March 19, 2011 by Gary Mortenson
HEMPHILL, Texas - After leading the EverStart Series Texas Division event on Toledo Bend for two straight day, Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches, Texas, entered the final day of competition boasting a lead of nearly 6 1/2 pounds. Although thoughts of a tournament title danced in his head, his dream scenario of cruising to an easy victory was shattered before the sun had even risen over the horizon. "I was about seven minutes from the marina when my boat broke down," said Castledine. "My first thought was, `Really? Today? You've got to be kidding me.' So I started to think about what to do. Then (top-10 finalist) Russell Cecil came along." Cecil, who was also competing for a tournament title, immediately stopped and helped bring Castledine back to the marina. However, Castledine still didn't have a working boat. With time ticking away, another fellow EverStart competitor - Andy Gaia - came to the rescue and lent Castledine his own boat. "I can't thank Andy enough," he said. "He just happened to still be here, and he told me that I could use his boat. And that saved me." With a new boat, Castledine hit the water again only to discover that his new ride didn't have enough gas. "It wasn't Andy's fault," said Castledine. "He had no idea he was going to have to loan his boat out for the finals. So by the time I got back out there fishing, I had already had a two-hour delay." While that type of incident would have derailed many pros' title chances, Castledine persevered. "When I got back on the water, I just started praying," he said. "And then I suddenly felt calm and said, `You know, everything is going to be all right.' But I definitely have to thank Jesus for this one." With his new boat, Castledine went to work, targeting bedding bass with a Reactions Innovations Sweet Beaver. Before long, Castledine had amassed an 18-pound, 9-ounce stringer and headed back to weigh-in. "I was really nervous though," he said. "It was just a strange day, and I had this weird feeling that somebody might catch me. I really thought the final weigh-in was going to be a lot closer than it was." In the end, Castledine's nightmarish beginning turned into a storybook ending as the Texas native walked away with the tournament title with a total three-day catch of 65 pounds, 2 ounces. For his efforts, Castledine won a first-place prize of $27,800. And he couldn't have been happier. "This is just awesome. I guess this is the best win of my career," said Castledine. "My co-angler (Rick Parker) won today as well. I really think if today had gone smoothly, it wouldn't have been nearly as fun." Martin's spirited comeback falls short Although Lendell Martin Jr. of Nacogdoches, Texas, returned to the scales with by far the biggest stringer of the day, a 22-pound, 4-ounce sack, it wasn't quite good enough to catch Castledine. As a result, Martin had to settle for second place and a check for $9,500. "You know what, it was a fun day today," said Martin, who ultimately finished with a three-day total of 62 pounds, 7 ounces. "This is just an awesome lake. And when I saw that we're going to have a full moon and that the water was warming up, I knew I had a chance to really go out there and catch `em." In the end, however, Martin wasn't able to make up the 6 1/2-pound deficit he was faced with entering the finals. "Today I fished hard," he said. "I basically left the 2-pounders alone. But when I found the right fish, I'd just sit down and fish it hard. These fish are really aggressive. If you found the right place to fish on a bed, they'd really bite it. There are still plenty of big fish out there. And they're coming up every day." Martin said he used a combination of Brush Hogs and Yamamoto double-tail grubs as well as 17-pound-test line to land the majority of his sight-fish. After final weigh-in had concluded, Martin said he had few regrets. "I used to think that Sam Rayburn was a better fishery, but now I think Toledo Bend might be a bit better," he said. "I've had the pleasure of being able to fish for a long time, and I can tell you that it was a lot of fun this week." Bird skyrockets up the leaderboard After barely squeaking into the finals on Toledo Bend in ninth place, Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas, knew that he'd have his work cut out for him if he was to have any chance at a tournament title. While he didn't find the ultimate prize he was looking for, Bird sailed up the standings with a total catch of 54 pounds, claiming third place overall as well as nearly $8,000 in winnings. "It was a fun week, and I really enjoyed the weather," said Bird. "I love to sight-fish, and that's what I did all week. I didn't finish in first, but it was nice to move up as much as I did." Bird said he targeted the majority of his quarry fishing a Kicker Fish Bait Company finesse worm. "The bass couldn't leave that bait alone," he said. "I didn't try to catch a lot of keepers this week - and maybe that was my mistake - I just tried to look around for the big bites. But overall, it was a good week." Reneau nets fourth place Tim Reneau of Del Rio, Texas, finished the Toledo Bend event in fourth place with a total catch of 52 pounds, 12 ounces. "Unlike the other guys, I wasn't sight-fishing today. I can't see that good," Reneau joked. "I was fishing sharper breaks and trying to catch fish as they were coming and going (to the beds)." Reneau said he targeted fish using Texas-rigged Strike King Game Hogs. "I had a good week," he said. "I can't complain." For his efforts, Reneau took home a check for more than $7,000. Wilkerson lands top-five finish Chris Wilkerson of Conroe, Texas, netted a total catch of 50 pounds, 8 ounces to finish the event in fifth place. "I'm pretty excited," he said. "You can't win them all. But any time you make the top-10, you're doing something right." Like many of the top pros, Wilkerson caught most of his larger bass sight-fishing. Wilkerson said he targeted fish with a Carolina rig in the morning to catch a small limit and then attempted to upgrade by sight-fishing throughout the day. "I just didn't find any big fish to put in the boat today," he said. For his efforts, Wilkerson took home nearly $6,400 in winnings. Best of the rest On the strength of a three-day catch of 48 pounds, 15 ounces, Joe Elkouri of Lawton, Okla., finished the event in sixth place. "I had a great week," he said. "This is my first top-10 and the second check I've made in back-to-back tournaments, so I'm happy." Elkouri, who won over $5,500, used a Berkley Havoc Craw Fatty to land the majority of his catch. Rounding out the top 10 pro qualifiers for the Toledo Bend event: 7th: James Caldemeyer of Gilmer, Texas, 48-15 8th: Eric Wright of Scurry, Texas, 47-13 9th: Robert Brown of Round Rock, Texas, 47-0 10th: Russell Cecil of Willis, Texas, 36-9 EverStart Series Texas Division action resumes May 12-14 at Lake Texoma in Denison, Texas.