Mark Myers of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is no stranger to the victory circle with FLW, having previously won a BFL as a boater to go with two FLW Tour victories as a co-angler and two more as a co-angler in Costa FLW Series competition. But, his latest win at the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Regional on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes is the realization of his long-time goal to qualify for the All-American.
Thanks to 12 bass worth 31 pounds, Myers can finally cross qualifying for the All-American off his bucket list.
Myers is a long-time BFL Great Lakes Division competitor, having fished events since 2005. Along the way, he has competed in several BFL Regionals, including several at this year’s venue. A change in his approach is what he attributes to his success this time around.
“I am a deep-water finesse angler, and I always tried to make it work on Kentucky Lake, and it never does for me. This time I abandoned that and committed to shallow water,” says Myers, who won last year’s FLW Tour stop on Lake St. Clair as a co-angler.
He spent two days practicing for the event with fellow Great Lakes Division angler Matt Finkeldei who fished the event as a co-angler. They split their time with the first day near New Johnsonville and the following day around Paris.
“We only had a handful of bites the first day, but they were all in a short period in the same area. The second day, we caught some around Paris, but they were skinny and sick looking and I knew they wouldn’t weigh much,” he says.
After what he found in practice, he committed to making the long run each day to New Johnsonville. What he had found was a backwater slough off the main river channel with a shallow flat and a ditch running through it. In this area were scattered stumps, wood, and, most importantly, bass feeding on baitfish.
The first day Myers made the hour-long run to his winning location, put the trolling motor down, and then never picked it up the rest of the day.
“I was fishing a bone-colored Heddon Super Spook and caught five fish, about one every hour. I had my limit at 12:30 and then went searching for new areas,” he says.
Myers fished the topwater on a Falcon Rods 6’10” heavy “Head Turner” rod paired with an 8.5:1 Shimano Curado K. Myers spooled it with 30-pound PowerPro braided line with a short 15-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game monofilament leader.
The second day brought different conditions, and he was only able to muster two fish for 4-5.
“I caught a 13-inch spotted bass right away, and then it went dead. The first day they were hitting my topwater aggressively, but on the second day, they were coming up and rolling on it and missing it,” Myers recalls.
Around midday, he noticed shad being pushed near the bank, and he edged his trolling motor as far as it could go in the shallow water. Myers then made a long cast with a bone-colored River2Sea Whopper Plopper 90 and hooked a 3-pounder. Then, near the end of the day, he broke off a solid keeper on a finesse jig, which gave him a clue for the final day.
Myers found himself in 8th place going into the third day. The morning arrived with less fog, and that allowed him to get to his area much more quickly than he had the previous two days. Myers also changed his approach to getting into the backwater. He attributed these two factors for a better morning bite that led to his come-from-behind win.
“There were two ways to get in, and I went in the opposite direction of how I had been entering, and that allowed me to get to the prime areas much sooner. When I got there, I caught two spotted bass in the first 15 minutes, and the caught a largemouth close to six pounds shortly afterward,” Myers says.
With three quick fish in the livewell, Myers assured himself that his All-American berth was sewed up and committed to finishing out his tournament in the backwater.
He added one more spotted bass on a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper and then went back to the log where he broke off a bass the previous day and added a 3-pounder on a jig.
When asked for the key to his victory, Myers had two answers.
“The first thing was picking the right area of the lake. I knew that place had big fish potential,” he says. “The other key was that there are more spotted bass on that end of the lake. In low weight tournaments like this one, they really help, and that was part of the strategy.”
Out of his 12 keeper bass, eight were largemouths, and four were spotted bass.
Pleasant Lake, Michigan’s Sam Caron, has been traveling to Kentucky Lake over the past several years for a variety of different tournaments, and he used that knowledge to develop a plan going into this event, where he ended up in second place with eight bass for 28-0.
He keyed on a typical Kentucky Lake pattern of fishing shallow bars with topwater baits and was able to locate several productive locations between Kenlake and Paris during his four days of practice.
“I realized that not all shallow bars are created equal; you couldn't just cast to any of them and catch fish. After the first day of practice, I was able to refine what I was looking for and look for bars with baitfish present,” says Caron.
He realized that whenever he caught a bass, small one to two-inch shiners were present, and not threadfin or gizzard shad. With that in mind, he narrowed down his locations for the tournament.
The first day Caron brought in just two bass for 5-5, but he was not discouraged.
“Usually, when you bring in five pounds, you are in 90th place or worse, but with how tough things were, I was sitting in 34th place. I knew I still had a chance,” says Caron.
