After two days of competition in the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Regional on Lake Seminole, there really wasn’t any doubt about who was going to be hauling home the hardware.
Belmont, N.C., angler Bryan New, who’s regularly one of FLW’s top performers in the grassroots ranks, had established a dominant pace. New weighed in 22 pounds, 9 ounces on day one and added 20-2 on day two to carry a lead of 6 pounds, 15 ounces into the finals. It was obvious New was cruising.
He shattered any doubt on day three when he added yet another 20-plus limit to bring his three-day total to 63-4. New won by a margin of 14 pounds, 11 ounces.
“It’s pretty freaking awesome,” says New about his win. “This year’s been unreal. I’ve had good years in the past; things have been going good, but this year was just like a whole other level. I don’t know how to explain it.”
In April, New won ABA’s Ray Scott Championship. He finished third in the 2019 BFL All-American and sixth in the Costa FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee, though he probably would’ve finished second had a fluke mechanical issue not caused him to be late to check-in one day.
New really didn’t anticipate this kind of finish at the Regional. He was late arriving to practice because of another tournament and only managed two or three bites per day in preparation.
A couple of those bites on the final day of practice, plus some sonar research, eventually led him to the winning pattern fishing grass on the main river.
“I saw some fish on my graph in the grass; just like two or three,” he says. “When they’re in grass and you can see two or three, there’s a bunch probably. They can hide really good in the grass. It’s not like a brush pile or something. So I got a little bit more excited about that, but I had absolutely no clue what I was on.”
On the first morning of the tournament, New started on a stretch of grass close to the river channel.
“There was a bunch of shad; just a bunch of everything going on,” he says. “I decided to start there. I had two bites there the last morning of practice. My co-angler caught a nice one probably close to 3 pounds. It wasn’t but a couple minutes later that I caught one. It was a 6-9. When I caught it I thought it was an 8-pounder, and I don’t normally over-guess too often.
“There were two more big ones with it. It was like they were schooling on my buzzbait [a Greenfish Tackle Toad Toter Buzz with a white Zoom Horny Toad trailer]. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was so cool. I’m gonna say that the biggest one got it, too, which never happens.”
New says the topwater bite was short-lived in the mornings. It only lasted about an hour, which is unusual in his experience in the fall.
“From there I just went hopscotching around in the grass,” he says.
The buzzbait kicker came from a shallow spot where the grass grew right to the surface. Most of the rest of his 12 to 15 spots were a little bit deeper, with grass that didn’t grow quite as high but still on the main lake. The best spot was about 6 feet deep, with a grass edge that came up within about a foot of the surface.
“There were two points that stuck off the side of it, and there was a little saddle in between those points,” he says. “The grass was obviously a little bit shorter in that saddle. That was the best place I had. I could run to it and catch one, then fish around, and run to it and catch two. I could catch multiple fish there. But the first day I only caught four fish out of it and left it because I had 22 pounds. The second day I caught five off it.”
The second day, New ran a similar program, but he also explored a shallower grass bed with a prototype Fitzgerald frog that produced a key 4-pounder. His other primary baits all week were a swim jig, a Texas-rigged Zoom Ol’ Monster worm, which he pulled through clumps of grass, and a 4.8 Keitech Swing Impact FAT on an Owner Flashy Swimmer hook.
The final day was easily the toughest. New only caught six fish all day and never caught a keeper on topwater.
“I don’t know why. It was weird because I was boat No. 1, so I got to blast off a lot sooner than I did the first two days, but it was like it got bright a lot quicker,” he says. “You didn’t have that morning haze. It just got bright really quick. And I don’t know if that’s why.”
As for why he was able to out-fish the rest of the field, despite fishing around some other boats, including another All-American qualifier, New isn’t entirely sure.
“Maybe bait selection or timing. I don’t know why I was able to catch fish that he wasn’t. It wasn’t like it was really easy. My weights make it look like I was really on ’em, but I wasn’t really on ’em. I think the most I caught was seven in a day.
“The water is super clear,” he adds. “I’ve never seen the lake that clear. I don’t know if that’s why they were in a little bit deeper grass.”
Regardless of why it worked, it worked, and that’s what matters as New is now qualified to fish his second All-American. He’ll be one of the favorites next spring when the All-American visits Lake Hartwell.
Allen (almost) all in on shoal bass
Randall Allen won an ABA tournament on Lake Seminole in 2010, and in that tournament he recalled anglers running jet boats way up the Flint River to catch shoal bass in some hairy, rocky waters. Coming into the Regional this season, Allen, of Owens Cross Roads, Ala., really didn’t anticipate leaning heavily on shoal bass. In fact, in practice, when he found the main-river rock piles just downstream from takeoff that eventually produced the runner-up fish – and 12 shoal bass that rode to weigh-in – he didn’t even realize he was on a red-hot shoal bass pattern. That fact didn’t reveal itself until midday on the first day of the tournament.
