The air was heavy Thursday morning, thick with tension as anglers anxiously awaited the start of the final regular season event of the year. After this, only 30 anglers would be moving forward to a lake that would be named after the awards ceremony that afternoon for the Championship on September 21st. Anglers were greeted tournament morning by a series of rain showers that made for a wet and chilly ride to the takeoff at Tioga Beach. The clouds cleared by takeoff at 7:00 am and Daniel Fabiano led out a field 38 hopeful anglers into a Grand Rapids sunrise.
Anglers started on the South/East sides of the lake and in the first half hour more than half the field had recorded a fish. The day would prove to get tougher though, as the winds picked up and Pokegama showed an ugly side sending three to four foot rolling waves at anglers trying to fish anything out in the open. Largemouth were the dominating force as most of the smallmouth spots anglers found became nearly impossible to fish. The conditions also made finesse fishing difficult for those looking to play with a spinning rod. As anglers tried embrace grind some familiar names stuck close to the top of the leaderboard. It seemed every fish catch left us with a new leader as no angler could pull away from the field. As the first half came to a close, John Figi led the tournament with just over 25 pounds of bass. But, there was less than ten pounds separating him from tenth place so every angler knew they were just a few fish away from being right back in the game.
Out of the break, Shane Raveling never even started his outboard as he put down his Minn Kota trolling motor and fished the area right around Tioga Beach where the event was held. He shared water with multiple anglers who were also trying to stay out of the wind including Bob Perkins, who fished nearly side by side with Raveling and they both caught fish. Raveling slowed way down to fish a jigworm and managed a flurry of activity on camera that pushed him to second place. Just around the corner past the Tioga public access Connor O’Connor began his hard charge to the front of the pack. Slowly but surely the top five began to distance themselves slightly and as John Figi, Connor O’Connor, Arnold Helgerson, Shane Raveling, and Brad Leuthner all fought for a win other anglers were just fighting to stay inside the top 30 points cut for the championship. Those arriving at the beach for the awards ceremony were able to watch both Figi and Raveling live as they were well within sight. It was Connor O’Connor who everyone thought was going to give Figi a run for his money, catching a 15 ounce fish flipping shallow vegetation with just eight minutes remaining to put him within a half pound of the leader.
But as the seconds ticked down, one of the most incredible fish catches in Champions Tour history would send shockwaves through the crowd, and the anglers. With just one minute left on the clock, 5th place Brad Leuthner hooked a 4 pound 14 ounce smallmouth and landed it with just twenty seconds of fishing time remaining. The mega bronze not only landed him Yeti big bass for the day, but it also secured his victory as he would jump 4 spots and claim the win by just 6 ounces with a final weight of 47-13. Leuthner became the first ever two time tour champion as well as the first ever back to back winner netting himself a cool $10,000 once again. He called the fish “a miracle” and explained that last minute decision was just a Hail Mary that came together perfectly.
Where there is elation there is also heartbreak as John Figi, also a tour champion this season, watched what felt like a sure thing fall through his fingers at the last possible moment. However, his 2nd place finish did catapult him into the AOY points lead by eight points over Brad Leuthner in second, and nine points over defending AOY Matt Peters in third. As the awards ceremony wound down, the 30 anglers who qualified for the Championship were announced, and the secret location revealed. Qualified anglers will be headed to Bay Lake in Crow Wing County, MN a unique fishery with a lot to offer anglers of all strengths. Stay tuned for more details on the Championship coming soon from Classic Bass.
Another regular season is in the books for the Champions Tour and it was by far the most electric one yet. Fierce competition, beautiful destinations, giant fish caught, and action that had everyone on the edge of their seat. With just the Championship remaining, eyes are already set to what 2020 could bring on the Champions Tour and it’s going to be special.
For full results, more information, and more media from the event head to www.classicbass.com. Thank you to all the sponsors that make these events possible, and Visit Grand Rapids for their amazing hospitality and support of this event.