PHOTO: MAJOR LEAGUE FISHING/JOSH GASSMANN
By John Johnson BassFan Senior Editor - Dean Rojas had to beat nine anglers in the Championship Round to claim the title at the Smith Lake MLF Bass Pro Tour in Alabama. He defeated eight of them in the first hour of competition.
Propelled by a huge first period, Rojas garnered his first tour-level victory since 2011 with a 30-fish, 47-00 performance on the final day. He logged 23 of those fish for 36-05 in the opening stanza and was never threatened for the remainder of the day.
"It was an awesome day and it's been a long time coming," said Rojas, referring to his last Bassmaster Elite Series win at Toledo Bend Reservoir in 2011. "I've had a lot of near misses since and it feels so good to close the door."
Runner-up Brent Chapman was the only angler to eclipse Rojas' first-round weight as he caught three hefty largemouths in the final period to finish with 40-14. Michael Neal ended up 3rd with 34-15 (21 fish), Jason Christie was 4th with 32-06 (20) and Todd Faircloth 5th with 32-02 (21).
The bottom half of the top 10 consisted of Mark Rose (20 fish, 29-14), Brent Ehrler (17, 26-00), Dustin Connell (15, 24-14), Mike Iaconelli (12, 17-14) and Fred Roumbanis (8, 10-01).
The offshore spotted bass action, which had been improving throughout the event, tapered off dramatically during the Championship Round. Rojas' big morning flurry came via fish busting shad in the shallows and Chapman compiled a lot of his weight by flipping bushes.
The waning shad spawn was a critical component in many anglers' programs throughout the week, but Rojas said the baitfish in morning area may not have been partaking in the reproduction ritual.
"(The bass) had them pinned down, but it didn't look like they were spawning," he said. "They weren't in the bushes or the grass like you usually see when they're spawning – they were just in an area and the bass were going nuts on them.
"It was a spot I found in practice and I went there during (the Shotgun and Elimination rounds). I just wanted to check it today and I went over there during the morning ride-around and they started busting."
He used an array of offerings that included a crankbait, a swim jig, a frog, and a swimbait. His biggest fish of the day was a 2 1/2-pounder.
"I just sat there for the whole (first) period and caught as many as I could. I lost my three biggest bites and I thought that would come back to haunt me, but it turned out that it didn't."