HOUSTON (March 27, 2017) – Just three years into his Bassmaster Elite Series career, Mercury pro Jordan Lee had already experienced a pair of heartbreaking final-day “near misses.”
The amiable 25-year-old Alabamian finished a close second to Mercury teammate Brent Ehrler in the 2015 Rookie of the Year Race when Ehrler weighed just enough fish on the final day at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to best Lee in the ROY race. A year later, Lee was narrowly edged out of his first career Elite victory when legendary Kevin Vandam slipped past him on the final day at Lake Cayuga, New York.
So, Lee took matters into his own hands Sunday on the final day of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe, Texas: the former Bassmaster College Series contender dropped 27 pounds, 4 ounces on the scales at Minute Maid Park in Houston to claim the Classic title in one of the biggest comebacks in the 46-year history of the event.
Lee, who opened the Classic in 37th place after Day 1 – more than 14 pounds behind Ehrler – went on to rack up 56-10 pounds of Conroe largemouth in three days, narrowly beating fellow Mercury pro Steve Kennedy (55-1) and Ehrler (54-14).
“Man, I don’t even believe this is happening right now,” a visibly emotional Lee told the Minute Maid crowd as 2016 Classic champion Edwin Evers handed him the Classic trophy. “(Starting in 37th place) I wasn’t sure I could do this, but on a lake like Conroe, I guess you’re never out of it.”
Lee’s climb to the Classic title
Lee started the week inauspiciously, catching just three fish on a blustery, cloudy Day 1 for 8-6. It was a frustrating start for Lee, who had located significantly bigger fish during practice and had entered the week believing he had a shot at the title.
“Anybody who was on the water watching me on Day 1 could see I was a little bit of a circus,” Lee joked. “That wind was rolling so hard, I swear it took me 10 minutes to get my rain suit on. I was struggling pretty bad.”
Lee’s struggles seemingly put him out of contention for the week as Ehrler hauled in 23-3 on Day 1. But as the weather changed on Day 2, so did Lee’s chances.
Lee cranked up his Mercury 250 Pro XS and headed straight to a spot on Conroe that he couldn’t fish effectively in the Day 1 wind. That spot proved to be key: Lee hooked a 7.5-pounder on his first cast, the anchor of a 21-pound bag that pushed Lee into the Top 15 with 29-6.
Ehrler, though, held steady with 20-1, and when the Top 25 motored out of Lake Conroe Park on Sunday, Lee needed a giant five-fish limit, and he needed Ehrler to stumble.
He got both.
Lee methodically worked a gravel-bottomed point with a football-head jig, gradually building a 27-pound Championship Sunday bag, the biggest of the tournament by more than 4 pounds. Ehrler, meanwhile, saw his bite evaporate: the Southern California-based veteran eked out just 11-10 on Day 3 to fall to third place.
“Trust me, I was excited to catch 27 pounds, but I didn’t think I had much of a chance of getting by Brent,” Lee said. “Just like Edwin (Evers) said last year when he won the Classic, ‘If it’s your time, then it’s just your time.’ I guess today was just my time. I still can’t hardly believe it, though.”
NOTES: Anglers running Mercury 250 Pro XS outboards claimed the top five spots in the Classic: Lee, Kennedy, Ehrler, James Elam and Ott Defoe ... Mercury pro Bradly Roy, who finished seventh, was fishing in his first Classic. Roy started his tournament-fishing career by winning a Triton/Mercury at the first-ever Bassmaster Junior Championship on Lake Norman, South Carolina in 2004 ... Ehrler’s 9-12 on Day 1 was the big bass of the event ... Mercury’s Elite anglers next compete on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana (April 6-9), which has been ranked as Bassmaster’s “Best Bass Fishery in the World” two years in a row.