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.
The mega-spoon lands at Kentucky Lake
When the FLW Tour stopped at Kentucky Lake in June 2014 everyone expected fireworks in the form of big weights. And while there were plenty of 20-plus-pound bags, the bigger storyline was the fact that many of the top pros caught their weight on an 8-inch piece of metal. Enter the Magnum Spoon. It was quite the sight seeing the likes of Clent Davis, Randy Haynes and Jason Lambert slinging miniature hubcaps around for offshore bass, but it was more impressive seeing the size of bass it could catch. The idea of the spoon, which was created by Ben Parker and distributed by Nichols Lures, was to imitate the monstrous gizzard shad that roam the Tennessee River, and boy did it work. From 2-pounders to 6-pounders, the spoon produced. It wasn’t the first time FLW saw a lure or bait be unveiled to the world during tournament competition, and it certainly won’t be the last, but that week helped put the Magnum Spoon up with the likes of a ChatterBait, umbrella rig and Strike King 10XD for lures making a big splash in the industry.
Lambert breaks records at Kentucky Lake
Of course, you can’t have something big happen on the Tennessee River and not mention Jason Lambert. As impressive as his stats are from the famed series of fisheries, no tournament is more impressive than his 2018 FLW Tour win on Kentucky Lake, when Lambert sacked up 101 pounds, 9 ounces over four days to win by a staggering 28 pounds – the largest margin of victory all-time on the FLW Tour. By hitting the century mark, Lambert’s winning weight was also the 10th-largest total tournament catch in FLW Tour history and the biggest weight to ever win a Tour event on Kentucky Lake. What’s even crazier is he did it at a time when mega-schools weren’t the deal on Kentucky Lake, and he focused his efforts on smaller schools set up near community holes. Lambert spent most of his time up near the dam close to takeoff, but on day two ran all the way to New Johnsonville, Tenn., to catch his limit and only boated a handful of fish total. He cracked 30 pounds with this day-three limit, which was anchored by a 9-pounder. And even with a 19-pound lead heading into the final day, Lambert didn’t let off the gas and sacked up 27-3. He called it a day with enough time to order pizza.
Rose goes back-to-back, and so does Thrift
Mark Rose winning an FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville might not be something to be surprised by. But Rose winning the next Tour event on Lake Travis just two weeks later was more than enough to be amazed at. It was the best possible start he could imagine for the 2017 season, as Rose put his foot on the gas and didn’t let up during an incredible eight days of tournament fishing. But what may be almost as impressive is that during that time Bryan Thrift finished second, not once, but twice. Thrift gave Rose a run for his money on Guntersville, but wound up falling short by just 15 ounces. On Travis, Thrift rallied with a late-day cull on the final day to nearly put him over Rose, but again Rose still bested him by 12 ounces. Thrift would go on to win Angler of the Year in 2017, but Rose will always have the honor of winning two Tour events in a row, holding off one of the best in the game both times.
John Cox squeezes through a culvert
Nowadays, it’s not surprising to hear that John Cox found bass in a hard-to-access area of the lake. But on the Red River in 2011, we got a full taste of how devoted to getting away from the crowds Cox was. Fishing out of a 17-foot aluminum boat with a 75-hp motor, Cox pushed himself through what seemed like an impassable culvert over the first two days of competition to catch back-to-back 14-pound limits. On days three and four, competitors fished out of FLW-supplied boats, and Cox chose to stick around takeoff in Pool 5. Though, he still managed to access a small backwater in the big boat by running full speed through a narrow ditch, which helped secure his win and his first $100,000 check. Oh, by the way, 2011 was also his first year on Tour and the first time the fishing world took serious note of the then-25-year-old pro. Nice to see Cox hasn’t changed his style much over the years.
Rogne Brown joins the record books on Chickamauga
If you’ve spent any time around Lake Chickamauga, then you’ve probably heard the name Rogne Brown. Brown, who used to guide on Chick and is the uncle of Major League Fishing’s Michael Neal, made all kinds of noise when he won a Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine event on his home lake in March 2013 with 40 pounds, 14 ounces. His weight set the single-day heaviest catch record in Phoenix Bass Fishing League competition. It was also the second-largest single-day weight ever brought to an FLW scale. Brown caught his fish on a 3-arm, six-blade Hog Farmer umbrella rig fitted with 3 1/2-inch Big Bite Baits Cane Thumpers, which even produced his 11-12 kicker. The scary thing is that it wouldn’t be the biggest bag Brown would weigh from Chick. In February 2014, Brown and Tim Carini, a sales executive for InterMedia Outdoors, caught a 49-pound bag while out fishing together. All their fish came on umbrella rigs. Fact of the matter is Rogne Brown is the man when it comes to catching hawgs.
