Longtime Payson angler John Browning admits he was more than a bit apprehensive as he watched his final day’s catch being weighed in at the conclusion of the FLW Everstart Western Series Tournament on the California Delta.
“Yes, I was both nervous and excited,” he said.
As it turned out, their was no reason for a case of the jitters — Browning’s third-day catch of 9 pounds, 10 ounces was more than enough for him to win his first-ever FLW tournament championship.
“I was eighth in a 2008 tournament and 10th in an East-West tournament, but I’d never won,” he said.
Fishing the tournament May 16 to 18 as a co-angler, Browning was eighth at the conclusion of opening day with 15 pounds, 3 ounces. On the second day, he took over the co-angler lead with a limit that tipped the scales at 17 pounds, 5 ounces.
Also on the second day, he landed the tournament’s biggest fish — an 8-pound, 14-ounce lunker than garnered him the Everstart Series Big Bass award of $165.
As the tournament leader on the third day, the pressure was on Browning just when fishing suddenly turned doubly tough.
“I think it was the tide and the swells — conditions were a lot different than the first two days,” Browning said.
With bites less frequent, all the tournament anglers, including Browning, struggled.
“I had a (five-fish) limit, but getting it was a lot tougher than the first two days,” he said.
Nonetheless, his three-day total of 15 bass weighing 42 pounds, 2 ounces earned him a first place prize of a Ranger Z117 bass boat with a 90 horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard motor.
Browning said his strategy during the three-day tournament was to junk fix dropshots, Senkos, chatterbaits and crankbaits.
Because some Delta waters are infested with grass, Browning worked his chatterbaits through channels. In open waters, he turned to crankbaits, dropshots and Senkos.
Dante Ray of Sparks, Nev. provided Browning with his greatest competition, but eventually had to settle for second with a limit of 40 pounds, 9 ounces.
Although the victory on the California Delta was Brown’s first FLW “W,” he has long fished local circuits.
In 2007 he was on a hot streak teaming with Robert O’Donnell to take first place in a BestBet Aluminum Boat team tournament held at Roosevelt Lake.
Also that year, in the AllStar Bass Super Team championships held at Lake Pleasant, he and O’Donnell finished ninth.
The pair also pocketed prize money at another AllStar Bass tournament held earlier at Roosevelt.
His luck continued when he and Jeff Allen of Flagstaff took first at a team tournament held on San Carlos Lake and later, he partnered with Christy Clark to win a couple’s tournament.
Several years ago, during Bill Luke’s Big Bass Days at Lake Pleasant he boated a largemouth that turned out to be the largest caught during the three-day fray.
For the catch, Browning received $13,000 in prize money, which he said at the time was his best payoff in more than 20 years of tournament competition.
With the recent win on the Delta, Browning says he’s primed and ready for future tournaments that include an FLW tournament Oct. 10-11-15 at Clear Lake, Calif. and the U.S. Open at Lake Mead.
For the Open, Browning says, he might enter as a pro rather than a co-angler.