March 21, 2009 by Vince Meyer
JASPER, Texas - Twice before, Russell Cecil saw victory vanish on the final day of a tournament on Sam Rayburn Lake. This year he made sure the big one didn't get away.
The seven-year pro from Willis, Texas, took a 7-pound, 4-ounce lead into the final day of the second Stren Series Texas Division tournament of the season and made it hold up despite a shaky final.
But Cecil doesn't care how he got the job done, just that he finally got it done.
"Funny," he said, "last year on the last day I caught 20 pounds and didn't win. This year on the last day I caught 11 pounds and won. You just never know with fishing."
Cecil's three-day weight of 58 pounds, 11 ounces earned him a check for $25,000 and a fully rigged Ranger boat package worth $40,000. He held off a hard charge by Scotty Villines of Ponca, Ark., who couldn't overcome a tough first day (14-3) despite a massive 25-pound sack on day two and a 14-9 sack on day three.
Had Villines overcome his lead, Cecil might well have chalked it up to a his typical Rayburn luck. Before losing here last year to Dicky Newberry by 1 pound, 12 ounces, he was disqualified in 2007 for bringing six fish to the docks.
This year he got redemption, but it wasn't easy.
"I sure didn't catch 'em today," Cecil said. "It got tough on me. I guess I didn't make the right adjustments today."
But neither did a lot of other guys as the tournament wore on. Despite a warming trend and massive in-shore movements by bass, many anglers reported a tough bite. None of the pros topped the 20-pound mark Saturday, which was the standard to be measured by on the first two days. For some reason, the water near shore got murkier despite a complete lack of rainfall. Some theorized that an algae bloom is under way.
For a sight-fisherman, that makes it tough, and Cecil was intent on sight-fishing at this tournament. He did it for the first two days, but changed gears Saturday when he thought the near-shore fish had been worked over too hard. So he threw a Rat-L-Trap instead and brought 11 pounds, 14 ounces to the scales, seventh best among pro contestants on the final day. In essence, he won the tournament on the first two days with a combined weight of 46 pounds, 13 ounces, which was too much for the others to overcome.
Cecil said his primary area got crowded as the week went on. He pulled his limit early the first day and got out of there to avoid drawing a crowd. But others soon found the spot, including Cody Bird, who finished 20th, and Scotty Villines, who finished second.
"It was murderers' row in there," Cecil said. "I thought, `This isn't good.'"
But the spot's effectiveness was illustrated by the fact that he returned on day two and had 18 pounds in the livewell by 10:30 a.m. He finished the day with 23 pounds, 9 ounces.
"But when I saw what Scotty weighed (25 pounds, 6 ounces), I thought it was over," Cecil said.
His best bait all week was a Big Bite swimming minnow.
Villines makes it close
Villines started the day in second place, and that's where he finished, though he did make a good run at Cecil with a 14-pound, 9-ounce bag on the final day to earn $10,000.
"I knew I was around the fish, but I just wish I could have gotten them to go the first day," said Villines, whose three-day bag totaled 54 pounds, 2 ounces.
In practice he used a wacky worm and found a lot of big fish near stumps. But on the first day they were gone. However, his co-angler that day was fishing the other side of the boat in deeper water and pulled 16 pounds, which Villines used to his advantage.
"I tied on a fluke and and put the hurt on 'em," he said, referring to his 25-pound sack on day two. "I did some sight-fishing when I saw a good one, but mostly I was fan-casting while looking for fish."
A white baby fluke was his best bait.
Johnston's best-day bag isn't enough
Stephen Johnston of Hemphill, Texas, admits he's not much of a sight-fisherman. He spent the entire tournament working away from the bank, and that may have cost him a few pounds.
But on Saturday he weighed the heaviest bag among all pros, 17 pounds, 13 ounces, which he caught using a Carolina rig with a 6-inch lizard. He finished the tournament with 52 pounds, 4 ounces worth $8,000.
"I really like a Texas rig," he said, " but I had to put it down today and drag that Carolina rig. I got on my butt seat, slowed down and took my time. It was a struggle today."
Another sight-fisherman takes fourth
Andy Gaia of Tomball, Texas, sight-fished all week and said he caught 30 keepers during the week using a Craw Worm. He said, in some instances, he spent too much time working individual fish and probably should have kept moving.
"My biggest fish I lost yesterday with about 10 minutes to go," he said. "So I went back there this morning and caught it in the dark."
He wrapped up the tournament with 51 pounds, 15 ounces worth $7,000.
Lupe Garcia makes most of long trip
"This lake is great," said fifth-place finisher Lupe Garcia, who weighed 51 pounds, 10 ounces in three days. "I just wish I didn't live nine hours away."
The Springdale, Ark., pro made the most of the long journey to Sam Rayburn by cashing a check for $6,000. He also picked up an additional $450 for the Big Bass of the tournament, a 9-pound, 3-ounce behemoth he caught on day two. On the final day, if he could have had one half that size it would have improved his finish considerably, as he weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces and finished fifth.
"When I got here everybody said the Rat-L-Trap bite was over," said Garcia, who used the bait almost exclusively this week. "But I caught almost 25 pounds with it yesterday. But I'm not fishing bank fish. I'm fishing ridges."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros to finish the Stren Series Texas Division event on Sam Rayburn:
6th: Todd Castledine, Nacogdoches, Texas, three-day total of 50-9
7th: Charles Bebber, Willis, Texas, 48-12
8th: Toby Hartsell, Livingston, Texas, 46-11
9th; Wade Grooms, Bonneau, S.C., 45-14
10th: Robert Baney, Montgomery, Texas, 45-4