Greatness defined

Young angler wins second straight Bassmaster Classic victory

Posted: March 25, 2018 at 2:41 a.m.

Angler Jordan Lee entered the final round of last week’s Bassmaster Classic nearly 7 pounds behind leader Jason Christie, but closed with a solid round that saw him weigh in 16 pounds, 5 ounces for the day to beat Christie by 18 ounces.

Excellence so often masquerades as greatness that it profanes the prestige of greatness.

Excellence is situational. Greatness is superlative excellence over time.

How much time does it take to achieve greatness?

About five years, if you're Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala.

Lee won his second consecutive Bassmaster Classic last Sunday at Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C. He won the 2017 Classic at Lake Conroe, Texas, making him one of only three anglers to win back-to-back Classics. The others were Rick Clunn (1976-77) and Kevin VanDam (2010-11). He also finished sixth in his first Classic in 2014.

Representing Auburn University, Lee finished second in the Carhartt College Bass National Championship in 2012 at Beaverfork Lake and third in 2013.

Lee won both Classics with dramatic final-round rallies from seemingly insurmountable deficits, but last week's victory etched his name among the stars and staked Lee's name to an era.

Clunn and VanDam won four Classics each. Lee is halfway there, and he's only 26 years old.

"It really is special to see Kevin's name on there twice and Rick Clunn's name on there twice," Lee said. "It's really rare to win the Classic, but to win it twice? It's hard to put into words. You can't plan for it. It's just the decisions you make on the water and going with what you're confident in. That's just what I did. It's hard to step back now a day later and see how it went down. it's just surreal to me."

For two days, the 2018 Classic was a slugfest between a pair of formidable Oklahomans, Jason Christie and Edwin Evers, who won the 2016 Classic in Tulsa. Lee finished the first round in third place, 2 pounds and 4 ounces out of the lead, but he fell to sixth place after the second round. He was 6 pounds, 8 ounces out of the lead.

In other words, he had the leaders right where he wanted them.

At Lake Conroe, he entered the final round 13 pounds, 14 ounces behind Brent Ehler. Lee's trolling motor malfunctioned, so he had to make the best of where he was.

At Lake Murray, he fished an ascending pattern that peaked in the final round, but Lee said he actually won the tournament with one fish in the first round.

"I weighed in a 6-pounder the first day, and that was a definitely a key fish for the week," Lee said. "I caught one Sunday that was around 4 pounds, but that 6- pounder the first day was a game changer. That made my tournament."

Lee closed with a solid round that saw him weigh in 16-5. Christie's pattern faded, and he weighed in 8-11 on the final day. Lee beat him by 18 ounces.

"It was hard going into last day seven pounds out," Lee said. "You don't expect those guys to struggle, ever. You don't expect to win being that far down, but I kept my head in it and tried to have the best day I could."

The difference was worth $260,000 and bass fishing immortality. Lee won $300,000 for the second straight year. Christie won $40,000.

"I was surprised to win them both being down the leaderboard like that, but this one means just as much if not more," Lee said. "Once you win one, you get that taste of winning. It's special. You want to be right there when you get your chance. I've been close in Elite (Series) tournaments last year, but I couldn't close the door. It felt good to close it on this one."

Lee's pattern was simple. He fished boat boat docks with Strike King Ocho soft plastics on spinning tackle. His colors were green pumpkin and blue. He inserted 3/32-ounce nail weights into the lure heads.

"That made it sink a little faster than it would weightless, so I could fish it in the 5- to 7-foot zone," Lee said. "I just pitched it around shade. It was sunny and hot, and the fish wanted be under that shade."

Lee said the weather played perfectly into the pattern. Lake Murray's largemouth bass are notoriously and uncharacteristically pelagic, but even they seek shade on a clear, sunny day.

"I could tell by the weather how it was going to be, but until you're out there, you can't put the whole puzzle together," Lee said. "It was hot, and I started out throwing deep-diving jerkbaits on some spotted bass places. I was really feeling the sun hitting me, and I knew that somewhere the docks were going be the deal. I just needed to stick with it."

Nobody wins any tournament targeting spotted bass, especially if he's within striking distance of the lead, but that was Lee's equivalent to a wake-up stretching exercise.

"That' not usually a winning pattern on this lake, but I wanted to get some fish early to start," Lee said. "I had a limit fairly early every day, and if I do that, I typically fish better, slower and more comfortable. That's important."

When Lee finally switched to dock fishing, he went two and a half hours without a bite. When he finally caught a fish, he caught them in bunches and continued culling upward.

"When I look back on a tournament like this, it's meant to be," Lee said. "I had key bites in this tournament, and I landed them. I didn't lose any that I thought would have helped. It was not an easy tournament to get bit in. it was slow. It just worked out. I just kind of stayed one step ahead of the fish and made the right decisions.

"If it had been a cloudy, rainy day, I think it would have turned out different."

In the 2012 Carhartt Bass National Championship at Beaverfork Lake, Lee lost to his brother, Matt Lee. Matt finished fourth at the Lake Murray Classic.

Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., won his second consecutive Bassmaster Classic last Sunday, becoming just the third angler to win the event in consecutive...

Sports on 03/25/2018