From start to finish, the last decade was a wild ride for fishing. The top stories are amazingly diverse, with huge business changes, some incredible tournament feats, and entirely new techniques and lures taking center stage.
To celebrate the end of the decade, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, 50 of the biggest moments and storylines in bass fishing and FLW throughout the 2010s. So, settle down somewhere comfortable and give it a read, because you’re bound to learn something. And if you’ve followed fishing for a while, this will bring back some fond memories.
Arey becomes Mr. Beaver Lake
Despite being crowned “Mr. Beaver Lake” for his accomplishments in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Clark Wendlandt was forced to cede the imaginary title to Matt Arey in 2015 when Arey won the once-annual FLW Tour stop at Beaver for the second year in a row. He actually earned five top 10s on Beaver in his FLW Tour career. Perfectly suited to Beaver Lake, Arey won in 2014 on a jig and then on a swimbait and a soft stick bait in 2015. Arey’s final kicker in 2015 is absolutely one of the coolest swimbait bites ever captured in tournament action.
Wendlandt breaks the drought
A three-time AOY winner and a surefire legend of bass fishing, Clark Wendlandt was the man to beat on the FLW Tour in the 1990s and the early 2000s, but he slacked off a bit at the beginning of this decade. Then in May 2014, coming off back-to-back triple-digit finishes on Tour, Wendlandt was forced to miss the remainder of the season due to a heart attack. The Texan came back strong, however, easily making the Cup in 2015. The highlight of the year, however, was his win on the Potomac River in the season finale. It had been more than 14 years since his last FLW Tour win.
Bryan Thrift wins just about everything
Nobody has owned the 2010s like Bryan Thrift. Winning the FLW Tour AOY in 2010 and 2017, Thrift earned an incredible 25 top-10 finishes along the way. He also won five Tour events in that span, and packed on two FLW Series wins, an FLW Tour Invitational win and finally added the FLW Cup to his mantle in 2019. Making the Cup every year of the decade, Thrift took a while to win it, but was almost a sure thing to be fishing on the final day. Incredibly, in 10 tries, he only missed the top 10 twice, and he finished fourth or better half the time.
Perhaps the most fun Thrift fact is his consecutive limit streak of 71, which is the all-time streak record across the FLW Tour and the Bassmaster Elite Series. The streak spanned from day two of the 2016 Tour event on Pickwick until day two of the 2019 Tour event on Seminole. Along the way, he passed up Cody Meyer (who’s Tour record was 50 limits in a row), to raise his limit streak to previously unimagined heights.
It comes as no surprise that Thrift has the most top-10 finishes in the decade across all FLW circuits. With 53 total, he’s nine ahead of second-place angler Adam Wagner, a certified hammer in Tennessee and Kentucky. Bryan New, who traveled and practiced with Thrift on Tour, is third with 39, and a lot of his came during his exceptional co-angler career. Tied for fourth are Scott Dobson and Marcus Sykora with 38 top-10 finishes. With 30 top 10s to his credit, Jeremy Lawyer is the only member of the top 20 who didn’t start accumulating in 2010, waiting until 2011 to notch his first of the decade.
Our final Thrift fact is a real doozy, and one that you might have missed in the general mix of Thrift being amazingly good at fishing. Spread over 2016 and 2017, Thrift finished in the top 10 five consecutive times in FLW Tour competition, breaking the previous record of three in a row. Though Kevin Van Dam owns a staggering streak of 10 in a row on the Elite Series, Thrift’s five is pretty amazing, and if you want to give him some credit for a tiebreaker he lost to Wesley Strader at Champlain that caused him to finish 11th once, you could extend the streak to a whopping seven events.
The Hibdon family puts three generations on Tour
In 2011, Guido Hibdon, his son Dion, and Dion’s son Payden all fished as pros on the FLW Tour, with Payden’s brother Lawson fishing as a co-angler that same year. Though Guido passed away in 2018 and the Hibdon clan left the Tour before that, it was still a pretty monumental achievement for one of the premier fishing families in America. Fathers and sons fishing the same circuit are common, but it’s basically unheard of to have three generations of the same immediate family simultaneously fishing at such a high level.
The fishing world loses some giants
The fishing world lost a number of notable anglers and industry legends this decade. In 2017, FLW Tour pro Kyle Mabrey died in a car accident, which came as a shock and struck a chord in the tight-knit angling community. In 2018, Guido Hibdon passed away after a long and pioneering career on the water. In 2019, we lost several members of the tournament family, including Florida pro Glenn Browne, who was one of the best power-fishermen on Tour; legendary broadcaster and former B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis; and FLW owner Irwin Jacobs, who launched the FLW brand in the mid-1990s and built it into one of the premier tournament-fishing organizations in the world.
Perhaps most notable of all due to the circumstances was the death of Nik Kayler. Fishing as a co-angler in a January 2018 FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee, Kayler was thrown from the boat in rough water. The tournament was canceled after day one, and Kayler’s body was recovered following a six-day search.
