Buddy Gross has won pro fishing tournaments on big circuits before, but never quite the way he did this weekend.
Stuck in 45th place after Wednesday's first day of the DeWalt Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Eufala, Ala., Gross kept plugging along, fought back to make the final cut on Friday and then stunned the crowd with a huge haul on Championship Saturday to pick up his first career Bassmaster Elite victory in just his second career series event.
Going into the final day in 10th place, the Chickamauga resident thrilled the home folks watching live online and on ESPN 2 by pulling in big fish after big fish. He eventually weighed in his limit of five bass at a whopping 27 pounds, 11 ounces before climbing into the tournament leader's "hot seat" to see if any else in the top 10 could knock him out of it.
Gross' total of 84 pounds, 8 ounces ended up just less than a pound more than that of 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Scott Canterbury (83-9), who had three straight days of more than 20 pounds before checking at 19-3 on the final day. Another Peach State angler, Drew Benton, had the second-biggest bag on Saturday at 24-8 to give him third place overall (82-4).
"It was always a dream to fish the Bassmaster (series) as a kid," said Gross, who opted to join the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2020 after four wins and over $450,000 earned on the FLW Tour. "It was something that I never thought would happen, but I've been blessed for it to happen. It's one of the greatest achievements I've had in fishing."
Lake Eufala marked Gross' third $100,000 victory as a pro. He broke through at Pickwick Lake in Alabama in 2016 with his first FLW Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit win and collected his second one on Feb. 7 of last year on Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Fla.
He also earned a $50,000-plus payday for a 2017 Costa FLW Series event win (now the Southeastern Toyota Series) on Lake Seminole in southeast Georgia and picked up nearly $5,000 for a victory in a one-day tournament in the Phoenix Bass FLW Series (Choo Choo) on Lake Guntersville, Ala. back in 2010.
Still, Gross said this latest win would be memorable for the way it played out.
"When you're leading wire to wire, it's a lot different than starting out in 45th place on the first day and having to dig (your) way out," he added. "It was pretty special coming from behind like that."
He said he focused on taking things one step at a time after the first day.
"The second day, our goal was to make the top 40 just so we could get some money made," he explained. "Once I made the top 40, I just put another goal out there to make the top 10, just trying to get good points for the (Bassmaster) Classic. I just kept making these goals and (Saturday), I was just going fishing. I had nothing to lose and I couldn't finish any worse than where I was sitting.
"So I took my time and it just started clicking. I started finding some fish. I ran some new brush today and it worked out with some big ones. That was an incredible day today. I've had bags that big before, but not in this kind of event. I was (over 7 pounds) out of first and to surpass that against this quality of guys is very rare.
"It was just meant to be, I think. We had a really good tournament."