Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., wins the 2016 Bassmaster Elite at Potomac River presented by Econo Lodge held out of Charles County, Md., Sunday, with a four-day total weight of 72 pounds, 14 ounces. - Photo by Gary Tramontina/Bassmaster
CHARLES COUNTY, Md. — If professional bass fishing fans didn’t know it before, they know it now.
Justin Lucas is a force to be reckoned with — and it doesn’t matter which coast he’s fishing on.
The California native, who now lives in Alabama, caught five bass Sunday that weighed 19-13 to win the Bassmaster Elite at Potomac River presented by Econo Lodge. His four-day total of 72-14 was more than 4 pounds better than second-place angler Jason Christie (68-7), who finished strong himself with 23-1 Sunday.
It was Lucas’s second career victory on the Bassmaster Elite Series and the first away from his native West Coast waters. The 30-year-old pro picked up his first win last season on the Sacramento River.
“I think I proved to other people — and to myself — what I can do outside my home state,” Lucas said. “I’ve never won out of state before. That makes this one different for me, and it means a lot.”
Lucas won the event by finding and exploiting the kind of spot all tournament anglers dream of.
It was a long parking dock adjacent to a water treatment plant on the upper end of the river. The water was 5 to 8 feet deep, and the dock had aquatic grass growing all around its edges.
Instead of flipping a jig or skipping a soft-plastic bait under the dock like many anglers would in that situation, Lucas went with a drop shot rig — and he said that made all the difference.
“I don’t think the fish under that dock had ever seen a drop shot before,” Lucas said. “They’re used to seeing a bait hit the water and then fall all the way to the bottom. But that drop shot stays right in their face, and it worked all week.”
Lucas spent a little time fishing a stickbait and a swim jig. But his main technique was the drop shot rig with a 6-inch hand-poured worm in a purple and brown combo.
He fished the rig on a 7-foot-6 medium-heavy Veracity Abu Garcia spinning rod and an Abu Garcia Revo MGX size 30 reel. There were times when he also used the Revo Premiere size 30 reel.
His line choice was particularly important.
“I used 10-pound braid with a 10-pound Berkley Trilene leader,” Lucas said. “I wanted to use the largest line I could get away with on a spinning reel.”
He said the water was too deep under the dock for a standard baitcaster.
“You would have spent too much time pulling line out with a baitcaster just trying to get the rig to the bottom,” Lucas said. “It was so much easier to pitch in there with a spinning reel.”
Lucas insisted he found the spot by accident on the first day of competition after failing to get a bite there during practice.
He knew there was a discharge at the water treatment plant, and he was hoping it would produce a few fish early. After catching a couple of smaller fish from that area, he decided to pitch the drop shot under the dock.
“I caught two 3-pounders, and that told me the fish were there,” Lucas said. “So many things worked in my favor.”
Lucas said he was amazed the dock never received any pressure from anyone else, and he thanked the anglers from Maryland and Virginia for giving him plenty of space.
“This is not like a secret spot,” he said. “It’s the community hole of all community holes. So it still just amazes me that no one else fished it.
“The people here are awesome.”
The biggest key to his week, Lucas said, might have been that he had nowhere else to go.
“I didn’t have a plan B,” he said. “If I had been forced to go to plan B, I would have been running all over the place.”
The dock produced 20-4 on Day 1, 19-14 on Day 2, 12-15 on Day 3 and 19-13 on Day 4.
“I went there originally looking for two or three keeper bites,” Lucas said. “But it ended up being the best spot I’ve ever found in my tournament career.”
Brent Ehrler (62-12), Bill Lowen (61-0) and Andy Montgomery (59-12) rounded out the Top 5. Alabama pro Gerald Swindle (53-6) finished 10th and maintained a 37-point lead over Keith Combs in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
Swindle was awarded $1,000 for leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.
Lowen earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.
Lucas earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for leading on the second day.
Lucas also won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, Jason Christie, received $2,000.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $1,500 was presented to Cliff Pirch for weighing in the overall biggest bass of the event — a 6-11 bass caught on Saturday.
Lucas earned the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $1,000 for being the highest placing angler using A.R.E. products.
Dick Cepek Rolling Forward Award of $1,000 will be presented to the angler who makes the largest gain in Toyota Angler of the Year points from tournament to tournament.