Just seven years ago Jason Christie of Park Hill, OK, was coaching high school basketball while becoming a fearsome competitor in bass tournaments on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees and other northeastern Oklahoma lakes. He’d won so many that when other competitors saw him show up, they considered just giving him their money and going home.

Christie finally gave up the coaching gig and starting fishing nationally on the FLW trail, but not before winning seven BFL tournaments – five of them on Grand – so his ears perked up when B.A.S.S. announced that this year’s Bassmaster Classic would be held there.

“About five minutes after they announced that it would be on Grand I started planning how I could qualify,” Christie said. “There were some tournament date conflicts, and the Northern Opens were the only ones that fit my schedule.”

He admits that it was a long shot. Rules state that he must fish all three Northern Opens, and win one of them to qualify for the Classic. The first Northern Open was held on the James River in Virginia, and Christie finished in 15th place. The second tournament was to be held on a body of water he’d only fished twice before, and he admitted that the odds seemed stacked even higher against him.

“The chance I had to win was pretty slim, considering the local competition and the fact that I don’t chase brown fish (smallmouth bass) a lot,” he said. “But the chances were better if I fished it rather than staying at home on the couch.”

The tournament was on Lake St. Clair (Detroit River) in Michigan July 19-21, and Christie sat in second place after Day One, 5 ounces behind one of those local sticks, Brian Metry. He fell a little farther behind on Day Two, and headed into the final day 14 ounces out of the lead. But Metry’s mechanical problems that final day opened the door for Christie, who brought in his third limit in a row of more than 21 pounds to take the win. He’d beaten the odds and a stack of locals to achieve his goal of qualifying for the Classic on his home water. Ironically, he credited his unfamiliarity with St. Clair as a big factor in the win.

“I only fished one area, but there were two or three smaller areas within it,” he said. “On Day One I was focused on 12 or 13 acres of water, but by the third day it I’d narrowed it down to about 2 acres.”

His winning area was in the mouth of the Detroit River that featured some patches of vegetation. On Day One he caught his fish Carolina-rigging a green pumpkin YUM Salleemander. The Salleemander is 6-inches in length, which is a bigger bait than many competitors would consider. He was looking to eliminate the small fish and just focus on bigger fish, he said, and it worked. He boated his biggest fish of the tournament that day, a smallmouth in the 5 ½-pound range.

“Every bite I had that day was 3 ½ pounds or bigger,” he said.

He noted that he was constantly moving the Carolina rig rather than fishing it in the conventional manner, and said he felt the swimming tail of the bait was the key to his strikes.

He hit the same area on Days Two and Three, but switched to a YUM F2 2ube in the same color when the Salleemander bite slowed. He said he was catching 40 to 60 fish a day while mining the spot and his final day sack included two 5-pounders. That sack weighed 22-pounds, 13-ounces and propelled him to the win and qualified him to fish the Classic.

Christie lists Grand Lake as his home waters and favorite spot to fish, and it’s a lake he dominated local tournaments on before fishing the FLW Tour. While he’s not fished it much in the past few years, he will still be considered a favorite in February. The thousands of hours he spent on the lake in the past will certainly be a factor.

“I had a 16-hour drive home from Michigan,” he said, “and I bet I spent 14 of them thinking about what the fish will be doing in February and starting to put together a game plan, as well as a pretty serious game plan for practice.”

It’s Oklahoma in February, though, where it can be 65 and sunny or 5 degrees and an ice storm, and Christie knows the winning ways won’t be apparent until the event arrives.

“It (the Classic) will be dependent on the weather, big time,” he said, “and I’ve got other things to think about, like the Forrest Wood Cup coming up in a couple weeks.”