CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – As much as I love to flex the old literary muscles, there’s just no need for flowery language or fancy metaphors tonight. Fact is Kerry Milner won the Wal-Mart BFL All-American on Nickajack Lake because he whacked ’em!
For two days, the boater from Bono, Ark. posted solid limits of 18 pounds and 19-4, which took him to sixth place on day one and second on day two. In today’s finale, Milner pulled out all the stops, sacked up 25-12 and slammed the door on a huge win with a three-day total of 63-0.
“The Lord blessed me – there’s no other way to say it,” Milner said.
Here’s a few relevant stats: Milner had the heaviest sack of day two and his day-three catch was the tournament’s largest. When Milner entered day two, he sat 2 pounds, 5 ounces off the lead, but when the dust settled, he owned a winning margin of 5-13.
All three days, Milner ran upriver and fished a 100-yard stretch in the Chickamauga dam tailrace. On day one, he said he let tournament nerves drive him to spend a couple of hours running around looking for bites, but he eventually returned to the tailrace and found the fish cooperative.
“I fished one spot all week,” Milner said. “I got off of it a little bit the first day, but all of my weight has come off that one hole.”
Fishing a homemade football head with a Zoom Fat Albert Twin Tail and a Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hog, Milner caught his fish over scattered rock in 13-15 feet. He said he paid close attention to water direction, as the main tailrace current seams also spun off eddies that flowed in different directions. Presenting his baits in the direction the fish would naturally be facing was critical.
“Anytime you fish right in the tailrace, those fish are healthy and they eat well,” he said. “They have to fight that current to survive and there’s a lot of bait in there too.
Milner said that once he reached his spot, the action started quickly and had him dropping big fish after big fish in his well.
“I had 20 pounds in the first 20 minutes this morning,” he said. “I spent a lot of time sitting around taking breaks today.”
Wilkinson slips to second
Second-place boater Chris Wilkinson spent two days in the top spot with weights of 20-10 and 18-15. He had another strong performance on day three (17-10), but Wilkinson couldn’t match Milner’s big finish. Ultimately, the boater from Farmersburg, Indiana finished second with 57-3.
“I came in with (nearly) 18 pounds and I really thought I had it won,” Wilkinson said. “I knew (Milner) had to have over 22 pounds today. I had 20-10 on the first day and usually on the last day, the weights go down. I don’t think I could have done anything differently when he caught that much today.”
Throughout the event, Wilkinson kept a Paycheck Baits Repo Man topwater handy, but mainly relied on flipping Hawgback Lures tubes and 11 1/2-inch Bauer Custom Baits worms. He had Bauer make a green pumpkin blue flake worm for his All-American use and this custom curly tail was Wilkinson’s main producer in the final round.
“I was mainly fishing around barge ties today,” Wilkinson said. “It seemed like my bigger fish were a round those barges. The first day, I caught my fish early, but yesterday and today I got my better bites later in the day.”
Bradley moves up to third
Local boater Corey Bradley, of McDonald, Tenn., committed his tournament to fishing deep where he could avoid the crowded banks and concentrate on pods of fish the hugged the bottom on days one and three and suspended on day two. A final-round limit of 16-2 kept him in third with 51-4.
Bradley caught his fish on ¾- and 1-ounce Choo Choo Lures football head jigs with a NetBait Paca Chunk trailer. He stroked the jig when the fish held above the bottom and drug it slowly when they laid low.
“I started dragging the jig right off the bat and had my limit in the first 10 minutes,” Bradley said. “I threw a big 12-inch Zoom worm in there and culled up three times and then it shut down for me for the rest of the day.”
Gordon slips to fourth
On days one and two, Shawn Gordon, of Russellville, Ark. fared well by grabbing a limit with a Bomber Fat Free Shad crankbait and then upgrading later with a jig. With the crankbait bite thinning on day two, he decided to spend all of day three flipping. The plan ultimately delivered a limit of 13-3, which allowed Gordon to finish fourth with 46-11.
“At 11 o’clock, I didn’t have anything; at 11:01 I had one; at 11:04 I had two,” Gordon recalled. “Then, I went for a couple more hours without a fish.
“There’s a stretch of river up above the bridges where I had caught some flipping. I hadn’t gone to it because of the long idle zone. About 3:12, I started idling through there and I don’t know what time I started fishing, but by 3:52 I had all five of the fish I weighed.”
Williams remains at fifth
For two days, David G. Williams, of Maiden, N.C., caught his fish on Rico poppers, Shooter Jigs and Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog and Speed Craws. Today, the bite got tough for him, so he made a change that saved his day.
“I stubbed my toe a little bit this morning when I went back to some waters I’d fished on days one and two and I went like two hours without a bite,” Williams said. “I had two fish in the boat about noon, so I went to my go-to bait. I picked up a spinnerbait and caught everything I weighed.”
Williams used a 1/2-ounce white spinnerbait with tandem willow leaf blades (gold and silver). Slow rolling the bait delivered a limit of 12-11 that gave him a tournament total of 45-4.
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 boaters at the BFL All-American:
6th: Eric Poindexter, of Eufaula, Ok., 44-13
7th: Jeremy Lawyer, of Sarcoxie, Mo., 44-13
8th: Michael Murphy, of Lexington, S.C., 40-10
9th: Michael Black, of Toledo, Ill., 40-2
10th: Lionel Botha, of Okeechobee, Fla., 38-6