On the first day of the FLW Tour opener at Lake Okeechobee later that month, FLW observed a moment of silence in memory of Kayler. Three blasts from a siren – the universal call for man overboard – were then followed by a flare that was shot outside the lock wall at takeoff. It was just one of many tributes paid to the father, husband, military veteran, dedicated bass angler and member of the FLW family who lost his life doing what he loved. Click here to watch a beautiful video of the moment of silence created by Rob Matsuura.
Morgan mounts a historic AOY run
Once the all-time leader in top-10 finishes until Bryan Thrift surpassed him, Andy Morgan kicked an already superlative career into overdrive from 2013 to 2016. During that timeframe, he won back-to-back AOY titles on Tour in 2013 and 2014, and then won a third AOY in 2016 to tie Clark Wendlandt and David Dudley (at the time) for the most in FLW Tour history. In that four-year span, Morgan fished the final day 10 times, but, characteristically, never managed to seal the deal on a win. He added an AOY runner-up in 2017.
The story of Morgan’s third title
The Beaver Lake era coms to an end, but not without a lot of magic moments
The FLW Tour started to regularly visit Beaver Lake in 1998, but the last trip to Beaver came in 2017. During this decade the Beaver Lake winners list went like this: Bryan Thrift, David Dudley, Jason Christie, Matt Arey (twice), Scott Canterbury and Johnny McCombs. In this decade, Beaver demonstrated how diverse one fishery can be, with tournaments won flipping, on umbrella rigs, with sight-fishing and a host of other tactics. Also, the cream generally rose to the top. Despite the fact that so many pros were super-familiar with Beaver Lake, half the winners have at least one pro-level AOY in their career.
Canterbury’s $500,000 prize that wasn’t
Though the 2010s saw the end of the $500,000 top prize at the FLW Cup, they also gave us one of the most agonizing lost-fish moments of all-time. On the final day of the 2014 FLW Cup, Scott Canterbury lost a big one in the waning hours, and the footage has gone on to be some of the most heartbreaking stuff on the internet, with Canterbury whimpering “$500,000” after losing what was surely the winning fish. He finished second by 1 ounce to Anthony Gagliardi.
FLW sets and resets the college field size record
Since taking field-size limits off FLW College Fishing events, some truly gigantic tournaments have taken place. In the Southeast, especially, fields of around 200 boats are actually fairly commonplace now. In February 2017, Nick Hatfield and Corey Neece of Tusculum College triumphed in a 248-team Southeastern Conference event on Guntersville, which was the largest college field by a good bit at the time. Then, in March 2018, John Lambert and Logan Brewster of the University of Tennessee won a massive Southeastern Conference event that had a whopping 273 teams, which remains the record to this day.
The first all-female team makes the college championship
Though a number of women have competed as part of a team in the FLW College Fishing National Championship, 2017 saw the first team of two women qualify. Fishing for the Savannah College of Art and Design, Jaci Skipper and Ryleigh Tyson finished 14th in the Southeastern Division event at Hartwell to make the championship (though only Tyson fished the event).
FLW superstars rack up wins
This decade saw some superlative performances at the FLW Tour level, which includes the FLW Cup, the old FLW Series, the FLW Tour Opens and Majors, and the FLW Tour Invitationals. Leading the way on the wins front were Bryan Thrift with seven wins and Mark Rose and Scott Martin with five each.
Rampey wins 10
The winningest angler of the decade is Jayme Rampey, who totaled up 10 wins at the Phoenix Bass Fishing League level. In totally unsurprising news, Bryan Thrift is second with nine. Behind the top two, things start to get pretty interesting, with Dwight Fox, Bryan Schmitt and Marcus Sykora tied for third with eight apiece. Though all the anglers with a bunch of wins have an element of regional dominance to them, Rampey and Fox exemplify the model. For Rampey, the Carolinas have been good to him, particularly Lake Hartwell, where he’s won five times. Fox has got it done in Tennessee and Kentucky, most notably on Barren River Reservoir, where he’s also won five times.
High School Fishing takes off
In 2010, with the tournaments debuting in 2011, FLW and The Bass Federation joined forces to launch the world’s first High School Fishing program, offering a state championship in every state in the continental United States plus the province of Ontario. Though fishing as a competitive sport was already growing, it’s continued to grow since the FLW/TBF program kicked off. High schoolers now enjoy huge fields throughout the country, recognition as a varsity sport in many states, and massive participation in the annual National Championship and World Finals.
FLW goes international
In 2015, Canada, China, Korea and Mexico signed on as FLW partners, and the following year an International Division debuted at the FLW Series Championship. Since then, six more countries have signed on, and the International Division has seen some serious success, with Michael Matthee of South Africa making the top 10 at the FLW Series Championship on Kentucky Lake in 2017 and Roger Cousens of Zimbabwe leading day one of the 2019 FLW Series Championship on Lake Cumberland. Current participating countries include Zimbabwe, Namibia, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and South Korea.
