EUFAULA, Ala. — After eight years on the BASS circuit, Pete Ponds realized his dream of winning a big-league tournament Saturday and he did it in fine fashion, finishing off a decisive wire-to-wire victory in the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Busch Beer on the waters of Lake Eufaula.
The 44-year-old Mississippi pro brought in his smallest catch of the week (9 pounds, 15 ounces) Saturday, but he enjoyed the luxury of a 7½-pound lead entering the final round to win easily. His three-day total of 41-7 proved to be 4-10 ahead of his closest pursuer, Louisiana's Roger Boler (36-13).
"It's been a long time coming," an emotional Ponds said, accepting the champion's trophy and $50,000 top prize. "I've been after this a long time. I had made the (CTIOG Bassmaster) Classic and winning one of these things was my goal.
"I had one of those tournaments where I couldn't do anything wrong. It started with two 6-pounders on back-to-back casts the first day. When that happens, you know it's your time to win one."
Ponds' success came on three lures: a Bandit Flat Maxx crankbait, Carolina-rigged V&M lizard and a jig. Most of his catch came from a ledge off of a point that dropped gradually from 3 to 16 feet.
"It's rare when you have three patterns working in a tournament," he said. "But it was that kind of tournament for me."
Roger Boler managed a second-place finish.
Boler, a 44-year-old pro and former Classic qualifier, was also seeking his first BASS win.
It was a late adjustment in tactics that enabled Boler to collect a five-bass weighing 13-7 — the largest catch of the final round — and secure second place. After scoring in super-shallow water with a Snagproof Frog the first two days, it proved to be ineffective early Saturday. So Boler switched to a Texas-rigged worm fished in the holes in vegetation in a little deeper water.
"It was just a tough day," he said. "I don't know if it was because the sun came out today or what. But it changed."
Fellow Louisianan Greg Hackney finished third with 34½ pounds by doing the kind of fishing he most enjoys — flipping and pitching a jig to shallow grass and wood.
"Yesterday I had 13 or 14 bites, but today it got slow," the reigning CITGO Bassmaster Rookie of the Year said. "Basically I just had a bait working for me. I was using that jig and running new water to keep on catching them every day."
Florida's Steve Daniel hung in the top five throughout the tournament en route to finishing fourth with 33-13. The veteran angler also employed his favorite technique, fishing a jerkbait.
Alabama's David Kilgore came from way back to take the non-boater trophy.
Former Classic qualifier Jamie Horton of Alabama rounded out the top five with 28-11.
Four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn took Saturday's Purolator Big Bass Award with a 6-pound, 3-ounce largemouth.
On the non-boater side, Alabama's David Kilgore came from well back in the pack with the largest catch of his division (12-1) Saturday to win by more than 7 pounds. His three-day total was 21-13. Fellow Alabamian Jason Nixon was second with 14-5.
"I led the last (Southern Open) after the second day, but dropped to third," said Kilgore, a 30-year-old real estate agent from Jasper. "I was pretty bummed. But this certainly makes up for it."
Non-boaters Tim McTyre of Georgia and Wade Grooms of South Carolina split their division's Purolator Big Bass of the Day prize when each brought a 5-pound bass to the scales. Veteran pro angler Rick Clunn took the boaters' $1,000 Big Bass of the Day with a 6-3 largemouth that wasn't enough to top Boler's 7-5 lunker from the first round, which earned Boler a $1,000 bonus as the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament.
The Southern Open pros move on to Lake Okeechobee next month for the final qualifying event for the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship presented by Busch Beer. The top 20 pros in the season-ending standings qualify for the Championship, while the top 15 earn a spot on the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer.
Four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn took Saturday's Purolator Big Bass Award with a 6-pound, 3-ouncer.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, and Bass Pro Shops.
Local Sponsors include Eufaula/Barbour County Chamber of Commerce.