Last-minute fish gives Browning victory

SHREVEPORT, La. — Catching last-minute fish has become a habit for Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Stephen Browning in tournaments lately, and Saturday it paid off in a victory on the Red River.

The Pine Bluff pro relied on divine intervention to jump from the 12th spot to first place in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open. Catching a total weight of 16 pounds, 10 ounces on the final day earned Browning a $40,000 Triton/Mercury rig and $7,979 in cash. The victory also secured Browning a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic if he fishes the last two Central Opens.

“The good Lord blessed me to even be standing here today,” Browning said. “(Friday), with about 5 minutes left, I caught about a 5-pounder and only had two fish. I don’t know why, but during the last two tournaments, right at the end of the day when I really needed one, sometimes I would just say a prayer, and He answered them. He answered them today because I was struggling big time.”

Browning said he had some bites in the morning at his first stop, but he later made a long run. When he went 2 1/2 hours without catching anything, Browning decided to run back to his first spot.

“It was on there,” he said. “We caught them and caught them and caught them, and I was kicking myself in the rear end the whole drive over (to the weigh-in).”

“The key today was a simple bait change. I should have had 20 pounds yesterday, but I lost some big ones. This morning, I lost two big ones, and I thought something was not right.”

Browning had been using a sexy shad square bill crankbait but decided to try another brand of the square bill in the same size and color.

“I guess it just had a different wobble to it because they just choked it,” he said. Retrieving the crankbait at high speed in an erratic fashion, Browning keyed on driftwood laydowns 3 to 5 feet deep close to sandbar drops.

“I crashed it into everything I could possibly crash it into,” he said. Most of his strikes came after the lure deflected off the wood. Earlier in the week, Browning caught some of his keepers on a Z-Man Chatterbait.