Weighing limits of 15 pounds, 13 ounces on day one and 15-3 on day two, Michael Miller of Greenville, S.C., overcame a tough-fishing Kentucky Lake to win the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Wild Card and qualify for the All-American.
Winning by just an ounce, Miller weighed an even 31 pounds to beat out Brian Futch of Herrin, Ill., who brought in two limits for a total of 30-15.
The Wild Card is a no-entry-fee tournament providing a last chance for BFL anglers who didn’t make the Regionals to make the All-American. So, just like at the Regionals, the top six boaters and co-anglers make the All-American, but the rich payouts of the regionals are foregone.
“I did not see what coming,” says Miller, who fished in college for Furman University back in the day. “I actually had a pretty decent practice. I thought I might be able to catch a good one each day, maybe two, but I certainly didn’t see 15 pounds coming two days in a row.”
As it turned out, he did have 15 pounds on tap for two days, and he did it fishing two different places on the north end of the lake, never fishing more than 10 miles south of the dam. On day one, he weighed all largemouths, but he mixed in two smallies on day two.
“I caught them pretty much out of two areas, and they kind of flip-flopped. One produced real well on Friday, and I caught all my weight on the other spot on Saturday.”
On day one, Miller says he did almost all his damage on a windblown riprap bank with deeper water right on it. Casting right at the bank, he fished in 7 to 12 feet of water with an umbrella rig and a shaky head.
His second spot was a big windblown flat that was about 5 feet deep.
“On Friday, at the end of the day, I saw a 4-pounder come out of the water chasing a gizzard shad on that flat. I didn’t catch it, but I decided to start there the next day,” says Miller. “I guess there were some gizzard shad and that’s what was keeping them up there. It was just a big flat, probably the size of two football fields, and it had isolated stuff on it. There were some rock piles and stake beds and some other things – just dark spots I guess. Every once in a while, you’d run your bait across the top or drag it through and you’d get a quality bite.”
Miller’s bait on the flat was a structure jig, and he got things rolling pretty early.
“I caught a small one Saturday morning, and I thought that probably got me to the All-American, and then a little later I caught a couple and I caught a 4-11,” says Miller. “At that point, I thought I had the tournament won; I didn’t think it would be close. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to help my co-angler out. When I got in, everyone was talking about an 18-pound bag of smallmouth, and as I was loading my fish I was sure I didn’t have enough.”
However, he did – barely – and is now headed to the All-American for the second time, this time on his home pond.
“I put a lot of work in to make the All-American. I live about 30 minutes up the road from Hartwell, and I made it in 2018 as a co-angler,” says Miller. “It’s without a doubt the best tournament I’ve ever been to; it’s so much fun to be there, and I’ve got a chance now to go and do really well.”
Weighing 12-10 on day one and 18-5 on day two, Brian Futch very nearly pulled off the W fishing very differently than the rest of the field. Having fished the All-American once before as a co-angler in 2006, this will be Futch’s second appearance at the BFL championship.
Fishing mostly offshore, Futch weighed in six smallmouths and four largemouths.
“I didn’t see anybody else out offshore like that. That’s how I spent most of my practice,” says Futch. “I knew the cold front was coming and the deeper fish were less affected by the cold front. All but three of my keepers came on a jig; the other there were on a squarebill. They were offshore, on a 3/4-ounce jig, in anywhere from like 12 to 16 feet deep.”
Fishing a 50-yard stretch offshore, Futch plied a homemade 3/4-ounce jig in green pumpkin/amber with a green pumpkin and blue Strike King Rage Craw. He says in practice he caught largemouths on the stretch, but that the smallmouths seemed to be the predominant species on derby day.
Futch also weighed three fish he caught on the bank, cranking a ghost minnow-colored Mann’s 1-Minus as fast as he could.
“I was blessed. I really wanted to make it to the Regional at Guntersville, but I was blessed to be able to make it to the Wild Card on a lake I’m somewhat familiar with,” says Futch. “I’m very excited for the All-American, probably more so now than the first time I went. I know how awesome it is, and I’m really looking forward it.”
Weighing limits each day, Bryan Dowdy of Florence, Ala., sacked up a 23-13 total to make the All-American for the first time.
Weighing more smallmouths than largemouths, Dowdy played the weather expertly.
“The weather played into it. If not for the cold front I probably would have been running topwater bars like you normally do on Kentucky lake, just trying to catch three good ones,” says Dowdy. “I just put on a Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait and tried to catch smallmouths. I weighed in three smallmouths each day, one over 4-pounds and one right under 4-pounds. I was fishing the gravel bars and points that had the wind on them. It was tough fishing because of how windy it was, but I actually had a limit early both days.
“I was fishing it pretty fast, kind of like you would in the summertime, trying to get more of a reaction,” explains Dowdy, who caught eight keepers the first day and five the second day. “They were just swiping at it – both the big ones were hooked in the top of the head.”
Running down around Paris each day, Dowdy actually shortened his day a little on Saturday once he’d caught a limit and was feeling good about making the All-American.
“The two things I’ve always said a weekend angler can do are make the TBF National Championship and the All-American, and now I’ve done both, so I’m tickled to death.”
Top 10 pros
1. Michael Miller – Greenville, S.C. – 31-0 (10)
2. Brian Futch – Herrin, Ill. – 30-15 (10)
3. Bryan Dowdy – Florence, Ala. – 23-13 (10)
4. Toby Corn – Calvert City, Ken. – 15-12 (5)
5. Will White – Wake Forest, N.C. – 14-11 (8)
6. Harold Buchmeier – Gilbertsville, Ken. – 11-9 (5)
7. Joey Schmidt – Hickory, Ken. – 11-6 (4)
8. Walter James – Braselton, Ga. – 10-12 (5)
9. Rick Bowen – Jackson, Tenn. – 10-10 (4)
10. James Davis – Hollywood, Fla. – 10-6 (5)
Winning the co-angler side of the Wild Card with three keepers for 11-14, Walter Hammond of Lees Summit, Mo., actually caught every one of his keepers on day two.
“I zeroed Friday, and I had three good bites on Saturday,” says Hammond. “It was incredible. Kevin Powers was my boater. He put some work in and found some fish over on the Barkley side. We were pitching bluffs on the Barkley side, and we got to the first one and I caught a 4-pound largemouth and then our motor went kaput.”
Unable to get on plane most of the time, the pair began limping back toward takeoff, fishing random points on the way back.
Along the way, Hammond caught his personal-best smallmouth, a massive 5-4 specimen, and another big smallmouth to give his three fish for nearly 12 pounds. For baits, Hammond used a 1/2-ounce black and blue jig on the bluffs and a 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT for his smallies.
“I told my first-day boater, Toby Corn, that I knew what I was getting myself into,” says Hammond. “The weights were low enough I knew I could catch everything I needed to on day two. I didn’t know if I would win, but I knew I had a hell of chance.
“It’s pretty unreal,” Hammond says of making the All-American. “I tried to make it for about six years on the boater side, then I sat on the sidelines for a few years, and my buddy talked me into doing it as a co-angler. I kind of enjoy it, it’s a lot less stress, and I’ve got a great partner in the Ozark division I get to practice with. To me, it’s all about the fishing, I just want to be on the water and fishing.”