Lakecaster Online

Of Presidents, Kings and BASSMasters
By Patty Schaefer

The 2001 Bass Masters Classic in New Orleans, La. was filled with class, style and charisma - just like Jay Yelas of Tyler, TX. I had a unique opportunity to be an observer with him on the first day of the Classic. Only 35 years old, this is Jay's 11th B.A.S.S. Classic, he was the 1995 Bassmaster Super Stars Champion and 3 time winner of the Bassmaster Trail just to name a few of his accomplishments so far in his blooming career. He has only been fishing tournaments for 13 years and has fished the classic 11 of those years.

I had the opportunity to meet him the day before at the Kids Klassic. During the signing session, I saw him genuinely interested in each fan that came to his table. He took all the time each person wanted to talk to them, answer their questions, and sign gazoodles of autographs. Even after a few hours had gone by and he had talked to hundreds of people, he greeted each person with a simple air of gratitude for them simply being there and honoring the event and the participants. The next morning we met in the boat yard. He helped me pack my gear into the boat and made sure our refreshments were plentiful and cold. Although he had a lot on his mind (super-bowl of fishing and all) he wasn't ever too busy to always be a gentleman. Normally Jay would join a group of the contestants for a morning prayer, but the morning rain dictated that today they would each pray privately.

As with Presidents and Kings the New Orleans Highway Patrol escorted the 45 contestants through New Orleans and down I-10 to the launch site. As we paraded along, the people in the vehicles waiting for us to go by honked and waved as they wished these bass fishermen of fishermen good luck in this super event.

Upon launching, there was a parade of fans taking pictures and waving. Jay acknowledged every one of them, waving and nodding at each. "Without the fans, this tournament wouldn't be what it is today" Jay said. All through the initial canals we traversed through, there were fans lined up on the banks and in boats. His graciousness never ceased. The canal opened up to the 4-6 foot waves of Lake Salvador. Time being of the essence, we raced through the waves being airborn one minute and crashing down the next. It was a test of agility not only for the boat but for us as well. All of a sudden one of the alarms on the boat went off. Jay had to stop and shut it down. The alarm stopped, Jay re-started the boat and we were off once more. Once we traveled through the rough waters of Lake Salvador, he poured on the speed in his Skeeter bass-rig. It took all the pounding and pressure that was necessary to reach our destination in an hour and 20 minutes through the heavy rain, wind and rough seas. He stopped at a canal that was lined with lush vegetation and went to pitching a black and blue jig. The rain diminished, and the clouds began to part. Two other boats of fans came in to watch Jay fish. They courteously stayed back and quiet, watching through binoculars at times, while Jay concentrated on the feat at hand. The water had dropped some since practice day and had become markedly stained. Jay wondered how this might affect the bite. In just a few pitches he was bit, but missed the set. At that point the ESPN boat caught up with us. They stayed with Jay throughout the day filming his every move. All through the morning he stayed pitching the west banks, sun at his back, alternating jig - buzz-bait - spinner-bait - worm.

Watching the grace, style, finesse and the pinpoint accuracy of his fishing - it is no wonder that Jay is at the top of his league. At 8:25 he boated his first fish - a 4 1/2 lb beauty - on a jig. When he went to put it in the live-well, he discovered that his panel was not operating. No live-wells, no bilge. He checked the connections and flipped the switches. He checked the fuses. Nothing. He called for a nearby Skeeter mechanic, just 10 minutes away. Jay had to keep fishing. It was a feeling of helplessness that the ESPN camera crew and I experienced, as we are not allowed to assist in any way short of an emergency. Just before the mechanic arrived, Jay crawled underneath his console and pulled the fuse completely out and shoved it back in. It worked ! We waved off the mechanic so he would not disturb Jay's water unneccesarily. After thoroughly fishing every nook and cranny along that western bank and spot-checking the east bank along the way, we moved to his next spot. Using the same alternating pattern as before, at 10:04 he caught his next 1 1/4 lb fish on a white buzz bait along the edge of the vegetation. After a few other spots along the main canal, trying structure and points to no avail, we went to an oilrig at the end of a smaller canal. Pitching and flipping small crank bait throughout the structure of the oilrig, at 10:47 am he caught his next 3 pounder. She was a strong fighter and didn't want to come in the boat. The contestants aren't allowed any help whatsoever, and they cannot use a net, so Jay had to let this fish dosey-doe around the boat several times before she wore out enough for Jay to finally lift her by the belly to get her in the boat. She had gotten hooked with those treble hooks in her bottom lip preventing him from lipping her, adding to his challenge of getting her safely in his boat. No more bites came from this location and off we went again to try a few more spots.

Time was ticking. He had to leave by 12:45 to make it back by 2:15. Finally, all too soon, it was time to go. Jay elected to return the "back way" through the calmer waters of the canals, which would take 10 minutes longer than by cutting through the rough lake. He put the hammer down and pushed his Skeeter rig to put us back close to the check-in 10 minutes early. Yes - he was able to try one last spot. This area was different than the other areas he had fished. Full of Cypress trees draped with moss, concentration at its peak, Jay hurriedly, intently, pitched each log, lay-down and snag. He got a few bumps but no takers. Time to pack it in and check in. He was just a little disappointed not to have his limit, but hopeful that what he had could keep him up in the standings.

Upon weighing in, with 12-4 in the lead, Jay anxiously waited for his weight to be tallied. It was 9 - 11 with his big bass being 4 - 11 putting him in 7th place overall and 1st place big bass.

Going into the second day of competition, the contestants had a few factors thrown in to deal with. Many of them found that the spots they had chosen got sprayed between the practice and competition days, making them search for other water. All the contestants had to deal with the impending tropical storm Barry brewing in the Gulf bringing in stronger winds and the influx of saltwater. Jay chose to go back to the same water he had fished the day before. While it didn't pay off, bringing in only one fish to weigh the second day, he dropped to 20th place but his 4 - 11 big bass from the first day still held for overall big bass.

Last day of competition the weather report predicted 40 mph winds and scattered rain. Some of the contestants were going to stay closer to the launch site while others were still heading to their destinations up to 2 hours away. It was calm, almost no wind and take-off and almost completely clear with a full moon. As the day progressed the wind picked up. Tropical storm Barry was slowly moving east toward Florida, allowing the needed weather window for these men. They were all tired, and just knowing how sore I was from riding the first day you can only imagine how sore they had to be from three straight days of long rough rides. They had pushed not only their bass rigs but themselves to the very limits in hopes of being the World Champion of bass fishing. Jay's area did not pay off for him on the last day. Upon weighing his fish, he said "A pound of humility before a pound of victory". We did have two of our Texas Pro's - Todd Faircloth and Harold Allen finish Top 5. Good luck to all of them next year. Congratulations to our new BASS World Champion - Kevin Van Dam - of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Special thanks to BASSMasters, ESPN and New Orleans for this was truly a spectacular event.

This article sponsored by <> and <>

Jay is sponsored by Yamaha Motors, Skeeter Boats, Berkley, Diawa, Pennzoil Marine, Lowrance, MotorGuide and Hobie Sunglasses.

4.11 beauty

Jay Yelas weighs-in the first day overall big bass worth $1,000
Photos by Patty Schaefer/Lakecaster

Jay pitching the cane for his first day catch

Jay Yelas catching a bass from a well-head as the ESPN camera-man video-tapes the action

Kevin VanDam leaping for joy at winning the New Orleans Classic

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