David Rainer Chats with Bassmaster Classic Competitors
David Rainer 03.08.12
No month in Greg Vinson’s lifetime will likely have the profound impact of this leap year’s February.
Not only did Vinson’s wife, Stephanie, give birth to their first child, a boy named Gaige, the 34-year-old from Wetumpka also had the best tournament of his short professional career on bass fishing’s ultimate stage – the Bassmaster Classic.
Gaige, who weighed in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces and 19 inches, on Feb. 6 preceded his dad’s weigh-ins the last weekend of the month at the Classic venue of Shreveport, La., and the Red River fishery.
While some say people only remember the winner of the Classic, Vinson’s presence on the leaderboard each day may well prove that adage to be false. Vinson, who has been fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series for only three years, started the three-day Classic in second place and maintained that position throughout the event, losing to Chris Lane, a Florida native who now makes his home in Guntersville. It turned out to be a top-three sweep for Alabama when Louisiana native Keith Poche, who has lived in Alabama for 11 years since playing football at Troy University, finished third.
“It’s been crazy,” Vinson said while decompressing at home in Wetumpka. “Since Gaige was born on Feb. 6, I’ve been in overdrive ever since.
“It was a wild and crazy week. I almost won the Bassmaster Classic. I had an unbelievable number of family, friends and fans literally glued to their computers watching and pulling for me. It’s really cool to be able to hear from those folks since I got back home.”
Because Vinson had never fished the Red River before, he spent all the practice time he could on the water before the river was put off limits to Classic contestants.
“I wanted to have a game plan before I got there for the tournament because I knew the weather was going to be changing a lot, especially with the baby coming right before the tournament,” he said. “When I got there for the tournament, I knew exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to try. That was a big plus for me. During the three-day practice the week of the tournament, the weather was terrible. One of the worst weather days I’ve fished in a long time is actually the day I found the area that almost ended up winning the Classic for me.”
Vinson expected the Red River bass to be very close to the spawn, although he thought most of the action would be from bass staging before heading to shallow water.
“I needed to find some stable water that was clean,” he said. “But most of the anglers knew that, so I wanted to look for specific sections that offered a variety of cover in case the weather changed, which it did.”
What Vinson found was an area with clean water with submerged vegetation that helped keep the water clean. He also found an area behind an island that blocked the wind from muddying the area, which also allowed the area to warm up quicker as the day progressed.
“This area had a lot going for it,” said Vinson, who fished an area called Little Jungle by the locals. “It had water hyacinths, and I was punching mats [of vegetation] when I found the fish. But it also had stumps and lily pad stems for them to spawn around. As the tournament progressed, they ended up starting to spawn. I actually caught a few fish sight-fishing.
“The first day [of the Classic] the fish were just moving up and they were real aggressive. I caught them real good that first day. But we had real cool nights and it slowed the progression of the fish. Each of the last two days there were new fish coming in, but it was late in the day. I had to hunt and peck all morning until the water got to about 59 degrees. That’s when the next group of fish would start coming in.”
Vinson used a variety of soft plastics, shallow-running crankbaits and a 5/16th-ounce spinnerbait, changing with the weather conditions.
“It took me a little while to figure out what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t think the fish had any reason to leave the area, I just had to figure out where and how to catch them. I caught a fish almost four pounds right before I was thinking about leaving the area, and it was in a place where I hadn’t had a bite in practice and on a bait I hadn’t caught a fish on in practice. I was slow-rolling a spinnerbait through some pad stems with a big stump and that was the light bulb. It told me what I needed to be doing and what the fish were doing. The difference in being in contention to win the Classic and moving and possibly not even making the cut was that one fish in that one moment.
“I was in contention the whole time. I knew I was in the right type of area to do it. In the end, the difference between me and Chris Lane was a big fish he caught. That’s what it takes. You’ve got to get that big bite to push you over the top.”
That big bite for Lane, who moved to Guntersville almost four years ago for a more central location for his professional career (not to mention the fantastic bass fishing), came on the final day in the form of a fish that weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces.
However, Lane thinks a fish that weighed 5-11 may have played as large a role in the championship as the 6-10.
After the opening day of the tournament, when Lane ended up tied for sixth with his older brother Bobby at 16-4, Chris vaulted into the lead with a 19-4 stringer on the second day.
“On day two I made the run to Pool 4 and had a good day,” Chris said. “Then I came back through the lock and fished an area where I’d caught a 4-pounder. Then about 10 minutes into it,
I got a bite and flung it in the boat. It was the 5-11. When I grabbed that fish I felt the whole intensity level in my mind change. I felt right then I could win the Bassmaster Classic. It became a realization right then. That fish got me so fired up, and I had more of that place to fish. I didn’t fish it any more that day.
“On day three I went back down to my area, and Bill Lowen and Matt Reed were catching fish and I hadn’t had a bite. I was trying not to let the wheels come off, trying to stay focused. Yet, at the same time, I was trying to make a logical decision about where to go to give me an opportunity to win the tournament. Then I caught a fish and that thought went out of my head for a little bit. Then it started to come back again. But I caught that 6-10, and I got that feeling again that that fish just put me back in contention to win the Bassmaster Classic.”
Lane said he felt he had executed his plan perfectly but still wasn’t positive he had the Classic in the bag. When he pulled that 6-10 out of the livewell at the final weigh-in before a screaming crowd, he did have a pretty good idea of the outcome though.
“I saw a picture on the Internet of me holding that fish,” he said. “That look on my face explained it for me. I’ve got a wide open mouth, and I look like a monkey. I’m screaming out as loud as I can, but I don’t care because I am on top of the world.”
And Lane’s world has changed with the Classic victory, which means a significant cash infusion and multiple personal appearances for BASS and his sponsors.
“I look forward to doing a good job, the job Chris Lane has to do to uphold past Classic champions and what they’ve done for the sport,” he said.
Other than changing diapers, Vinson’s world is also different after that runner-up finish.
“I think it put me on the map, especially being in contention all three days,” Vinson said. “My name was at the top of the standings throughout the tournament. That’s a hurdle I’ve had to overcome. I’ve been consistent and done well in the points, but I haven’t had the big finishes that get your name out there.
“This is a big boost for me in expanding my fan base. Also, it does a lot for my confidence as an angler. I know if I can put myself in contention to win the biggest tournament in the world, then I can put myself in contention for any tournament I fish. And I’ve already had potential sponsors contact me the last few days, so I’m definitely seeing an impact already. As a competitor you don’t want to finish second, but when it’s all said and done, this is going to be all positive for my family and my career.
“Life is good.”