Melinda Hays of Hot Springs, Arkansas recently became the first woman in FLW history to win a Phoenix Bass Fishing League Regional Championship. She competed in the Regional on Table Rock Lake in October and weighed 10 bass over three days totaling 22 pounds, 4 ounces. She took home the top co-angler prize package of $50,000, including a new Phoenix 819 Pro bass boat with a 200-horsepower Mercury outboard.
An Unexpected Season
Hays’ Regional win came shortly after she claimed the Strike King Co-Angler of the Year title in the Arkie Division of the Phoenix Bass Fishing League. It’s the perfect ending to a season that was only made possible due to an unfortunate turn of events.
“This year has been so trying for so many people, and I’m going to admit that I’m definitely one of them,” Hays said. “I was laid off in April … April Fool’s Day of all days. And so I had a period of not knowing what my future held for a little bit.”
As the mother of two daughers, Henley (6) and Harbor (4), she knew she had to make the most out of her situation. She decided to start her own landscaping business and, of course, she went fishing.
“They watch every single thing that we do and I think that it has to do with being a positive role model for them, and showing them that they can dream absolutely any dream they want to do,” Hays said.
Hays’ first two events of 2020 didn’t turn out as well as she had hoped: she only caught one bass in each tournament. She says her daughters motivated her to step it up.
“Now they think mommy can catch bass,” she laughed. “Because mommy has trophies now, and a boat.”
Toughing it out on Table Rock
Hays went into the Table Rock Regional with the mindset that she could win, but with more than 170 anglers competing against her, she knew the odds were slim.
“I really went into that tournament literally to have a great time,” she said. “Because that’s what I wanted to do all year. Just get back to enjoying fishing, meeting a lot of different people that just share the same passion, and then learning from them.”
The unpredictable weather in southwest Missouri certainly didn’t make it easy on the anglers. Temperatures went from highs in the 80s on day one to near-freezing temperatures and rain on days two and three. But Hays used her prior knowledge of the Ozarks lake to find success.
“I knew that if I could slow down and try to do something that a lot of people weren’t going to be doing, my odds would go up at catching a couple a day. And I did that by throwing a Carolina Rig,” she explained.
Hays’ go-to bait was a candy craw-colored Strike King Game Hawg, and she dipped the tails in chartreuse die with garlic scent.
“It’s those little subtleties that I think made a big difference because the weather was terrible,” Hays said.
Females Who Fish
Hays grew up in a fishing family. She’s the daughter of two bass pros: Jimmy and Lucy Mize. Her father is a four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, while her mother fished the Women’s Bassmaster Tour from 2006 through 2009, and is in the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
“I never knew it was weird that girls fish,” Hays laughed. “Because my mom was such a dominant angler whenever I was young. I thought all women did.”
Hays is looking forward to a day when seeing women compete (and dominate) in tournaments is no longer “weird.”
“Because bass don’t know that we’re women,” she said. “They don’t know what color of skin we have. They don’t know who we love. They don’t know who we vote for. They just know who gets out there and feeds them the right thing.”
After her win on Table Rock, Hays says several women have contacted her, expressing interest in getting into tournaments. She highly recommends MLF’s co-angling programs for anyone who’s interested in trying out the competitive aspect of bass fishing.
“It’s for anyone. It doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are,” she said. “You have the ability to go do these and you’ll have so much fun if you just go enjoy fishing the day and meeting all these new people.”
Now, Hays will be only the fourth female angler in FLW history to qualify for or compete in the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American, which will take place on June 3-5, at Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tennessee. Hays says she’s looking forward to competing in both Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League events in 2021