After winning a T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Super Tournament on Lake Hartwell a few weeks ago, Jayme Rampey of Liberty, S.C., was certainly one of the favorites heading into the BFL Regional on the same pond this past weekend. Lo and behold, he wouldn’t disappoint, and notched his 11th career BFL win – five of which have come on Hartwell – and won a Ranger Z518L with a 200-horsepower motor, plus $20,000 cash for his efforts.
While his win may not have come as a surprise to some, Rampey had his sights set on this tournament for several weeks and was as prepared as they come.
During his interview after the win in the Super Tournament, Rampey foreshadowed his win by saying, “I hate to be vague, but I’ve got a BFL Regional tournament coming up [on Hartwell], and I don’t want to give away all of my secrets just yet. Maybe we can do this interview again in a couple of weeks and I can really share the juice.”
Many of Rampey’s tournament wins involve covering water and a topwater bait is usually a player. It was no different this time around.
“I probably caught a lot of fish doing same thing,” Rampey says, referring to how he won his Super Tournament in September. “I was starting shallow every morning, throwing a Zoom Horny Toad, and fish until around 11 o’clock, and then I’d run to the lower end of the lake and it was purely a topwater deal. I was throwing on isolated targets – timber, cane piles, rock piles – all of that was in 20 foot of water or so.”
Rampey ran the shallow and deep topwater game with precision throughout the event, and it resulted in some very consistent weights of largemouths and spotted bass. He weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces on day one and 14 pounds even on day two. On the final day, Rampey caught the biggest limit of the day weighing 15-3 to give him 43-12 overall to claim the title by just 14 ounces.
“I would say making the decision to go offshore at the right time each day was key,” says Rampey. “I would just kind of feel the shallow fish out. They were biting really good in practice, but as the tournament went on, it got worse and worse. Probably the game changer of the event was on the last day I was coming back to weigh-in and I made one more stop one place shallow and caught one shallow at 2:45. It was the biggest one I weighed all week, and that’s pretty much what won the tournament.”
With two topwaters on the deck, Rampey did what he does best – cover water and catch bass. His Horny Toad setup consisted of 65-pound-test Hi-Seas Grand Slam braid, a green pumpkin or watermelon red Toad and a 6/0 Owner TwistLock hook. When he went offshore, an ima Little Stik 135 thrown on 30-pound-test Grand Slam braid was all it took.
Rampey was hopeful to win the event entering the final day, but qualifying for the BFL All-American (the top six boaters from each Regional make the All-American) was more on his mind.
“I knew that I had made the All-American on the final day. But, when I caught that last fish, I knew right there I had a chance when I caught that 5 1/2-pounder. Or I knew I was going to make it close, anyway.”
Deal falls to second
Despite leading days one and two of the event, Ryan Deal of Marshville, N.C., would fall just shy of capturing his third BFL win. He kicked the tournament off with a 16-pound, 1-ounce limit on day one – the biggest of the event – and backed it up with 14-10 on day two. The wind and clouds on the final day made it tougher and he could only manage 12-3. With 42-14 total, Deal still took home $10,000 and brought his career number of FLW top 10s up to 45.
“I was fishing a typical fall pattern,” says Deal. “I found some cooler water and was slow rolling a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait around shad near channel banks. I caught a 7-pounder doing it the first day, and I got a few stragglers flipping a jig and [Zoom] Brush Hog around.
“Shad was key. You had to be around bait and the bass were running in wolf packs nearby. You’d catch two or three at a time when they were herding shad against channel banks. I just had to be patient until I ran across them again.”
Focusing his efforts in the Seneca branch from the I85 bridge up, Deal was able to run his pattern throughout a 15-mile stretch of water. The biggest difference for him within that stretch was finding cooler water.
“I think the little bit of cooler water helped ignite fish to bite,” he adds. “The water temperature was 87 degrees on places in the lake, but I found some mid- to low-80s, and that’s a big deal when it’s that hot out.”
Heading into the final day with the lead, Deal knew the cooler weather and wind in the forecast would make his bite slow down, and while he was optimistic he could still catch a good bag, he figured his patter had run its course.
“There was a huge weather shift on the final day. We had record high temps during practice and the first two days of the tournament and they were on spinnerbait bite good. I was thinking I’d struggle on the final day because it was cloudy and cool, which had the shad spread out. I was thinking it’d be tough and sure enough it was. I only had one good bite, a 4-pounder, but two good bites each of the days before. Fish didn’t want to take the bait; they’d just knock it sideways.”
