Faced with brutal conditions for the final event of the 2018 T-H Marine Bass Fishing League season, everyone who managed to catch anything in the Wild Card on Old Hickory Lake in central Tennessee accomplished something.
Catching a limit for 13 pounds, 6 ounces on day one, Toby Corn of Calvert City, Ky., topped it off with two fish for 7-12 on day two for a winning total of 21-2. For enduring two rough days on the water, Corn and the rest of the top six boaters and co-anglers were rewarded with berths to the 2019 BFL All-American on the Potomac River. Corn didn’t enter the optional side pot, so he just took home the trophy and $200 in contingency money from Costa Sunglasses.
Despite living only a couple hours away, Corn had never fished Old Hickory before. After two bad days of practice on Sunday and Monday, big storms rolled through overnight and raised the lake level and muddied the water.
“I fished until noon on Tuesday and pretty much realized I was wasting my time,” says Corn, who works as a sales manager at Jet-A-Marina in Calvert City. “So, I went back home and worked on Wednesday. I went back on Thursday and saw the water was falling, but it was still fairly muddy. Long story short, I’d had one decent day of practice.”
On day one of the tournament, Corn started out near takeoff and boxed one keeper on a buzzbait. Then, he ran up the river to the areas that would win him the event.
“I had two different no-name sloughs,” says Corn. “I went into the first one and it was very muddy. I caught three in there, two of them were small and one was about a 3-pounder. Then I went to my second little slough, and I didn’t realize what I’d found until I got in there. Between me and my partner we caught 10 keepers in there in about 45 minutes.”
Friday was cold and cloudy, with temperatures in the 40s all day long. Saturday dawned clear and even colder – in fact, temperatures remained below freezing for much of the day.
Come Saturday morning, Corn ran straight to his juice and caught a 5-pounder in the first few minutes. Then, he struck out for the next several hours. Switching sloughs, Corn added a 3-pounder, and that was it.
Corn’s two sloughs were both very shallow and well up the river, approximately a 40-mile run from takeoff. One was quite muddy, but the more productive one was clear. On day one he used a black buzzbait given to him by fellow angler Mike Brueggen for most of his fish. On day two, his big one ate a custom-painted Dave’s Custom Baits Black Market Balsa square-bill in “Diet Dew splatterback,” which is a faded chartreuse with a black splatter. The crankbait also accounted for a good fish on day one. A Riot Baits Minima Jig also made the rotation.
“When I caught that big one in the first 10 minutes I felt like I’d made the All-American,” says Corn. “After I caught that second fish I still felt like I needed one more fish to win. I’ve never been to the Potomac or fished tidal water, obviously I’m a shallow water fisherman, I like that part, but I’m nervous about the tidal water.”
Weighing seven bass for 18-14, Scott Towry of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., got on a very unusual pattern.
Instead of doing anything conventional, Towry spent his tournament cranking a square-bill for suspended bass.
“I was fishing the 10- to 12-foot range, and they were suspended over the top of cover, I guess trees, that were down in the water,” says Towry. “I’ve fished Old Hickory before, but it’s always been a flipping or shallow bite. This time I just kept moving out a little deeper and the quality got better as I did.
“The fish were in that 5- to 6-foot zone, suspended, and I could get that squarebill down and in their face, and they would hit it,” Towry continues. “I had a little milk run I was doing. I only had like 10 key areas I could catch fish like that in, and I ended up having only two of them that produced fish.”
Towry says his oddball cranking pattern got better later in the week as the water muddied, and speculates that the dirtier water made the fish react better to it, or at least more aggressively. His bait of choice was a sexy shad Strike King 2.5, and he threw it on a 7-foot, 11-inch, medium-power Hammer Rods cranking rod. Towry thinks the 7-11 rod was key to his success, as the extra length enabled him to cast farther and get the bait a bit deeper than a normal square-bill rod would have.
“I wasn’t catching many, but I was catching quality fish,” says Towry. “Everybody else that I was rooming with was saying they were just catching small fish or non-keepers. I knew if I could just catch three or four a day I could beat them.”