Casey Martin hits Century Mark on Chickamauga
The original season of Circuit Breaker followed along with rookie Tour pro Casey Martin and documented the ups and downs of his first season in 2013. That year, Martin saved the fireworks for the last stop of the regular season on Lake Chickamauga in late June. With umbrella rig in hand, he fished almost literally elbow to elbow with some of the biggest names in the sport as they hunkered down on some of the same mega-schools of bass, but Martin still was able to run away with the title. Hauling in limits worth 22-15, 27-0, 23-3 and 30-1 in four days, Martin totaled 103-3 to earn a spot in the record books with the second-largest total weight ever weighed in FLW Tour competition. He’d go on to win by a margin of 22-11 and qualify for his first FLW Cup, which made for an awesome episode.
The St. Lawrence River wears the smallmouth crown
There are plenty of famous smallmouth waters that are now frequent stops at the professional level, but few if any have asserted more dominance in a short amount of time than the St. Lawrence River. The FLW Series has frequented the St. Lawrence the most in the last decade, though most of the events have been based out of the 1000 Islands region on the upper end of the river where Lake Ontario is easily accessible and generally the major player for weights. Still, the St. Lawrence as a whole is a smallmouth paradise. Current, shallow flats, plenty of rock and tons of food help make it the brown fish mecca it is. Back in 2011, Bob Izumi won an FLW Series event on the St. Lawrence with 58 pounds, 1 ounce over three days. Flip back to September 2019, and Wayne Vaughan took the title with 63-5. So, while the St. Lawrence might be more pressured than ever, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the 20-pound-plus bags it constantly produces.
Marcus Sykora dominates the All-American
In 2014, Marcus Sykora fished in his second Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American. His first appearance was the year prior and ended with a 30th-place finish. But on Wilson Lake in 2014, Sykora came out swinging. He cracked 26 pounds, 11 ounces on day one to take the lead. On day two, Sykora bested that by bringing in 27-4 and had a lead of nearly 15 pounds heading into the final round. His primary area was a bar extending from the south wall of the Wheeler Dam Lock, where he could do no wrong over the first two days. The final day, however, increased current pushed his fish off the bar, and he only managed 12-5 to barely fended off the charge of Jayme Rampey, who caught 25-14 on the final day. Still, it was Sykora’s strong performance early that helped set the pace and give him the wire-to-wire victory in impressive fashion.
John Cox wins the Cup and earns a nickname
There weren’t many FLW Cups where you got the sense a certain guy was destined to win. But after hearing practice reports before the 2016 Cup on Wheeler Lake, it seemed obvious John Cox had as good a chance as any to win. Sure enough, he did. Like he’s done throughout his career, Cox did it his way: fishing out of an aluminum boat and running up creeks infested with logjams and stumps where most would never bring a fiberglass boat. He played the week flawlessly en route to catching 54 pounds, 13 ounces over four days to earn the FLW Cup title and a $300,000 payday. It’s also where he picked up the Tin Man nickname – fitting title for the reputation Cox has built over the years.
The General wins on St. Clair
In 2012, Larry Nixon let the fishing world know he’s still one of the best when he won the FLW Tour Open on Lake St. Clair with a total weight of 84-11. Call it an early birthday present to himself, as he got FLW win No. 4 of his career – his 18th total pro-level win – a week before his 62nd birthday. It was no surprise he won, either. Nixon has long had a good relationship with St. Clair, and it showed as he battled 5-pound smallmouths in the rolling waves of that pond, including making the run through the “Miracle Mile” – a stretch of river outside Detroit where the river banks are lined with steel and concrete and the river is congested with freight ships and yachts causing massive waves that stack against the current.
Jayme Rampey gets a slam in 2017, 2019
At the Phoenix Bass Fishing League level, getting one win in a season is impressive. Winning a division’s year-end two-day Super Tournament is even bigger. And grabbing a win at a three-day Regional is almost the pinnacle of the league. Well, if you’re Jayme Rampey, you just go ahead and win one of each in a single season – twice. In 2017, Rampey won a one-day tournament on Lake Hartwell, the Super Tournament on Hartwell and the Regional on Lanier to rack up more than $77,000 in winnings in those three events alone. In 2019, he was back on that same pace. He got a one-day tournament win on Lake Wylie in the spring, won the Super Tournament on Hartwell in September and then the Regional on Hartwell to haul in more than $82,000 between those three wins. His recent Regional win helped bump him into a tie for third overall for most Phoenix Bass Fishing League wins, and he’s only 33 years old. Should be fun to watch what he accomplishes in the next decade.