“I knew there were shoal bass, and I knew there were good size shoal bass. What I didn’t know is the shoal bass were also downriver from the Earle May Boat Basin [tournament takeoff site],” Allen says. “I just assumed you had to go way upriver to catch nice shoal bass. That’s just not true.”
Allen came into the tournament expecting to flip and frog grass. He was able to get some bites in the grass, but he knew he wasn’t on the kind of weight needed to make the All-American by fishing that pattern. However, during practice, he was working a grass edge on the river and noticed a rock pile on his forward-looking sonar. Allen made one pitch with a Texas-rigged Zoom Mag Trick Worm – he’d buried the hook to help shake fish off – got bit and had a nice one jump off. That was the clue he needed.
Allen spent a lot of his remaining practice time looking for more rock piles but still thought he was on a largemouth and spotted bass pattern. He never caught a shoal bass in practice.
“I found several rock piles and a shoal not too far from the ramp,” says Allen. “They topped out at about 8 feet. They’re even shallower upriver, but the ones I was fishing topped out at 8 feet and ran out as deep as 24 feet. Then all you could see was sand; like a sandy bottom around them.”
Allen had an early draw on day one, so he ran into a pocket to let the boats race by to avoid revealing his spots. Then he moved to some main-river grass, which, by 10 a.m., hadn’t produced a keeper. At about noon, he finally moved to the rock piles.
“The first rock pile I came to I started catching fish. Now, they were smaller fish,” he says. “I think my second rock pile was where I ended up culling what I had and finishing my limit. I fished three rock piles on day one and ended up with 14 pounds.”
On day two, with a late boat draw, Allen ran straight to the rocks and immediately started pounding the big shoalies. He thinks they might have actually started biting because the boats running by stirred up the shad.
“I was boat 144, and I started on the river because there were 171 boats in it. Actually, before the boats quit running by me I had a 4 1/2- and a 5-pound shoal bass in the livewell. They were just there. I think it took me until about 11 to get a five-fish limit that day.”
Allen caught 19-7 on day two. The third day, he was able to expand a little bit to a trio of rock piles that he found in practice but that another angler had camped on the first two days. Working the same program of dragging a Mag Trick Worm on a 1/4-ounce weight and 5/0 hook produced a 15-2 limit, bringing his total to 48 pounds, 9 ounces.
By the end of the tournament, Allen had fished seven rocky spots – six boulder piles and a long shoal that reached out into the river.
“When I was out there fishing in the middle of the river, I’d have to wave the boats around me on a certain side to keep them from running across the top of it while I was fishing it,” Allen says. “The rest of them I had were up against the bank.”
For his runner-up finish, Allen, who owns a residential construction company, qualified to fish his first-ever BFL All-American in 2020.
Carter runs up the Flint
The current postseason schedule seems like it might have been made for Kip Carter. The Mansfield, Ga., angler lives only about four and a half hours from Lake Seminole, and he’s fished the lake for more than 15 years. He’s spent the last eight or so really focusing on the upper stretch of the Flint River, which can be a treacherous run in a bass boat, but is also where Carter caught all his fish in the Regional.
But it gets better than that. Carter will fish his sixth BFL All-American next year on Lake Hartwell, which is only about two hours from his home. You can expect him to be well-prepared for FLW’s grassroots championship.
At the Regional, Carter ran as far as about 10 miles upstream from the takeoff site. It’s an area that out-of-towners probably weren’t comfortable navigating, which helped limit the fishing pressure. It’s also just a good place to fish this time of year. And for Carter, who says he’s never really figured out the lower end of Seminole, staying in the Flint was his best choice.
“Headwaters are kind of an early fall pattern anyway,” he says. “Not just any time of the year does that do well for you. This is definitely a time of year when it can. The river is better this time of year because it’s low normally and clear and not blown out with spring rains. And lakes oftentimes this time of year are turning over, which makes them tougher. It’s a fitting pattern at times.
“I was pretty committed to that before I even left my house.”
To catch his fish, Carter bounced around to visible eddies on bends in the river, or behind any type of current break. Within those areas, he worked over rock and wood cover in a couple feet of water, but finding the right baitfish was the key.
“A lot of bream were up there very shallow, and I think that seemed to be the trick, just getting in those eddy pools that had a lot of bream in them,” he says. “You would visually see them; tons of them. Every time I saw that I would get my largemouth bites very close to those areas.”
The Georgia pro threw a little of everything at them, including a swim jig, buzzbait, topwater walker and a frog, which got him a few big bites. On the final day, once the fishing pressure had taken its toll, he also caught some on a shaky head.
He weighed in 13 largemouths and two shoal bass, though he also caught some smaller shoals that didn’t come to weigh-in. Carter’s daily weights were 15-9, 17-10 and 14-7, for 47-10 total.
“The last day by far was the toughest,” Carter adds. “I just think the pressure was getting to them. There were a few other guys up there as well. They [the bass] were getting smarter each day for sure. I had to pull some tricks out of the bag.”
