“Everything’s bigger and better in Texas.”
That’s what Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, said Sunday as he won the Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues out of Orange, Texas, trumping Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., by 6 pounds, 10 ounces.
“It means a lot to me to win here,” Faircloth said. “I won one in Texas in Amistad, but that’s not real close to my home. Winning here in front of my home crowd is special. I’ve got a lot of family and friends here, and a lot of people I grew up fishing with and against.”
Faircloth’s win — his fourth Bassmaster Elite Series title and second in Texas — was a victory in a four-day tug-of-war with Rojas. Rojas led the first day, then Faircloth took the lead away from him on Day 2. The third day, Rojas got it back and led Faircloth by 3-9, a considerable deficit on the stingy and tough Sabine River system. But Faircloth pulled away on Day 4 by weighing a 14-9 limit, easily getting the best of Rojas, who had a single fish Sunday that weighed 4-6.
Faircloth’s final weight in the season opener of the Bassmaster Elite Series was 49 pounds, 6 ounces. His prize was $100,000 and an instant entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. Faircloth also took the lead in the season-long points race to win the sport’s coveted 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
“I’ve got the Classic made now, so I’m not worried about points to qualify,” he said. “I can kind of roll the dice if needed — maybe gamble. I’ve never been in this position in my career.”
Rojas stumbled, and the reason was simple.
“I just couldn’t get them to bite today,” he said. “I lost one keeper, but I don’t think it would have been enough. I did the best I could; I fished a great week, but it just didn’t happen.”
Rojas finished with 42-12, ahead of Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., second with 41-1; Ish Monroe, fourth with 40 pounds; and Bill Lowen of Brookville, Ind., fifth with 38-3.
With 3-9 to make up and overtake Rojas on Sunday, Faircloth made an important correction: He slowed down “and focused on the areas that seemed to hold the better fish,” he said.
One advantage Faircloth had was that Rojas was sharing water with two other anglers, while he had an area to himself.
“When you’re splitting the fish in one area like that, it’ll catch up with you sooner or later,” Faircloth said.
Faircloth targeted fish in an area he described as a “bayou off a bayou” off the Taylor River. It was a flat, baylike area 3/4-mile long and 400 to 500 yards wide. He worked that same area back and forth for four days. Most of the fish were probably on spawning beds, but he couldn’t actually see the beds.
“It’s a vast, wide-open area, and the fish were scattered throughout it,” he said. “I marked my trails on my GPS, and if I didn’t get bit, I wouldn’t work that trail again.”
He said he caught most of his fish on a 5-inch Strike King Swim’n Caffeine Shad soft jerkbait. He alternated between pearl-blue/glimmer-back and watermelon-red color patterns. He used a 1/16-ounce weight to Texas rig the bait. But if he missed a hookup on a hit, he grabbed a rod rigged with a 5-inch Strike King Ocho stickworm in the double header color, also Texas rigged, but with a 1/8-ounce weight. He was able to keep the Ocho in the strike zone longer to get the missed fish, he said.
Bonuses earned by anglers at the Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues included:
- Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, worth $1,000, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt apparel: Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., for his 6-1 on Day 2
- Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Faircloth’s 16-8 on Day 2
- Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Faircloth
- Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Faircloth
- Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for leading on the second day: Todd Faircloth with 26-15 over two days
The Bassmaster Elite Series moves on to Zapata, Texas, this week for the March 21-24 Rigid Industries Falcon Slam, the second of eight regular season events. Check Bassmaster.com for details.
The Sabine River event’s title sponsor was STARK Cultural Venues, www.starkculturalvenues.org. The local sponsor was Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce, www.orangetexaschamber.org.