Mega-bags were weighed (repeatedly)
The biggest single-day catch of the decade was actually at the first tournament of the decade, when Keith Combs walloped 41-1 in an FLW Series event on Falcon in January 2010. The second biggest bag fell to Rogne Brown, who weighed 40-14 in a Phoenix Bass Fishing League event at Chickamauga. The third biggest bag of the decade belongs to Casey Martin, who mashed 40-11 in 2017 in a BFL on Lake Guntersville. The last 30-plus bag of the decade belongs to Bradford Beavers, who weighed 31-2 in the FLW Series event he won in late April on Santee Cooper.
Of the top 20 bags of the decade, Lake Okeechobee accounted for the most with eight (though no 40-pound bags), with Guntersville accounting for four, Falcon producing three, Sam Rayburn and Chickamauga each kicking out two, and the California Delta being worth one. The latest in the year anyone caught a 30-pound bag came in October in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, Phil Marks busted out the Strike King 10XD to catch 32-12 in an FLW Tour Open on Rayburn. In 2013, Jason Borofka hammered out 32-1 on Clear Lake in an FLW Series event.
FLW goes live
On Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, during the third day of the FLW Tour event at Lake Travis, FLW debuted its popular expanded FLW Live show, which streamed tournament action straight from the boats of the top pros and featured studio commentary by Travis Moran and Byron Velvick. Live coverage has changed the sport of professional bass fishing by transporting fans to the water and in the boat while major stars perform at the highest levels. It continues to be a pillar of FLW’s tournament coverage, with hundreds of hours of live streaming planned for the 2020 season.
T. Boone Pickens invests in FLW
On stage at the 2010 FLW Cup, Irwin Jacobs announced that billionaire businessman and noted outdoorsman T. Boone Pickens – a close friend of Jacobs’ – had become an equity holder and partner in FLW. The investment helped shore up FLW’s operation in the wake of a recession, while giving Pickens a platform to promote his ventures into renewable energy resources.
Meyer sets a record of his own
Though his streak has since been surpassed by Bryan Thrift, Cody Meyer held the consecutive limits title for a while on his own. Back in 2014, Meyer set the record for consecutive limits at 50, running a streak from June of 2011 to March of 2014 to best Jacob Powroznik’s record of 46. Though he would be passed up by Thrift, as is the fate for most anglers, his streak was seen as emblematic of his consistency and prowess with finesse.
FLW pros rake in international medals
While FLW expanded with new international partners, the latter half of the decade was also a good one for non-FLW international fishing. The World Black Bass Championship was held twice in South Africa and once in Mexico, and the Pan Am was held in the USA and Canada. During competition, Team USA consistently did very well, taking Gold in the Pan Am on Okeechobee in 2018 and in the 2018 WBBC on Mexico’s Lake Chuchillo. Most recently, Team USA finished second to Team Canada in the Pan Am on Lake St. Francis, with Mark Daniels Jr. and Brian Latimer winning the individual team competition.
Spotted bass get super-sized
Though the fishing seems to have fallen off just a bit, there was a window from perhaps 2012 to 2018 when Bullards Bar in California was kicking out some truly incredible fish. During that time frame, Cody Meyer caught a 40-pound limit of spots, and the record fell over and over.
Somewhat unfortunately, the record chase got murky over time. Midway through, the IGFA re-classified the spotted bass in Bullards as Alabama Bass (Micropterus henshalli), which is technically accurate, but certainly diluted the fervor a bit. Additionally, the speed at which giant, record-sized fish were caught overwhelmed folks who weren’t super dialed-in to that world. In 2014, Keith Bryan landed a record spotted bass that went 10.48 pounds on Lake Shasta. After that, a flurry of record-class fish followed from Bullards. In February of 2015, Lou Ferrante caught a 10.95-pounder, then Paul Bailey didn’t properly weigh an 11-pounder in November and Tim Little also caught a 10-6 in January. In 2016, Meyer landed a possible record of his own – a fish that went 10.8 pounds and seemed on track to be certified as another new record. Then, in 2017, Nick Dulleck landed what is currently the record – an 11-4 monster from Bullards that was properly weighed and documented from start to finish.
The best regional anglers
Though the number of tournaments in an FLW Series division maxed out at four during the last decade, winning AOY in a division is nonetheless an extremely impressive feat. Two anglers accomplished it three times from the front of the boat in our time frame – Todd Castledine and Cory Johnston. Castledine did it in the Southwestern Division in 2011, 2014 and 2017, while Johnston did it in the Northern Division in 2011, 2015 and 2016. Naturally, both anglers have seen plenty of success on the national stage, but their regional dominance has been extreme – only one other pro (Jeff Michels) even has two AOY titles in that span.