Jay Yelas earned a tough win in the June 1995 Bassmaster SuperStars event on the Illinois River out of Peoria. It marked the second of his five B.A.S.S. wins and also his second on a river (he’d won on the Potomac in 1993). The last of his five B.A.S.S. victories came at the 2002 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake – now he fishes FLW exclusively.
As the name of the tournament indicates, the 31 competitors at Peoria comprised a star-studded field. All were either Classic winners, former AOYs, or members of the list of all-time leading money winners.
In the final standings, prior Classic winners occupied 2nd through 6th places — David Fritts, George Cochran, Robert Hamilton, Guido Hibdon and Paul Elias. Other prior Classic winners included Rick Clunn, Charlie Reed, Hank Parker, Ken Cook, Tommy Martin, Larry Nixon, Bobby Murray, Bo Dowden, Stanley Mitchell and Jack Chancellor. Future Classic winners, in addition to Yelas, included Cochran (again), Denny Brauer, Kevin VanDam (four times), and Mark Davis (that same year).
The river was completely flooded, so much so that B.A.S.S. nearly had to move the launch site. The downstream portions of the river were finally reopened by the Coast Guard the day before the tournament started, though, enabling B.A.S.S. to launch as planned. In addition to the pre-existing adverse conditions, hail and thunderstorms on Day One provided an additional challenge. John Husar of the Chicago Tribune described it thusly: “Welcome to Illinois, guys, the Hades of largemouth bass fishing.”
Yelas used a trio of Stanley spinnerbaits to earn the win. He had shared a small backwater pond (Snicarte Slough) with Gary Klein for much of the first two days, but Husar reported that Yelas got there first on the final day. Klein, respecting the unwritten code, backed off, as did Shaw Grigsby, thereby allowing Yelas to win.
While the tournament cemented the reputation of Yelas as more than a one-hit wonder, it also produced one of the most iconic moments in bass fishing television history.
Do you remember what it was and how it played out?