When it’s all said and done, Alton Jones may never top the fishing experience that he had at the 2008 Bassmaster Classic when he won it all on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
But Jones is sure going to try and top that experience this weekend from March 24-26 as the 47th Bassmaster Classic visits his home state of Texas on Lake Conroe near Houston.
For Jones, winning this weekend would be extra special, but even if he did, hoisting the trophy might not the 2017 event’s top highlight for him.
That’s because his 24-year old son Alton Jones, Jr., a Bassmaster Elite Series rookie, is also fishing in the Classic this weekend thanks to his win on the Red River last fall in B.A.S.S. Central Open competition.
“Having Alton Jr. in the Classic is surreal for me,” said Jones, a 53-year old angler from Lorena, Texas.
“Kids grow up so fast,” he added. “It seems like just yesterday that he was a 10-year-old walking the shores of whatever campground we were staying at toting a couple of rods and a small tackle box.
“He’s been to many Classics as my son, but now to have him be able to experience it from the other side gives me a great sense of pride. It has also been very helpful to be able to compare notes with him in the evenings after practice.”
Jones is also beaming a big Texas smile since the Classic is back in the Lone Star State for the first time in a couple of generations. The last time the Classic visited Texas was in 1979 when Hank Parker beat out Gary Klein and a host of other legendary anglers to claim the championship on Lake Texoma.
“Being born and raised in Texas, I’ve got to say it feels great to have a Classic right here in my home state,” said Jones, a longtime Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing competitor.
“I live about 2.5 hours north of here (Lake Conroe) so it’s close enough that many of my friends and family will be able to make the trip,” he added.
“I’ve never won a B.A.S.S. event in Texas and that is certainly a goal of mine.”
To accomplish that goal, Jones knows that he’ll need to be very effective in finding fish and managing water.
“My prep has been very good with long days of fishing…but with no hooks,” said Jones, one of five Texans in the field. “Bites are not too hard to come by, but getting a big bite is a challenge.”
At the 20,118-acre Conroe, Jones is very aware that a combination of moderate lake size, long seawalls and plenty of spectator boat traffic in the nation’s fourth largest city may take a toll on the field this weekend.
“The lake is going to fish small because it is small, so it will be imperative to do whatever you are doing better than the next guy,” said Jones, the winner of six B.A.S.S. events.
What will not be small according to most observers is the size of Conroe’s bass, thanks to a lake record of 15.93 pounds and a long history of producing double digit lunkers. In fact, Conroe has produced some 17 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ShareLunkers over the years (fish that weigh 13 pounds or greater).
“A couple of big bites will go a long, long way and help you separate yourself from the crowd,” said Jones. “I suspect the winner of this event will catch two or three eight-pounders throughout the week.”
While the recent winter weather season was unusually mild, even for southeastern Texas standards, Jones says that there are still some fish up in the skinny water despite the late March date of the Classic.
“This will not be a total post spawn event and I think it’s possible that we will have another wave of females push in (to spawn) during the tournament,” he said. “That said, it won’t be a total spawn event either.”
Even if there is another wave of spawning action this weekend, the Texas pro doesn’t think sight fishing will be a huge player in the outcome.
“The spawn bite is not a sight fishing bite either as the water is not that clean,” said Jones. “There may be a few caught sight fishing, but mostly it’s just fishing in areas where bass are spawning.”
Another key player in this weekend’s Classic outcome will be the baitfish in the lake.
“There is a shad spawn going on now for about an hour each morning and that may be the best window to get a good foundation for your day,” said Jones. “If you can box up 18-pounds early on, then you can spend the rest of the day trying to get one or two big bites.”
Overall, Jones is expecting a Texas-sized event, at least in the crowds if not also in the fishing.
“I expect the fishing to be fair as we are in the late part of the spawn and the fish have been getting a lot of pressure for the past few weeks,” said Jones. “Even during our practice you had to work your way around local anglers in every area.
“But (because of the lake’s potential) I expect to see a few big bags in the mid to upper 20s weighed in, but I suspect it will be difficult to back that up,” he added.
“Getting 20-pounds a day will be very strong and I predict 64-pounds to win it all. That one big bite will be the difference between a 20-pound bag and a 24-pound bag.”
And maybe that one big bite will be enough to put Jones — or his son Alton Jr. — tall in the saddle, hoisting up a Texas-sized trophy at the end of a Lone Star State Classic that has been years in coming.