Deal kept his tackle selection pretty straightforward. He flipped a Muffin Top jig on 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon and tossed a Greenfish Tackle spinnerbait (1/2 ounce) with a white twin tail trailer on 17-pound-test Trilene fluorocarbon.
“It’s bittersweet when you lead two days and fall short on the third day,” Deal says. “The original goal was to make another All-American, and I’m happy I did, though a win would have been nice, but it is what it is.
“I feel good going into [the All-American next spring on Hartwell]. Maybe me and Jayme can go at it again.”
Miller sticks to creeks for third
Mike Miller of Trinity, N.C., opted to stick to high-percentage areas with higher densities of bass instead of covering water and running all over the lake, which helped him catch 37-6 over three days. After catching 14-1 on day one with only four bass, his weights would slip to 12-9 and 10-12 on the last two days, but it still earned him a check worth $5,000 and his first trip to the BFL All-American next April.
“I was fishing in the back-third of major creeks,” Miller says. “The bass were wolf-packing in the creeks and stopping on piers to feed on bream. In practice, the fish were easy catch on top, but during the tournament, boat traffic stirred the water up, and I had to skip a jig to the back side of docks and the walkways.”
On day one, Miller caught his four bass up shallow, on the backside of the docks. On day two with hotter temps, the fish were retreating from super shallow water.
“My fish weren’t biting good until the afternoon when the sun would position them under the piers,” he says. “On day two, the fish were moving out to ends of piers trying to lock on brush piles beside the piers. It was just so hot, I think the fish were pulling out trying to get a little deeper.
“On the third day, I tried to force the bite, but they were not getting on piers. I caught a 4-pounder on a buzzbait that morning and then ended up throwing shaky head to finish out my limit.”
Having to adjust each day to where the fish were positioned, Miller relied on a handful of baits to get the job done. For pitching to docks, a 1/2-ounce Shooter Jig and Zoom Super Chunk Jr. thrown on a 714 Powell Max 3D rod and 20-pound-test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon did work. He also pitched a Zoom Brush Hog around docks on a Texas rig with a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook, 5/16 Picasso Gunmetal Tungsten weight, 20-pound-test InvizX and a Powell 775 Max 3D rod. On the final day, a buzzbait with a Horny Toad (thrown on a 705 Max 3D) caught his kicker, but a 1/4-ounce Picasso Tungsten Ball jighead with a Zoom Finesse Worm on 12-pound-test InvizX finished his limit.
“I tried for a long time to make it (to the All-American),” he adds. “I wish I wouldn’t have had four fish on the first day, and it may not have made a difference, but I guess that was only bad thing all week.”
Top 10 boaters
(The top six boaters qualify to fish the 2020 BFL All-American.)
1. Jayme Rampey – Liberty, S.C. – 43-12 (15) – $70,000
2. Ryan Deal – Marshville, N.C. – 42-14 (15) – $10,000
3. Mike Miller – Trinity, N.C. – 37-6 (14) – $5,000
4. Wesley Sandifer – Chapin, S.C. – 36-6 (15) – $3,000
5. Clabion Johns – Social Circle, Ga. – 35-0 (15) – $2,200
6. Todd Goade – Suwanee, Ga. – 33-6 (15) – $1,800
7. Conrad Bolt – Seneca, S.C. – 33-6 (15) – $1,700
8. Ross Burns – Columbia, S.C. – 33-4 (15) – $1,400
9. Jason Burroughs – Hodges, S.C. – 33-2 (15) – $1,200
10. Joseph Marks – Duncan, S.C. – 32-12 (15) – $1,000
Kimmel tops co-angler field
Six years ago, Justin Kimmel of Athens, Ga., won a BFL Regional on Hartwell. This past week, lightning struck again as he regained his Regional title on one of his favorite fisheries with a three-day weight of 27-10, and is now the proud owner of a Ranger Z518L with a 200-horsepower Mercury or Evinrude.
Paired with Matt Linton on day one, the morning started off slow – other than Kimmel boxing a 2 1/2-pound spotted bass on a jerkbait. The duo moved out to a shoal and Kimmel promptly picked up two more keepers on a drop-shot and another on a Carolina rig.
