Yelas goes with flow, wins battle of scales in Classic

Rising waters bring bass, put title in Texan's hands


July 28, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- All tournament long, Jay Yelas counted on power from two sources: Alabama Power and God.

Neither let him down as the angler from Tyler, Texas, led the 32nd annual BASS Masters Classic wire-to-wire, winning yesterday with a decisive three-day total of 45 pounds, 13 ounces.

His catch of 14 fish included the largest bass each day, which increased his $200,000 Classic payday by $3,000. He is the first Classic winner to sweep the "Big Bass" payout.

Yelas' strategy involved waiting each morning until the electric utility began generating power at Logan Martin Dam, which increased the current on Lay Lake and raised the level at his favorite fishing spot by 3 feet.

This is his first Classic victory in 12 tries.

"When God decides it's your turn to win the Classic, you win," said the 36-year-old angler. "God's been waiting until I was a humble enough guy to handle it."

Yelas had his first professional win in the Maryland Top 100 on the Potomac River in 1993. That same year, he placed third in the Classic when it was held on Logan Martin Lake, just upstream from this year's site.

The second-place finisher was Aaron Martens, who hung in the top three the entire tournament and finished with 39 pounds, 9 ounces. He collected a check for $55,000.

"It was one of the funnest tournaments I ever had," said Martens, 29, from Castaic, Calif.

David Walker dropped from second to third place, the same spot he occupied at the end of last year's Classic. But unlike last year, "when I was ready to get a rope or a revolver I was so disgusted," he was pleased with his showing against the Yelas juggernaut.

Walker's three-day total was 35 pounds, 13 ounces, good for a $35,000 boat.

O.T. Fears III finished fourth with 31 pounds, 6 ounces, and Larry Nixon was fifth, just 3 ounces back.

Striking a blow for weekend anglers everywhere, B.A.S.S. Federation representative Ken Christ caught 15 fish -- the maximum number -- over three days for a total of 31 pounds, 1 ounce and a check for $8,000.

"What a day for me," said Christ, one of five amateur fishermen in the tournament. "I'm delighted with my performance."

For Yelas, the Classic win pushed him into the millionaire's club and complemented his Angler of the Year honors from the FLW tour. Two other competitors have captured dual honors in the same year: Kevin VanDam last year and Denny Brauer in 1998.

Yelas got off to a slow start yesterday while waiting for the water to begin flowing down the spillways.

"I was struggling. ... I was grinding pretty hard," he admitted.

At 10:15, the juice began flowing at the dam and downstream. Yelas caught his first fish, a 1-pounder, on a deep-diving crankbait, and then motored to his favorite spot about 500 yards below the dam.

Then he had to wait nearly an hour for the water to rise three feet to cover a fallen tree, which he knew would soon provide cover for bass in excess of 6 pounds.

Switching to a five-eighths-ounce power jig with a black, brown and pumpkin seed skirt with a green and purple frog trailer, he went to work on a 200-foot stretch of bank.

Yelas had to fight the current, running his trolling motor at full power just to hold his position.

With a 9-pound, 4-ounce lead going into the final day, he thought he would need 8 pounds to win. On his second pass, he landed a 4-pound, 13-ounce fish and a 3 1/2 -pounder.

At that point, Yelas said, "I had a big, long sigh of relief."

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