Long-lining is a technique thought up years ago by anglers who wanted to get crankbaits to stay deep along the tops of underwater ridges. A long-lining fisherman casts out his crankbait, keeps his reel in free-spool mode, and backs the boat away from the bait using the trolling motor until very little line is left on the reel. He then stops the boat, engages the reel's gears and starts cranking like mad.
"Usually a crankbait follows a V-shaped course when it's being retrieved," Starks said. "With a long line the bait goes steeply downward until it bottoms out, and then stays at that level for a good long while before the retrieve begins taking it toward the surface."
The technique worked.
Early on the tournament's first day, Starks had more than 16 pounds' worth of bass in his livewell, but the migraine bugaboo returned and forced him ashore before noon. He finished the day in 12th place.
On day two, with his headache gone, Starks caught a limit of bass that weighed 23 pounds, 1 ounce and vaulted into third place. Another 19 pounds, 11 ounces on the tournament's third day put him in the runner-up spot heading into the finals, almost 6 pounds behind leader Britt Myers.
"I didn't really think I had a chance to win," Starks recalled. "Only one time before had anyone come from that far back on the last day to win."
But then Starks started catching fish.
"I had 16 pounds in the boat early on," he said. "There were a lot of fans out there watching us, and they started telling me I had moved into the lead. Then, all of a sudden, they started saying that Britt was catching them and that I was back in second place."
By 2 p.m., just an hour before check-in time, the bass in Starks' honey hole had stopped biting.
"I had figured by then I was headed for second place, but I finally figured out that I wasn't OK with that. I moved to a place I had fished earlier and found a wad of fish about 42 feet down.
"Right off, I caught a 4-pounder. On the next cast, I hooked a giant, but it got off. I said to the [ESPN] cameraman, 'I've lost the tournament.' He said, 'Don't give up.' On my last two casts, I caught two 5-pounders. It was an awesome feeling. The fans were screaming, and I honestly felt at that point that I'd won the tournament."
He had. Starks' four-day catch of 81 pounds, 2 ounces put him comfortably ahead of Myers' 79 pounds, 1 ounce.
Starks' father, Allen, called his son's last-second heroics "a miracle, a gift from God."
Starks isn't one to disagree.
"When I look up on the mantel and see two Elite Series trophies, I almost have to pinch myself," he said. "And now, for the first time, I'm going to get to fish in the Classic. It's been a great year so far. There are four more tournaments to go, and then the Classic - and I don't think I'm done quite yet."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.