Both of his bass came on walking topwater baits that he relied on throughout all three days of competition. A Berkley Cane Walker and Evergreen Shower Blows 125 in emerald shiner. He used both the bone and maverick color Cane Walker during the tournament.
“I would rotate between the different color baits based on water clarity and sunlight,” he says.
On the second day of the event, Caron had three fish in the livewell when 1 o’clock rolled around, and shortly afterwards he landed the biggest bass of his life.
“That fish weighed 8-11, and it is my new personal best,” he says.
The fish of his lifetime anchored his four-fish bag weighing 16-15, which was also the biggest single-day catch of the tournament. Heading into the final day, Caron lead the event by one ounce.
For the third day, he continued to target the shallow bars and was able to catch two more bass for 5-12 to finish up in second place.
Throughout the tournament, he would cycle through the different shallow bars that he had found. They all had water less than three feet deep, and as the event wore on, he narrowed his locations down to just four spots.
“I fished more places the first day, but several of the places got muddied up. By the second and third day, I was rotating through four key areas that were 200-yard stretches,” he says. “My primary area was a 50-yard stretch that I kept going up and down every day.”
Kerry Frey of Middlebury Ind., is still a little surprised that he was able to finish third at the BFL Regional on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. The first day he brought in four bass for 13-1, and he followed that up with two for 7-2 on day two. On the final day, he weighed three bass for 7-7, bringing his total to 27-10 on nine bass for the tournament.
“I don’t know how I pulled it off after the practice I had. It took me almost two full days of practice before I finally caught a bass,” Frey says.
That bite gave him a clue, and he was able to expand on it the rest of practice. What he found was that topwater was the only thing working for him. Frey found two areas, one for keeper bass and another that produced two 5-pound bass for him during the event.
“I found a channel swing with a little ledge in three to five feet of water that the bass were using to push baitfish. I was able to catch numbers of fish there but nothing big,” says Frey. “Later in the day, I would go to a shallow flat and try for a big one.”
The key to his finish, according to Frey, was sticking with his topwater plan.
“I just put my head down and fished topwater. Each day was a little different, and I used different baits each day,” he says.
On the first day, a Heddon Super Spook Jr. in chrome/black back was the top producer until he stuck a five-pound bass on the River2Sea Whopper Plopper 130 in Bone. On day two, it was the Whopper Plopper in monkey butt. On the final day, a ¼-ounce buzzbait with a 3.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT in electric shad was the ticket, and he fished the bait without a skirt.
Still riding high from his finish, Frey is excited about his chance to fish the All-American.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, and I am just starting to realize the accomplishment of getting to fish that event,” he says.
Going into the Regional, Lenny Bays knew what he was up against at Kentucky Lake.
“I knew it was going to be tough with how the fishing has been on Kentucky Lake lately, and I figured that whoever could make the most casts would win this event,” he says.
Bays also had some additional motivation this week as he recently lost his mother, Judy Bays, which forced him to miss his division’s Super Tournament. Luckily, he was high enough in points that the missed event only dropped him to 27th and allowed him to qualify for a shot at the Regional.
“I made up my mind that I was going to fish harder than anyone else this week. My mom was definitely looking over me for this event, and this win is dedicated to her,” says Bays.
While practicing for the event with Eric Moore, he was able to catch a few fish on a buzzbait recommended by his brother Michael Bays. He stuck with it, and it allowed him to lead after the first day with four bass for 11-4 while fishing with Michigan Division boater Jamie Elliott.
Three of the bass fell for a black Accent Jacob Wheeler Finesse Buzzbait with a matching King Rage Twin Tail Menace attached in place of the skirt. The fourth came on a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer in the spot remover color with a 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait in sexy shad serving as the trailer.
“We were targeting sandy banks that had some wind, but still protected from heavy winds. If I missed one on the buzzbait, I would follow it with the Jack Hammer, and that is how I caught one of my fish,” said Bays.
After finding himself in the lead after the first day, he was even more committed to the buzzbait when day two rolled around. He was paired with Rober Lefere, also of Michigan. He landed one bass for 2-7, but remained in the lead.
On the third and final day, Bays was paired with Sam Caron, another boater from the Michigan Division. At approximately 8:30 a.m., he had his only bite for the day, but it was a big one. While fishing a bone-colored Heddon Super Spook over a shallow bar, he landed a 5-11 bass that was the difference-maker in his victory.
“It came up and smoked it. We weren’t sure how big it was at the time, but I knew it was a really good fish,” Bays says.
Bays is happy to be headed to the All-American.
“This is my first time qualifying, and I am still shocked that it happened,” he says. “All of my boaters were from Michigan, and they were all great anglers and even better people. It was a magical week.”