Go back to 2005 – I had just started fishing competitively, fishing local clubs and co-angling some BFL’s in the Missouri/Illinois area for a year or two along with recently purchasing my first Ranger boat – a 519 with a 200 hp Evinrude. At the time I was living in St. Louis, Mo., and was looking for a father’s day present to give my dad, so I decided to pay for a fishing trip to Kentucky Lake since it was about three hours from St. Louis. I booked a place at Moors Resort and we left Friday after work, I launched my boat Saturday at daylight and realized there was a tournament going out of there. At the time I didn’t know much about the big tournaments, but it turned out it was the top 10 of the EverStart that was on Kentucky Lake that week. My father and I fished and then went to weigh in at Walmart where we watched Terry Bolton get his first big win on the lake.
Watching that weigh in I decided I wanted to fish in the bigger tournaments one day and that kinda lit a fire. So in 2006 I stepped up to the weekend stuff and fished nothing but Kentucky Lake pretty much every free weekend that I had for a year. In 2007 my work and fishing came together and was offered a job in Alabama which would allow me to fish more with less travel. Fast forward seven years later, I had spent about every free hour fishing Guntersville and surrounding lakes trying to learn as much as possible. All of this led me to hop into the back of the boat as a co-angler last year to learn as much as I could from the best in the world.
Fast forward this year to Kentucky Lake day one, there I am sitting in the back of Goodwill pro Chad Grigsby’s boat about to weigh in one of the biggest sacks I have caught. I was just amazed to how the day had progressed. Chad was definitely on some fish, as we fished the same area that he fished last year.
Since the crankbait bite was good during practice, I starting the day throwing a Strike King 6XD in chartreuse/blue back with 1/0 KVD Elite hooks. I caught a limit pretty quick for about 13 or 14 pounds, then, picked up the Picasso Finesse School-E-Rig and full size School-E-Rig with 5 inch Berkley Hollow Belly swimbaits. The first bite I had I set the hook and knocked the reel off the rod, it was a real big fish and tried to hand line the fish in but it pulled off. I managed another good fish on it – around 4 1/2 pounds – then the bite died. Chad decided to make a move and we headed further down lake into Tennesee; I culled one time down there with a ¾-ounce Omega Football Jig and had about 17 to 18 pounds. I went about three of four hours and couldn’t get a bite; where Chad was catching one here and there but the bite was definitely tough. We hit one more spot and I hooked up on the School-E-Rig but told Chad it was probably a catfish or something because it was big and felt like pulling in a brick, but when I saw it I realized it was a big bass that had a bunch of the hooks in it. Chad got her in the net and I put it in the livewell, it weighed 6 pounds, 1 ounce. There was still about 15 minutes left to fish and I knew I had 20-plus pounds, so I decided to sit down since I knew it would be tough to upgrade and hopefully Chad could catch a good fish or two before weigh-in. I was truly blessed to weigh in the biggest bag on day one – 22 pounds, 12 ounces – good for a 4-pound lead on the co-angler side. I really owe Chad for putting me around some quality fish. We had a great day on the water.
Day two I drew David Kromm from Washington, I had never met David before and hoped he would be around some decent fish to try to make the day-three cut. The bite was slow and steady but I managed to catch 14 pounds, 13 ounces behind David who was using a drop-shot in 35 feet of water. I weighed just about everything on day two on the Finesse School-E-Rig. I thought I might have lost some ground but knew I would make the cut; surprisingly I extended my lead to 7 pounds going into the last day. Fishing behind David was good, as we were around fish, but I felt bad because he only had around 10 pounds and lost the tie breaker for the last check.
It’s great catching fish out of the back of the boat, but sometimes it’s tough because these guys are out trying to make a living. Sometimes it makes you wonder if David would’ve cashed a check, or if Chad would’ve whacked them on day one or even if Moynagh would’ve won on the Potomac. I love the co-angler program at FLW and it’s by far the best way to learn and meet some great people, but I sympathize with the guys on the front deck.
Speaking of Jim Moynagh, he would be my partner for day three. We met at the top 20 meeting and talked about details for the next day. I jokingly assured Jim I’d bring some cull tags to make sure I wouldn’t put any fish in his livewell. The morning started off fast and furious, Jim was on a good school of fish on a gravel bar and he went to whacking them one after another on a football jig. He was culling 2-pounders for 2 ¼-pounders and then 2 1/2-pounders. I was struggling since he had a sweet spot that required an exact cast. Watching my boater catch about 15 keepers in 45 minutes almost sent me spinning out of control, but I didn’t want to cast up on Jim so I managed to catch what I could around the general area. It took me about three hours to catch six or seven keepers on the ¾-ounce Omega Football jig for about 10 pounds. Having a 7-pound lead I thought I needed another good fish or two in case someone brought in a big bag. I was able to cull twice throughout the day on the Strike King 6XD, but in general it was a real grind. After about 10 a.m. it seemed the bite just shut off as the wind picked up a lot.
After checking in we had a long drive to Murray, Ky., to weigh in at the coliseum where Jim and I rode together. Jim and I talked a lot about his career and fishing as a professional and what it takes to make a living in this sport. He gave me a lot of excellent advice, and it was great how down-to-earth Jim was. He is a true ambassador of the sport.
At the weigh-in I thought I was maybe one fish short of winning the event, as it turned out the bite was tough for most. When it came my turn to take the scale I only needed 5 pounds, 5 ounces. I was blessed to weigh in the biggest bag on the co-angler side, just under 14 pounds, and secured the win. This win was really special since my sister and nephew in Canada were watching on FLW live, and my girlfriend was in the stands cheering for me at a lake I have always loved. I won’t be making the trip to Champlain this year, a lake that I really like enjoy fishing. My brother is getting married during the event, but I’ll still be able to sneak away and catch a few smallmouths while I’m up here. Thanks to everyone for all the calls, emails, texts and all the support along the way. Congrats to Dave Lefebre on his win – he flat out caught them.
Thanks for reading, Casey. www.caseymartinfishing.com