Teb Jones missed out on his first Bassmaster Open victory and his second trip to the Bassmaster Classic by 1 ounce Saturday on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma.
Got to hurt, right? Well, let’s pile on the pain for the Hattiesburg angler.
Jones caught all the fish he needed to win the event but was penalized in the final round for having a dead smallmouth in his five-fish limit, which brought him a 4-ounce penalty.
But, sadly, we’re not through listing his “what ifs.”
On Day 2 of the three-day event, Jones found a 6- or 7-inch shad in his livewell, obviously regurgitated by one of his big bass. That gizzard shad, had it stayed in the belly of the bass that ate it, would have been enough to overcome the final-day penalty.
So what does Jones say at the final weigh-in when he receives the runner-up check for $19,659 instead of the winner’s bounty of a cash and boat package worth $53,000?
“This will get me started on my therapy,” he told weighmaster Chris Bowes, referring to his winnings.
Jones finished the event with 45 pounds, 5 ounces.
Skylar Hamilton of Tennessee had 45 pounds, 6 ounces to beat him.
Jones, who is much deserving of his title of the conservation director for the Mississippi BASS Nation, said he had no regrets — not for his decision not to release the fish even though he knew it would likely die and especially not for how he fished all week.
“Unfortunately, I suffered a 4-ounce penalty for a dead 2½-pound smallmouth that put up a vicious fight,” Jones said. “It did more jumping than it did swimming, and I saw it on one of the jumps — the hook had gotten into the gills. I feared then it wasn’t going to survive.
“I thought about it: ‘What were the odds of culling that fish?’ I had culled everything under 3 pounds the first two days, but the bite was slower the final day. We had a bad thunderstorm go through, then we had bright sunshine, and the water was falling. I could tell the bite was off. I decided I had to keep it.”
Jones never had to decide whether he would cull the dying fish.
“I did have a smaller fish in the box, one about 15½ inches that weighed 2.05 pounds, but I never got a chance to cull it,” he said. “I would have culled it before I culled the smallmouth anyway, but I didn’t get the chance.
“I was fishing a swim bait, and it was what I caught all my big fish on. I had several 3-pounders nose up behind the swim bait — I could see them in the water following it — but not take it. You know, if any of those 3s had taken it, it’s a different story. An ounce is a tiny, tiny thing when you’re talking 45 pounds, 5 ounces.
“It’s like that dead shad; it happens. It was a big gizzard shad and, if it doesn’t get thrown up in the livewell we wouldn’t be talking about the penalty because it wouldn’t have mattered.
“I couldn’t do anything about either of those, and I am happy about how I handled what I could control. I fished really, really good.”
Jones said his fishing was consistent, and the leaderboard showed it: He had been near the top all week.
He was in third place on Day 1 with 15 pounds, 15 ounces — two places behind good friend and fellow Mississippian Scott McGehee of Madison.
The two found the fish and the pattern the previous Sunday, but McGehee couldn’t keep the consistency and faded to 42nd.
Jones moved up to second after Day 2 when 15 pounds, 13 ounces gave him 31 pounds, 12 ounces.
His final-day catch was 13 pounds, 9 ounces after the penalty.
“I am very pumped about my finish, (and the $20,000 payday) because these were the best and most-consistent three tournament days I have put together since the (B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship on the Ouachita River) that sent me to the Bassmaster Classic in 2015.
“I am not looking back, hopefully I am building momentum.”
But, still ….
“Man, I was 1 ounce from going back to the Classic — 1 ounce,” Jones said. “That’s pretty hard to choke down, but I am at peace with it. I was consistent. The two things that happened, I had no control over and I am at peace with it.
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I am at peace with it.”