The book on Curtis Richardson in the summer of 2015 was that he had a snowball’s chance of winning the FLW Bass Fishing League All-American. Before the championship on Kentucky Lake began, Richardson was so far under the radar that he didn’t rate a blip. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, he had never laid eyes on Kentucky Lake, much less fished it. He reached the All-American as a qualifier from the 2015 The Bass Federation National Championship, and, though the TBF guys are nobody’s pushovers, Richardson didn’t register any special attention.
And then he went on to win the event, turning back some of the BFL’s best-known journeymen in the process. It just goes to show that anything is possible in tournament fishing, and – with a little luck and self-confidence – goals that once seemed unattainable can be achieved.
Still, reality has to be taken into account, and some of the contestants in this year’s All-American on Lake Barkley June 9-11 have to be considered pre-tournament favorites to follow the script that their tournament track records seem to indicate. Here’s a look at a few:
1. Brent Anderson – It’s said that Anderson is a Kentucky Lake stick with only a smattering of knowledge about Barkley, a Cumberland River impoundment. Don’t be fooled. A fishing guide who operates of Murray, Ky., Anderson does spend much more time on Kentucky Lake because that’s where his customers want to fish. He’ll readily admit, however, that Barkley is his first love and compelled him to pursue his guiding business in the Land Between the Lakes region in the first place. The Cumberland River was Anderson’s training grounds early in his career, and he’s well-versed in river fishing.
That will help him at Barkley, which is more riverine at its southern end. In fact, Anderson is ready for any fishing scenario, as he’s the most well-traveled of BFL competitors. At various times, he’s fished the Music City, Choo Choo, Illini, Mountain, Bama, Mississippi and LBL divisions. He’s most at home in the latter, however, having competed in it since 2005.
“I think the All-American is going to be a river deal, or at least it will be for me because that’s the part of Barkley I’m most familiar with,” says Anderson, who started guiding in 2009. “Whenever we have tournaments near the dam, I head south and don’t let up until I hit Tennessee.”
2. Drew Boggs – Ask Brent Anderson who he considers to be among the favorites to win the All-American and Drew Boggs is at the top of his short list. Boggs, of Lebanon, Tenn., was the points leader in the LBL Division in 2015 and is currently in the top 10 in points in the division this season, with two top-10 finishes that include a win. Since 2003, he’s never finished lower than 44th in the Music City Division’s point standings and led those rankings in 2014 and 2007.
Boggs’ strength is flipping shallow cover, and that’s mainly what makes him dangerous in the riverine section of Barkley upriver from Cadiz, which will see a lot of traffic during the All-American.
“If there’s a fish in a foot of water or less, Drew Boggs is going to catch it,” observes Anderson. “I don’t doubt that he’s one of the best flippers in the country, and this tournament is going to set up pretty good for him.”
3. Travis Brueggen – It just wouldn’t seem like an All-American without a Wisconsin Brueggen in the mix. This year Travis takes his turn, while older brother Mike sits it out after finishing 13th in the championship in 2015. Though the Brueggen brothers come from smallmouth country and the Great Lakes Division, they’re more familiar with catching largemouths from the nearby Mississippi River.
Travis actually fished a BFL Regional on Barkley a few years ago. His assessment: “I didn’t like it.”
Contempt aside, however, he might grow fond of the southern end, with its winding feeder streams and backwaters that are similar in some respects to the Mississippi. Travis figures to finish high or scratch, as he says he’s going after five big bites all three days. Given that there’s a 15-inch size limit for largemouths and spotted bass and an 18-inch limit for smallmouths in the All-American, any five keepers would make a hefty bag.
“From what I know and I’ve heard, Barkley isn’t going to produce the 20-pound stringers like Kentucky Lake did last year [in the 2015 All-American], and maybe not the same number of limits,” says Travis, a dairy farmer from Cashton, Wis. “The fact that the southern end fishes like a river is an advantage for me, but beyond that – we’ll see.”
4. Chris McCall – Occasionally, Tour-level pros who have qualified to fish the All-American in a particular year opt for the latter when they figure it will provide them with their best shot at reaching the Forrest Wood Cup. The last, most notable, time it happened was in 2014, when Jayme Rampey foreswore a Tour event on Pickwick to fish the All-American on Wilson Lake. He darn near pulled it off, too, finishing second to Marcus Sykora.
Chris McCall is the latest Tour pro to opt for the All-American, though the circumstances are different. At the Tour event on Pickwick this year, he was penalized for coming in late after getting stuck in a lock. He lost that day’s weight and with it any reasonable chance he had to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup through the Tour. He’s currently in 52nd place in the AOY standings.
Now he gets to play his trump card. The Texas pro, who was not fishing the FLW Tour last season when he attempted to make the All-American, earned a berth in the championship last October through the BFL’s Region 5 tournament on Lake of the Ozarks, where he finished fifth.
“As of Saturday night [May 14] I was still thinking I was going to fish Kentucky Lake [in the Tour event] because I definitely want to stick with the Tour,” says McCall, who last fished the All-American in 2014, when he placed 23rd. “Then I changed my mind and decided to fish the All-American. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Understandable. Win at Kentucky Lake, and McCall wins a pile of money and moves up somewhere in the Tour standings. Win the All-American, and he wins a pile of money and is guaranteed a spot in the Forrest Wood Cup.
“I’m not a deep-water angler anyway,” says McCall, referring to the Kentucky Lake Tour event. “Barkley is going to fish the way I like to fish 10 times better because there should be way more shallow fish.”
5. Joseph Webster – In winning the 2016 The Bass Federation National Championship on Table Rock Lake in April, Webster had to adapt to changing weather conditions that wrecked his original sight-fishing pattern. He did it well, and in doing so demonstrated one of the hallmarks of a successful tournament angler.
The Mississippi angler, who’s originally from northern Alabama, is going to the Forrest Wood Cup anyway as the TBF “Living the Dream” winner, but that doesn’t lessen his ambition to win the All-American. Webster is no rookie, having competed in 49 FLW tournaments in one series or another, and collected $40,141. He’s had six top-10 finishes in FLW tournaments, including a fourth place on Wheeler Lake. Hmmm …
6. Jeremy Lawyer – Bass fishermen from the Ozarks have a knack for doing well on strange waters, as Sykora and Brian Maloney proved in winning their All-American crowns on Wilson Lake and the Potomac River, respectively. Last year on Kentucky Lake, Jeremy Lawyer seemed destined to become the latest Missouri pro to win the title, but eventually finished second to Curtis Richardson. Lawyer is going for the title again this year, with an itch to scratch.
“I guarantee you that watching Curtis Richardson fishing the Tour and thinking that if this had happened or that had happened it could have been me out there fishing the Tour – that motivates you,” says Lawyer, from Sarcoxie, Mo. “Having said that, I’ve fished the north end of Barkley a good bit, but I don’t know much about the southern end, which is where we’re being restricted to. So it’s going to be a lot of new water for me.”
As other Ozark anglers have proved in past All-Americans, unfamiliarity with a fishery isn’t too steep a hill to climb.