The only angler to catch a limit both days of the tournament, Stacey Edwards bagged 6-11 on day one and 10-13 on day two for 17-8 total.
On day one, Edwards ran well up the river toward the Cordell Hull Dam and flipped a jig as he had in practice.
“Thursday night, before the tournament, the river came way up during the night and got real swift,” says Edwards. “I pulled into my first area that was semi-blocked from the current and I caught three little keeper spots, which turned out to be like gold. I kept trying to make that work all day, and it was just killing me.”
At the end of the day, Edwards pulled into a little pocket he’d spotted on his way up the lake and caught his final two keepers, which also happened to be his two biggest fish.
After running down the day with his father, Gary, Stacey decided to start Saturday in a pocket that his dad had found on Wednesday. Though it was muddy, it had been filled with shad in practice, and he figured that his up-river stuff would be shot.
“I went to that pocket Saturday morning, first thing, and caught a keeper on my first cast and stayed there all day and caught nine keepers,” says Edwards. “It was very fortunate dad found it on Wednesday, but I’m really kicking myself in the rear end for not going there Friday too.”
Edwards did his flipping with a green pumpkin 3/8-ounce jig with a black and brown Uncle Josh Pork Frog trailer.
He threw a spinnerbait on day two, and that decision was also aided by information from his dad. On day one, co-angler Zach Barnes caught a limit behind his dad with a big spinnerbait. Before takeoff on day two, Edwards bought a 1/2-ounce, double-willow Hoppy’s Lures spinnerbait, popped a chartreuse and white skirt on it and trailered it with a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper. That last-minute blade put 10 pounds in the boat for him.
1. Toby Corn – Calvert City, Ky. – 21-2 (7) – $200
2. Scott Towry – Lawrenceburg, Tenn. – 18-14 (7) – $3,049
3. Stacey Edwards – Milton, Ky. – 17-8 (10) – $1,475
4. Jason Grape – Attalla, Ala. – 17-6 (8) – $997
5. Keith Hays – Broken Arrow, Okla. – 17-2 (6)
6. Sean McAllister – Checotah, Okla. – 16-1 (5)
7. Mario Riojas – Blanchard, Okla. – 15-4 (8) – $897
8. Jared Kutil – Beaufort, S.C. – 14-6 (4) – $962
9. David Wootton – Collierville, Tenn. – 14-1 (7) – $717
10. Donnie Rubel – Murfreesboro, Tenn. – 13-0 (4) – $803
Gary Gustafson of Gilbertsville, Ky., caught three good ones for 11-12 and the win on the co-angler side. His win was really keyed by his second day, when he caught a massive 6-11 bass to boost him up to first place.
Gustafson caught two keepers and lost one on a shad-colored Strike King Red Eye Shad. His giant came on a Strike King Tour Grade Buzzbait with a no skirt and a silver shiner-colored Keitech Swing Impact FAT as the body.
“I knew I had to get a big bite, somehow, someway,” says Gustafson of his call to go with a buzzbait. “I’ve caught a bunch of big ones over the years on a buzzbait. So, I thought I’d put that on and go for broke.”
1. Gary Gustafson – Gilbertsville, Ky. – 11-12 (3)
2. Keenan Hess – Herrin, Ill. – 10-7 (4) – $100
3. Zach Barnes – Chickamauga, Ga. – 9-6 (5)
4. Scott Bussey – Hayden, Ala. – 9-6 (5) – $1,208
5. Wayne Miller – Morgantown, Ky. – 9-3 (5) – $604
6. Dickey Reece – Lafayette, Ky. – 8-7 (3) – $408
7. Rick Lovall – Sikeston, Mo. – 7-3 (3) – $417
8. Derek Henderson – St. Louis, Mo. – 6-3 (3)
9. Dewayne Marshal – Folkston, Ga. – 6-1 (3) – $327
10. Vincent Jones – Robertsville, Mo. – 6-0 (2) – $351