Top 10 boaters
(The top six qualify to fish the 2020 BFL All-American)
1. Bryan New – Belmont, N.C. – 63-4 (15) – $71,200
2. Randall Allen – Owens Cross Roads, Ala. – 48-9 (15) – $10,000
3. Kip Carter – Mansfield, Ga. – 47-10 (15) – $5,100
4. Stacy Adams – Hazlehurst, Ga. – 41-9 (15) – $3,000
5. Clabion Johns – Social Circle, Ga. – 40-14 (14) – $2,000
6. Nick Cupps – Chattanooga, Tenn. – 40-14 (13) – $1,800
7. John Polly – Nauvoo, Ala. – 40-10 (13) – $1,600
8. Dylan Peppers – Social Circle, Ga. – 39-14 (14) – $1,400
9. Mikey Keyso Jr. – North Port, Fla. – 36-2 (13) – $1,200
10. Matt Baty – Bainbridge, Ga. – 33-2 (12) – $1,000
Co-angler Beasley wins with last-minute magic
Co-angler Bart Beasley needed every minute of every day to catch his tournament-winning limits at Lake Seminole – and catching limits was the key. Beasley was the only co-angler to weigh five bass each day.
The Mount Pleasant, S.C., homebuilder showed up to Seminole on registration day having never seen the lake in his life. He just brought the same kinds of tackle he uses on Santee Cooper and the Cooper River and showed up ready to work.
The first day, paired with Corey McMullen, Beasley spent most of the competition hours fishing a Yamamoto Senko while his partner frogged.
“At the end of the day we pulled into one little muddy backwater bay about a mile from the check-in off the Flint River,” Beasley recalls. “I put on a ChatterBait with a gold blade on it, which I think was key because his had a silver blade and they were just knocking it. I caught a 5-pounder, a 3 1/2-pounder and a 2-pounder in that backwater bay in the last half-hour, and that’s what saved me right there.”
In fifth place with 10-4 going into day two, Beasley was paired with Brad Harmon.
“He had only caught one fish on day one, so he told me first thing that morning his goal was to make sure I get five fish. He said, ‘We’re going to have fun. I don’t have a chance, but you do.’
“We pulled up to his primary spot, which was in Spring Creek, fishing deep grass in about 15 feet of water where the grass meets the standing timber. My first 10 casts I had 9 pounds of fish. I got those on a Lucky Craft jerkbait.”
After the initial flurry, the fish shut down. It wasn’t until the final 30 minutes – once again – that Beasley was able to improve.
“We were in the timber trying to locate some new fish in Spring Creek. All of a sudden the birds started flying around, the eagles started flying, the shad starting running around and suddenly the bass started schooling everywhere. My angler was able to get his limit and cull, and I was able to do the same.”
Beasley added 12-14 to move into second place for the final day, when he was paired with John Polly. They spent about 6 hours in Spring Creek but only caught a few little ones each.
“We left that area and went to another area off the Flint River,” Beasley says. “I tied on my lucky ChatterBait, and that’s what did it. I caught a couple fish in the final 10 minutes.”
Though Beasley’s limit weighed only 5-4, catching key fish in the final minutes of each day was the key to earning the win with a total weight of 28-6.
For Beasley, this is win No. 1 with FLW. Though he’s only been fishing bass tournaments for a couple of years, Beasley is no fishing slouch. He grew up the son of a fly-fishing guide in north Georgia and guided alongside his father on the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta. Beasley also fishes three major invitational tarpon fly tournaments in Islamorada, Fla., each year. In 2017, he won the Don Hawley Invitational with 16 tarpon in five days.
He was introduced to tournament-style bass fishing by FLW member Roger Medlock.
“He bought the lot beside where I live in Charleston and built a house, and we became really good friends and fished together some,” Beasley says. “I just fell in love with it. I went and bought a Ranger aluminum boat and fish two or three days a week now.
“I’ve had a fly rod in my hand so long, but I’m still learning how to use a baitcaster to make it skip right, and that’s what I love is the challenge.”
Top 10 co-anglers
(The top six co-anglers qualify for the 2020 BFL All-American)
1. Bart Beasley – Mount Pleasant, S.C. – 28-6 (15) – $50,000
2. William Perdue – Hawkinsville, Ga. – 27-5 (13) – $5,000
3. Donnie Gamble – Bessemer, Ala. – 26-6 (11) – $2,500
4. Jeff Rikard – Leesville, S.C. – 26-5 (8) – $1,700
5. Bryce Goff – Haines City, Fla. – 25-10 (9) – $1,000
6. John Hagins – Roswell, Ga. – 25-5 (12) – $950
7. Terry Smith – Tullahoma, Tenn. – 22-12 (10) – $800
8. Fernando Rosa – Plantation, Fla. – 21-1 (7) – $700
9. Randy Paquette – Sarasota, Fla. – 20-8 (9) – $600
10. Wendell Grantham – Athens, Ga. – 19-9 (10) – $500