“I’m from the Georgia side [of Hartwell],” Kimmel says. “We were down on the South Carolina side and I had some knowledge, so I suggested we go to a brush pile I knew of and caught three more keepers and culled once. I probably caught 15 fish that day and half of them were on the drop-shot.”
With 7-1 in the box, Kimmel and Linton started to head back to weigh-in. On the idle back to the ramp, a big boat wave slammed the side of the boat causing Kimmel to aggravate an old back injury.
“On the way in, my lower back got destroyed,” says the program manager for The Bass University and Bass U TV. “I woke up at 2 a.m. on day two to the most severe back pain I’ve ever had. I always tell my kids, ‘Have fun, do your best, love people and never give up.’ Honestly, part of me wanted give up, and then I thought ‘Man, I can’t do that.’ I end up trying to stretch it out and wound up going to Walmart at 3 a.m. to buy a back brace.”
Kimmel wasn’t looking forward to day two, but being paired with John Bitter made it a little easier.
“John didn’t have a great first day, and when I told him I was in 17th, he was more than willing to try and help me make the cut. He was offering to stay in the creek until everyone blasts off to make it easier on back. We had a smooth run and it went great.
“I used a 1/2-ounce weight to get down fast with my drop-shot when I’d mark a fish, and first drop I catch one, the screen lights up, and I drop back down and catch another one. Adrenaline started flowing and my back pain was gone.”
Running points and humps, Kimmel was catching fish on nearly every spot while Bitter supervised. The faster you could drop to them, the better they’d bite. Kimmel also discovered that the deeper the fish were, the easier they were to catch. Anywhere from 35 to 40 feet would turn out to be the juice. Kimmel ended the day with 9-15 and the lead heading into the final day.
Kimmel was paired with Deal on Ssaturday, and now Kimmel went from fishing nearly 40 feet of water to 4 feet. Still, he kept an open mind and adjusted.
“The biggest key was noticing Ryan’s fish biting funky,” he explains. “They’d show themselves by swirling or nipping at the bait and I took a lesson from it and tried to make them trigger. I threw a spinnerbait, but pulled and paused it, and that made two fish commit in the morning. We then came to place a with dog fennel, which was not the pattern, and it was kind of cloudy and rainy, so I picked up jig and threw it into dog fennel and the moment it hit the water a 4-pounder blew up and I horsed it to the boat. That’s when I thought I punched my ticket to All-American.”
Utilizing a variety of baits, Kimmel did what good co-anglers do by trying to use something his boater wasn’t and fishing the moment. A drop-shot did the bulk of the work for him, which he tipped with a Missile Baits Bomb Shot (Fishalicious color). A Heddon Super Spook Jr., Missile Baits D Stroyer, Megabass Vision 110, Zoom Trick Worm, Missile Jigs Flip Out jig and Molix Water Slash spinnerbait helped clean up throughout the event.
“I’m physically and mentally exhausted,” Kimmel admits. “I got rewarded for consistency and having a limit each day. I have to give a lot of credit to my boaters. Every single day I got around fish.
“The biggest key was watching a seminar on Bass U TV on fishing the moment. It’s the best co-angler seminar on the planet. I watched it twice before this event to remember to keep an open mind and not get stuck on something. Fish the right tool for the right moment and situation is kind of my model.
“I’m on cloud nine. It was life-changing for me in 2013 when I won on Hartwell, as well. The BFLs hold a special place in my life. When I won in 2013, I sold the boat to help put money down on our house, but my wife says I get to keep it this time.”
Top 10 co-anglers
(The top six co-anglers qualify to fish the 2020 BFL All-American.)
1. Justin Kimmel – Athens, Ga. – 27-10 (15) – $50,000
2. Nick Coker – Knoxville, Tenn. – 27-2 (15) – $5,200
3. Wayne Smelser – Rural Retreat, Va. – 24-14 (15) – $2,550
4. Costas Melendez – Shenandoah, Va. – 24-13 (14) – $1,500
5. Kibbee McCoy – Knoxville, Tenn. – 19-10 (13) – $1,000
6. James Roten – West Jefferson, N.C. – 19-9 (14) – $900
7. Matt Langley – Lebanon, Tenn. – 18-7 (10) – $800
8. Sam Loveless – Somerset, Ky. – 18-6 (9) – $700
9. Trace Bigelow – Salisbury, N.C. – 17-8 (11) – $600
10. Maverick Canipe – Kings Mountain, N.C. – 16-11 (10) – $500