Canadians Luzak 13th
By Justin Onslow
|Strickland put puzzle together in the afternoon for win in Griffen.|
The Bushnell, Fla., rookie, who calls the Harris Chain of Lakes home, weighed in a megabag – 31 pounds, 6 ounces – on Saturday of the Pro Circuit event on the Harris Chain, presented by Bad Boy Mowers, and followed that up with a stringer of 15-4 on Championship Sunday to secure the victory by 4 pounds, 6 ounces over fellow rookie Jimmy Washam.
It was a storybook finish for what could be a magical season for Strickland.
“If I was going to win one, ever, just to win one, in my whole career, I would have wanted that to be right here,” he says. “It was that awesome. Hometown crowd, hometown cooking, it’s just an awesome feeling. It still doesn’t even feel real.”
With a massive crowd surrounding the weigh-in stage – comprised of many of Strickland’s friends and family – the 22-year-old former Florida high school state champion raised two quality Harris Chain largemouths, then a $100,000 check, and then a trophy he’s been dreaming about for a long time.
“This is just as awesome as I thought it was going to be,” he admits. “Unbelievable. So much family, friends – the crowd was humongous. Here we are, first win. Second tournament. We’ve got a lot of road to greatness from here.”
That road began in earnest in January on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, but Strickland ate up some miles in Florida on Sunday. The destination – a Polaris Rookie of the Year title – just got a whole lot closer.
“That was my whole goal: Rookie of the Year,” he says. “You only get one shot at it, so Rookie of the Year is always on my mind. This week, I knew I had to make up some points, and I think I did.”
He made up a lot of points, in fact, along with making a lot of money. And all of that money was earned in one special section of Lake Griffin. There, in an area known as “the marshes,” Strickland flipped mats and tossed around a worm for three days, landing giant after giant moving up the spawn.
“I practiced this tournament for the cold front,” he says. “I’m usually the guy that fishes the moment; goes and catches them in practice. This tournament, I knew there were bass pulling up to spawn, so I knew they were going to be up, and I knew when it got cold, they were going to pull under the mats.
“I knew they were there; they’ve been in there for months and months. I knew they were there, so I went there in practice and they were still in there.”
Strickland remained tight-lipped in mid-tournament interviews about his special area, mostly because he had it almost to himself on Saturday, but he spilled the beans on Sunday. He also knew there are other similar areas on the Harris Chain, but none were quite as special as that one.
“The whole area is ideal,” he says. “You can’t ask for anything more. It’s pre, post, during – they are always there – so I just kind of stuck in that area, and, luckily, I had it all to myself this week.”
Finding giants is one thing but catching them is another. To finish the job, Strickland employed just two baits: a Reaction Innovations Spicy Beaver and a Reaction Innovations Machete Worm. He rigged the Spicy Beaver with either a 1- or 2-ounce weight on 70-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa braid, spooled on a Shimano reel attached to a 7-foot, 6-inch Fitzgerald Flippin’ hydrilla rod. For the worm, he used a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy Fitzgerald and 17-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa fluorocarbon with a pegged 1/16-ounce weight.
Strickland wasn’t looking for anything specific in his spot. He just bounced from mat to mat, winding the Machete Worm on the way to each one – a bait he weighed in “two giants” on during the tournament. Otherwise, he was just targeting prespawn fish that pulled up under mats to ride out the everchanging Florida weather conditions throughout the week.
It wasn’t all simple for Strickland over the course of the weather-shortened three-day tournament, though. After catching 31-plus-pounds on Saturday, he expected to catch another giant bag on Sunday. There was no question in his mind those fish would be there and would be chewing.
Instead, he struggled early on and was worried he might need to make a big change to have a chance at winning.
“At noon, when I had two fish, I was getting real close (to spinning out), but I knew to keep my composure – one swing of the stick; that’s all it took,” he explains. “So, I just kept grinding and grinding, and it ended up working out. I was about to get spun out, but as soon as I caught a limit and settled down, that’s how I ended up feeling good.”
If he felt good then, there probably aren’t words to describe how good he felt when the smoke cleared and the scale on the stage this afternoon read 15-4.
“My fish held, I fished fairly clean all week – I lost a couple I thought were going to haunt me – but I did it, and, I mean, I don’t even know what to say. It is surreal,” he says.
“Two years ago, when the [Pro Circuit] was here, the boat that I won out of today was sitting in the parking lot as the demo boat for Ranger, so I bought that boat, and here we are two years later, and I won on the big stage.”
Top 10 pros
1. Laramy Strickland – Bushnell, Fla. – 61-4 (15)
2. Jimmy Washam – Covington, Tenn. – 56-14 (15)
3. Hunter Freeman – Monroe, La. – 54-6 (13)
4. Kyle Gelles – Pingree, Idaho – 52-11 (14)
5. Matthew Stefan – Junction City, Wis. – 51-15 (15)
6. Miles Burghoff – Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. – 51-5 (15)
7. Jared McMillan – Belle Glade, Fla. – 50-5 (15)
8. Chad Warren – Sand Springs, Okla. – 50-0 (15)
9. Casey Scanlon – Lake Ozark, Mo. – 49-7 (15)
10. Brandon McMillan – Clewiston, Fla. – 49-7 (15)
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