May 23, 2009 by Vince Meyer
DEL RIO, Texas - One night 40 years ago, Jim Milson was cruising around Del Rio with his high school girlfriend. They had heard a new dam was being built on the Rio Grande west of town and decided to check it out.
"We drove out there," Milson recalls, "and said, `Wow, that's cool!' Next thing you know, I'm fishing Amistad. I made the mistake of catching a bass."
The mistake became an obsession, and Milson became a bass pro. Forty years later, the Odessa, Texas, pro still thinks the lake behind the dam on the Rio Grande is pretty cool. Saturday it became profitable as well, as Milson won a first-place check worth $23,885 at the Stren Series Texas Division tournament on Lake Amistad.
Milson did it with a three-day weight of 52 pounds, 2 ounces. He was the only angler at this tournament to break the 50-pound mark as big bass were hard to come by.
"The wait is over," a jubilant Milson said onstage at the final weigh-in. "I've never been so excited. This is the most wonderful fishing day of my life."
Milson found the wining pattern at 1 p.m. on his last day of practice. He stayed on the lake until 5:30 p.m. to see if the pattern would work elsewhere, and it did. His ability to read fish on his sonar and track them with GPS was a big part of his victory.
"I never saw where I was fishing other than on my electronics," he said. "My Lowrance sonar with Navionics chip was dead on. I was following contour lines the whole way."
All of his weigh fish came from 30- to 35-foot depths on a Texas-rigged watermelon-red Senko. He caught bass as shallow as 14 feet and as deep as 30 feet, with shallow fish coming during cloudy cover and deeper fish coming when the sun was out.
Milson had what he believed was a close call while making his last cast Saturday. He said he was tucking in his shirt and had placed his rod under his arm when a big bass hit. He grabbed the rod but it was too late; the bass had come off on a tree.
"I thought, `That's it. There goes the tournament,'" Milson said.
While the other competitors walked onstage to get their checks, an emotional Milson, standing alone to the side, said: "I love this sport. It's what my dad and I did. I did well in my 30s and 40s, and then things went south. I had to take care of my business and my dad died. When I came back I couldn't find the groove.
"But this year I learned that I was caught in coves. I wanted fish to come to me instead of going to the fish. I told myself, `It's time to go to the fish,' and to do that I had to lose sight of land. That was a valuable lesson I learned at Rayburn and Falcon. This time I felt I was going to put it together. I even told some friends I would win this."
A little confidence goes a long way.
Cecil remains in second
Russell Cecil ended the tournament where he ended day two - in second place. He finished with a three-day combined weight of 49 pounds, 13 ounces, with his smallest sack of 13 pounds, 14 ounces unfortunately coming on the last day.
But forgive Cecil if he had a few other things on his mind during the tournament. The day after leaving home to prefish, he learned his wife had broken her arm while setting up an umbrella on their patio. Then this morning Cecil's boat batteries died, and he needed a tow back to the docks.
But when he was actually fishing, Cecil did quite well, earning $9,546. Today the Willis, Texas, pro got his keepers on topwater lures after watching his co-angler, winner Chris Hults, catch one big bass after another.
"I had my chances today, but I failed to execute," said Cecil, who won the last Stren Series stop at Sam Rayburn in March. "When it's all over, I have myself to blame."
Johnston's climb ends at third
Stephen Johnston of Hemphill, Texas, made a steady climb up the standings, going from 18th on day one to fifth on day two to third on day three. He finished with a combined weight of 46 pounds, 12 ounces worth $7,637. But, like Cecil, his smallest sack came on day three and it weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces.
"The wind was my friend here, and it always has been," Johnston said. "When the wind doesn't blow like it didn't today, I just do not get the bites. Today I caught just seven keepers all day."
Johnston spent the entire tournament throwing crankbaits on 10-pound-test line.
Lasyone finishes fourth
While Johnston made a steady climb, Kevin Lasyone of Dry Prong, La., went the other way. He was in first after day one, but fell to fourth for days two and three and finished with a combined weight of 46 pounds, 8 ounces worth $6,682.
"I caught a ton of fish the first day, but yesterday was tough," said Lasyone, who weighed his smallest sack, 12 pounds, 9 ounces, on day two.
Lasyone's dragged a bream-colored jig worm slowly over weeds in 12 feet or less to catch most of his fish. He stayed consistently shallower than any other pro at the tournament. When the fish wouldn't take the jig, he went back at them with a Senko and got a few that way.
Herron works his way to fifth
By "grinding it out" with a Carolina-rigged Brush Hog and a drop-shot rig, Michael Herron of Paris, Texas, worked his way from 14th on day one to ninth on day two to a fifth-place finish with 45 pounds, 9 ounces worth $5,728. He said the magic depth was 23 feet.
Best of the rest
6th: Ray Hanselman, Del Rio, Texas, 45-4
7th: Jim Tutt, Longview, Texas, 41-8
8th: Christopher Brasher, Spring, Texas, 39-9
9th: Robert Collett, Zapata, Texas, 38-8
10th: Waylon Bullard, Del Rio, Texas, 32-3