then catch 19-10 on the final day and still not win, I don't think I would have believed them," he said. "I've been looking uphill at Dicky a lot. I'd like to beat him just once." But today was not that day, and Cecil was gracious in defeat, happily shaking Newberry's hand when the final weight was tallied, acknowledging that he's a Texas legend of bass fishing. "I didn't lose this thing; I got beat," Cecil said. "I just didn't catch the big one, and I left the door open. I had a bad day on the second day, and you can't do that when you're fishing against the likes of Dicky Newberry ... or any of these guys really." Indeed, Cecil fished a fine tournament with a total weight of 72-5 worth $8,917 plus a $5,000 Ranger bonus. He fished grass in several different midlake pockets with a chartreuse Academy H2O crankbait. Johnston takes third Pro Stephen Johnston couldn't repeat his Stren Series Sam Rayburn win from last year, but he still managed to take third with a four-day total of 66 pounds, 15 ounces worth $8,026 plus a $5,000 Ranger bonus. Today he reeled in an 18-1 limit, his second best of the tournament. "I said when I cam across the stage yesterday that I had already packed it in for Toho," said the Hemphill, Texas, native, who will make his Wal-Mart FLW Tour debut as a pro next week. "These are the studs of studs here for Texas. I only made (the cut) by 10 ounces ... it doesn't get any closer than that." Though Johnston fished pretty consistently all week - using a Sebile square-billed rattling crankbait, red and gold in color, and a white Falcon Lures swimbait on a Carolina rig - he said he just never felt he was on fish the same way he was when he won the event in 2007. Fourth goes to local Jasper, Texas, pro James Stricklin Jr. fished his way to fourth place and a $7,134 payday on the back of a total weight of 65 pounds, 15 ounces. "I slipped up a bit yesterday, but kind of makde up for it today," he said. Stricklin secured a 17-4 limit on the final day the same way he had all week, a pattern that dominated a majority of the field. "They bit on a lipless crankbait four days in a row," he said. Stricklin fished one made by Yozuri, but deviated from the pack slightly by opting for a shad color instead of red. He also fished a Jackal TN70 and used fluorocarbon 100% Trilene line. Hartsell ends up in fifth Livingston, Texas, pro Toby Hartsell caught a 13-pound, 5-ounce limit Saturday to bring his total weight to 65-3, good enough for fifth place and a check for $6,242. "I learned to do something this week that I never have really liked to do - and that's throw a (lipless rattling crankbait) and pulling a crankbait over grass," he said. "I think I figured it out OK." He was pulling a red crankbait this week, for which he didn't know the brand, as well as a Daiwa lipless rattling crank. Hartsell is no stranger to success in Texas fishing tournaments. With the knowledge he gained this week, he'll be even more deadly in the Stren Series and other circuits. Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 pros at the Stren Series Texas Division event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir: 6th: Darrell Lyons, Hemphill, Texas, 64-6, $5,350 7th: Cory Rambo, Orange, Texas, 62-9, $4,905 8th: Greg Gleason, Houma, La., 60-13, $4,459 9th: Gary Vining, Morgan City, La., 60-12, $4,012 10th: Shonn Goodwin, Moore, Okla., 54-3, $3,568 15 bass, 48-4 The next Stren Series Texas Division event will take place on Lake Texoma in Denison, Texas, May 7-10. The next Stren Series event is a Central Division event on Norfork Lake in Mountain Home, Ark., March 5-8.