MANY, La. – When James Niggemeyer of Van, Texas, left the dock Sunday morning for a 3 ½-hour fish-off against fellow Texan Jerrel Pringle, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro worried that heavy cloud cover would kill his sight-fishing bite and the victory would slip away at the Bassmaster Central Open on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Officials kept the two pros, who on Saturday were tied for first place with 37 pound, 14 ounces on what was supposed to be the final day of competition, separated Sunday when they returned for the 11 a.m. weigh-in.
Niggemeyer had five fish but wasn’t very confident.
“I just caught five fish,” he said. “They’re not big. I caught the fifth fish 10 minutes before I had to leave.”
When Niggemeyer and Pringle met at the scales, neither was able to see what fish the other had. Pringle won a coin toss to determine who would weigh first, and he deferred.
Niggemeyer’s five fish were placed on the scales, which finally settled at 14 pounds, 1 ounce for a three-day total of 51-15. He looked as if he were holding his breath as Pringle began placing his fish on the scales.
As it turned out, Pringle only had three fish that went 7-8 for a total of 45-6.
Niggemeyer looked shell-shocked as he was handed the Bassmaster Central Open trophy.
“I can’t believe it,” he said of his third BASS win. Niggemeyer also has a 2003 Bassmaster Southern Open win on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper and a 2005 Red River regional Bassmaster Weekend Series victory.
Niggemeyer, who had stuck to sight fishing throughout the tournament, had to adjust during the fish-off.
“I ran down to look for a 5-pounder I left on the bed yesterday, and it was gone,” he explained. “The fish just weren’t where they were the past couple days, so I eased farther back (into the creek) where I hadn’t been.
“Every now and again I’d come up on one.”
The only problem was that the fish weren’t exactly ready to eat.
“Each fish took 15 to 30 minutes to bite,” Niggemeyer said.
For his part, Pringle said the fish in his area on the north end of the reservoir seemed to have moved, and stained water made it difficult to find them.
“The fish had moved back (into ditches), and they weren’t moving,” he said. “I’m sure they were on beds, but I just couldn’t see them.”
Pringle said hindsight proved that he should have abandoned the area he fished the first couple of days.
“I had stuff I could get to in 10 minutes, but I thought if I caught three fish like I had been catching and he didn’t catch them I’d have 12 to 13 pounds and that’d be enough,” Pringle said. “I probably should have gone to (the closer fish).”
The dramatic ending to the tournament, which began with the first day of competition being cancelled due to weather conditions, resulted in Niggemeyer pocketing a $51,000 check. Pringle received just less than $23,000.
Niggemeyer said the win was critical on several fronts.
“Financially, this came at a wonderful time,” he said. “I had a rough year last year on the Elites.”
His 2009 Elite Series year, however, which begins this week on Texas’ Lake Amistad, will start off with a lot of confidence.
“It’s a big shot in the arm,” Niggemeyer said. “I had been thinking about what I needed to do to get back to a place where I was confident fishing and the results were there, too. This really helps.”
Looking back on the past three days, he said he could identify one key catch that made it all possible.
“If I hadn’t caught that 8-pounder (Saturday), this wouldn’t have happened,” Niggemeyer said. “I consider that fish a gift from the Lord.”
Todd Castledine of Nacogdoches, Texas, finished in third with 35-11, followed by Keith Caka of Huntsville, Texas, with 35-1. Arnie Lane of Lakeland, Fla., finished in fifth place with 34-4, and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., rounds out the top six with 34-2.
The next stop in the three-tournament Central Open division is the Sept. 3-5 event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir out of Jasper, Texas.
Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.
For more than 40 years, BASS has served as the authority on bass fishing. With its considerable multi-media platforms and expansive tournament trail, BASS is guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry-leading publications Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Fishing Tackle Retailer and comprehensive Web properties in ESPN360.com, ESPN’s sports broadband network, Bassmaster.com and ESPNOutdoors.com, the organization is committed to delivering content true to the lifestyle. Additionally, television programming on ESPN2 continues to provide relevant content – from tips and techniques to in-depth tournament coverage – to passionate audiences.