Justin Lucas grew up fishing the Sacramento River and the Delta, never fathoming the professional and financial rewards the local waters would someday provide.
On Sunday, Lucas, now a resident of Guntersville, Ala., capped a triumphant return to the Sacramento region by winning in the apex of competitive professional fishing.
Lucas collected $100,000 as the champion in the Sacramento stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series, finishing first in a four-day tournament that cast off each day from Discovery Park.
During the tournament, world-ranked anglers traveled hundreds of miles in high-speed, flat-bottomed boats, heading up and down the Sacramento River and to the Delta to reel in prized large-mouth bass. With enthusiastic crowds flocking to the river, the event was expected to generate $1.6 million for the Sacramento region.
For Lucas, the prize was a joyous homecoming.
“I’m a Sacramento boy. I grew up within 2 miles of this river almost my whole life,” said Lucas, a former resident of West Sacramento, Larkspur and Folsom, exulting as he was about to receive the championship trophy. “I’ve never dreamed of winning this thing.”
Over four days, Lucas hauled in 20 fish weighing a total of 82 pounds, 14 ounces. He said he wrapped up his victory Sunday by boating “10 miles out of my way” to a special spot on the river that he suspected would be teeming with fish.
“... I knew nobody else knew of it. I saved that area for today,” said Lucas, who reeled in his last five fish – weighing a total of 16 pounds – to clinch the win. He added: “I’m so tired right now. I put about 800 miles on my boat” over the four days. “This is just insane.”
Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., finished in second – winning $25,000 – after hauling in 20 fish totaling 80 pounds, 7 ounces over the four days.
“The whole week went well,” Martens said. “This place is awesome.”
The competition was captured in high definition by dozens of cameras for ESPN and streamed live via the Web around the globe. The event will be televised at a later date on ESPN2.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.