JASPER, Texas — A stellar start positioned Masayuki Matsushita to overcome a Day 2 stumble and mount a final-round surge to win the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on Sam Rayburn Reservoir with a three-day total of 60 pounds, 14 ounces.
Hailing from Tokoname Aichi, Japan, Matsushita took the Day 1 lead with 27-10 — the event’s largest catch — but slipped to second after adding 15-5 on Friday. On Saturday, he rallied and added 17-15 to win by a margin of 1-9.
Speaking with the assistance of fellow angler Calvin Balch of Porter, Texas, Matsushita said he was fishing midlake, just south of the 147 Bridge. He targeted a mix of brushpiles and trees in 20 to 30 feet of water.
“I was fishing fast and (making a milk run) between my spots,” Matsushita said. “My Humminbird MEGA 360 was very important for finding my spots.”
His key bait Saturday was a Neko-rigged Zoom Magnum Trick Worm in the redbug and green pumpkin colors. This bait produced his biggest bite — an estimated 5-pounder — shortly after takeoff around 7:30 a.m.
“I was staying far away from my spots and made long casts,” Matsushita said.
The tournament’s varying weather patterns factored into his success. Day 1 saw mostly sunny conditions, while Days 2 and 3 brought more of a partly cloudy complexion.
“On Day 1, clouds were very good,” Matsushita said. “Day 2 and Day 3, clouds were not good. Sun was better. Maybe it put fish in the brushpile shade.”
For his efforts, Matsushita won a first-place prize of $50,167 and earned a spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which is scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts. His Classic berth is contingent on his fishing the final two Central Opens of the season.
In a moving display of pure triumphant emotion, Matsushita doubled over with his hands on his knees when Tournament Director Chris Bowes announced his victory.
Moments later, the winner held his trophy aloft and let out a triple chorus of victory screams that won over the Jasper, Texas, crowd nearly as much as Matsushita’s moving statement of his lifetime goal.
“My dream has always been to fish the Bassmaster Classic,” he said. “This tournament made that happen.”
Josh Douglas of Isle, Minn., improved from third place on Day 2 by adding a final-round sack of 17-6 to finish second with 59-5. Douglas also buoyed his performance with a big Day 1 weight of 22-5. He weighed 19-10 on Day 2.
Douglas targeted brushpiles in 8 to 22 feet. Throughout the week he caught most of his bass on a Texas-rigged 10-inch Biospawn ExoRibbon Worm. On Saturday, his top baits were a drop shot with a Roboworm in redbug and morning dawn colors and a Keitech swimbait on a 3/4-ounce swim jig with the skirt removed.
“The depth range changed for me and as the tournament progressed, I started catching them better in the shallower range, like 15 and under,” Douglas said. “I don’t know if that’s because the water’s coming down a little, but those 17- to 20-foot spots got a lot of pressure and those bigger fish were just sliding out.
“I was just fishing areas like The Canyons, the Deer Stand and Jackson Hill; areas (where) I know fish want to live shallow in the grass. But with the dropping water, they were just coming out to me.”
Kris Wilson of Montgomery, Texas, saved his best for last and finished third with 57-11. After placing 11th on Day 1 with 18-5, Wilson improved to seventh on Friday by adding 19-6. On Saturday, he weighed in 20 pounds — the final round’s heaviest catch.
Noting that he has approximately 3,000 waypoints on Rayburn, Wilson came into the event with a preselected set of offshore targets. Running as many of his spots as possible in practice helped him dial in the productive ones.
“After two days of practice, I figured out that I couldn’t get bit deeper than 20 feet, so I started concentrating on everything less than that,” Wilson said. “I caught my fish on a 6th Sense C-10 crankbait in a shad color and a Texas-rigged 11-inch hand-poured purple worm.”
Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., took the lead in the Falcon Rods Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 547 points. Gerald Swindle of Guntersville, Ala., is in second with 543, followed by Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., with 541, John Hunter Jr. of Simpsonville, Ky., with 505 and Randy Blaukat of Joplin, Mo., with 484.
Albert Collins of Nacogdoches, Texas, won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize for his 9-7 largemouth. Shaine Campbell of Brookeland, Texas, who placed sixth overall with 51-12, won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards.
Hayden Heck of Lufkin, Texas, won the co-angler division with a three-day total of 28-5. Overcoming a slow start, which found him placing 51st with a Day 1 bag of 5-11, Heck rocketed into fourth after adding 13-11 on Friday.
Weighing 8-15 in Saturday’s championship round pushed him across the finish line by a margin of 1-12.
William Young of Livingston, Texas, won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize in the co-angler division for his 9-0.