ZAPATA, Texas — Falcon Lake was full of big surprises this week, but maybe none bigger than Paul Elias jumping from fifth place Sunday to win the Bassmaster Elite Series Lone Star Shootout presented by Longhorn.
And the fact that Elias edged Terry Scroggins by a mere 4 ounces to win the $100,000 title made this event even more of an eye-opener. Scroggins entered the day in the 12th and final spot among Sunday's finalists 21 pounds, 8 ounces behind Day Three leader Aaron Martens.
In a tournament that established Falcon Lake as "the best bass fishing lake in the world," according to several Elite Series pros, all 12 anglers Sunday went over the 100-pound mark and entered the BASS "century club."
Six of them broke the previous BASS four-day, five-bass limit record of 122-14, set by Steve Kennedy at California's Clear Lake on April 1, 2007. Elias now owns the mark at 132-8, averaging almost 7 pounds for the 20 bass he brought to the scales over four days.
"I had the best day on the water that I've had in 32 years of tournament fishing," said the 56-year-old, Laurel, Miss., resident.
Elias knew it would take something like that to overcome Aaron Martens, Mark Davis and Byron Velvick, who had been among the tournament leaders the previous three days. Martens had led all three days. He started Sunday with a 7-7 advantage over Davis, 7-12 over Velvick and 14-11 over Elias.
"I knew Aaron would have to have a train wreck, and Mark would have to really drop off," Elias said. "I thought I would have to catch 40-plus pounds to win. It was just one of those days."
Martens did have a train wreck bagging only 19-15 Sunday, after starting this event Thursday with the second-biggest five-bass limit in BASS history of 42 pounds. Davis did drop off, finishing with 26-14, the first day he hadn't sacked at least 30 pounds this week.
Elias' total of 37-11 was actually his second-best bag of the week. He jumped into contention Friday with 39-1. But it was the way he did it Sunday that made it so special.
"I started with a little ol' 20-, 22-pound limit," he said. "I kept pecking away and pecking away. I knew I wasn't getting there. I left and didn't stay gone 30 minutes. Something told me to go back there.
"When I was coming back, I decided to get up on top of that point and start throwing out. They were right in the same place they've always been (this week). They just weren't going to take it coming down the point. They wanted it coming up.
"I culled everything I had except one fish, and I might have culled it, too. Everything from then on was 7 or 8 pounds. I think I caught them in an hour-and-a-half."
Elias, who is known as a deep-structure, crankbaiting specialist, used Mann's 20 Plus and Luhr Jensen Hot Lips crankbaits, then at times slowed down by dragging a Carolina-rigged Mann's 12-inch Jelly Worm (watermelon red) and a one-ounce sinker up the point.
"I caught two real quick on a Mann's 20 Plus," Elias said. "Probably the biggest fish I had was the first one."
Of the five bass he weighed, Elias said three came on crankbaits and two on the Carolina-rigged worms.
The Mann's 20 Plus he used was an old, bright chartreuse color pattern known as Ol' Homer.
"People hardly throw it anymore," he said. "Something told me to tie it on this morning."
That "something" was talking to Elias all week. The biggest decision he made came on a sleepless night after Day One. Elias drew one of the late flights Thursday and Ish Monroe was already sitting on the point where Elias intended to fish. Monroe caught 35-6 there and was in third place after sitting on the point all day.
Elias motored over to Monroe at the end of the day and told him he intended to fish there Friday. Monroe voiced his displeasure, and it left Elias in a quandary. In fact, he was so stressed about what to do that his roommate, Guy Eaker, said that he had to tie on Elias' crankbaits that night.
"It was very hard for me to go fish that point (Friday)," Elias said. "But I'd given up every spot I had found (in practice) to someone, and that was the point I was going to start on (Thursday). I felt like I had every right to fish it. Just because he drew out in the first flight on the first day didn't mean I didn't have the right to draw out in front of him the second day and fish that point.
"So I did. We shared it. Myself or Ish, either one probably could have won this tournament if we had that point to ourselves. Aaron could have won if he'd had his point to himself.
"I don't feel bad about it because I turned it over to the Lord that night. I said, 'If I'm wrong, then please give me a sign. If I'm doing it right, please give me a sign.'
"I pulled up there and caught four that weighed 32 pounds in about 30 minutes (Friday), so I felt like I got the right sign."
Monroe weighed-in only 20-8 Friday and finished in 28th place for the tournament.
For a lake like Falcon, which covers more than 80,000 acres at full pool, it sure did fish small this week. There were "turf wars" at every turn. The most publicized was the area in Tiger Creek that Martens and Velvick shared. After two days, they occupied first and second place in the standings. Velvick's bag of 41-11 Friday was the third-best, at that time, in BASS history.
But after Martens, Velvick and their co-anglers weighed-in 266 pounds from that spot in two days, it began petering out Saturday. And Sunday the good relationship that Martens and Velvick shared for two days got strained as well. Martens decided to start on another section of Tiger Creek Sunday morning, and Velvick went back to the sweet spot. Velvick stayed there all day and brought in another 30-plus-pound bag that kept him in third place for the tournament. With a total of 131-15, he finished less than a pound behind Elias.
"I probably would have given him a lot more room than he did me," said an obviously disappointed Martens. "I felt pressured all day.
"I'll get over it. He was trying to win, too. But it was a lot easier for me to win it. I told him that today on the water. If I was in that position, I would have given him a little more room.
"I should have stayed there. I should have thrown some elbows, too. It was my fault. My wife is going to kick my ass for it, too."
Scott Rook also caught 30 pounds Sunday, but dropped from fourth to sixth, in another example of how incredible the bass fishing was at Falcon this week. There have been very few examples, if any, in BASS history of an angler catching 30 pounds and dropping in the standings.
And there has been only one example in BASS history of anyone catching more than Scroggins' 44-4 Sunday. That occurred on Jan. 17, 2001, at Florida's Lake Toho when Dean Rojas set the single-day, five-bass record of 45-2.
"Twenty minutes before I came in, I lost one that was 10 or 11 pounds," said Scroggins, who is from Palatka, Fla. "I would have shattered the record if I'd caught that one."
And that's about the only BASS record that remains unshattered after four days on Falcon Lake.
"I have never, in 22 years of bass fishing, been on a lake this good," said Mark Davis, who continued to smile even though the title had slipped away from him, too, on the final day. "I'm talking about lakes like Toledo Bend and Rayburn when they were in their heyday. They don't come close to this."