Asian carp leap into the forefront of tournament bass fishing
Though it’s believed that Asian carp first escaped into public waters in the United States in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the invasive – and quite obnoxious – jumping carp really began to proliferate throughout the Midwest in ways that made bass anglers and biologists take notice. More recently, the carp have caused substantial heartache among the bass fishing community by expanding their range beyond the Mississippi River, up the Ohio, and into the Tennessee and Cumberland systems. Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, in particular, have been inundated with Asian carp, which threaten to expand into other storied bass fisheries in the Tennessee Valley, spurring efforts by local, state and national agencies to remove the fish and conduct research into how to curb their impacts (efforts that, if successful, could be the biggest story in bass fishing in the coming decades). In the meantime, anglers have pinned much of the blame for a major downturn in the quality of the Kentucky/Barkley fishery on the presence of the carp, which certainly have had an impact but that share fault with several other factors. Whatever the reason for it, Kentucky and Barkley aren’t the lakes of old right now, and that’s one of the most notable stories of the last 10 years, considering that the lakes came into the decade rife with bass and were ground zero for much of the boom in ledge fishing and electronics mastery that took place during that span. Whether or not the system returns to its former glory will play out in the coming years.
FLW hosts its first college championship, kick starts college bass fishing’s rise
Though FLW College Fishing kicked off in the last year of the previous decade, it wasn’t until 2010 that the inaugural FLW College Fishing National Championship was held. The University of Tennessee in Knoxville hosted the championship on Fort Loudoun in mid-April. Fishing was tough, but Florida Gators Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski were able to weigh in 29 pounds, 10 ounces in three days thanks to a big 15-9 effort on day two to earn the win by a margin of just 9 ounces. The victory netted the Gators stars $105,000 in scholarships and prizes as well as spots in the FLW Cup – as a boater for Gipson and co-angler for Wercinski – to kick off a remarkably successful beginning to FLW’s collegiate program, which was the first true nationwide college bass fishing circuit. The 2010s saw substantial growth in the collegiate program across multiple circuits, with hundreds of colleges and universities now competing. Several schools even offer varsity bass fishing programs that include full-time coaches and scholarships. The decade changed the face of college bass fishing for the future.
Florida wins back-to-back championships
In 2011, the FLW College Fishing National Championship included the likes of Jordan Lee, who went on to win consecutive Bassmaster Classic championships. However, it was once again Florida’s Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski that hogged the spotlight by winning their second consecutive national championship. It’s the first and only time in FLW College Fishing history that a team has won back-to-back titles.
Wheeler becomes youngest All-American and Cup champ
It took Jacob Wheeler only two years to become the youngest Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American champion and the youngest FLW Cup champion by winning the former at age 20 in 2011 and the latter at age 21 in 2012. Wheeler won more than a million dollars in his FLW career and added an MLF Bass Pro Tour win in 2019 at Stage Seven on Table Rock.
Patterson wins the college championship all on his own
Because of an eligibility issue resulting from a transfer, Brandon Patterson was unable to compete in the 2012 FLW College Fishing National Championship for which he and his brother, Ryan, qualified. For Ryan, however, the unfortunate situation made no difference in him achieving his goal. The Kansas State angler won the third-ever championship event on Lake Murray in South Carolina. It’s the first and only time a solo angler has claimed the highest award in FLW College Fishing. Ryan went on to a career in the bass boat manufacturing business.
Circuit Breaker becomes a hit
In 2013, aspiring professional anglers and fans of bass fishing got an inside look at what it takes to try to make it at the highest level when FLW launched a first-of-its-kind online reality series called Circuit Breaker. Canadian-born electrical engineer turned Guntersville bass guide Casey Martin was the star of Circuit Breaker Season 1, which documented Martin’s move from the co-angler ranks to the front of the boat in his rookie season on the FLW Tour. Fans witnessed the ups and downs of “making it” on Tour as Martin opened the season with a top-10 finish but mixed in a couple of triple-digit bombs. The season peaked with a legendary performance on Lake Chickamauga – a rising star in the fishing world itself at that time – where Martin put the still relatively new umbrella rig to work to join the Century Club with a four-day winning weight of 103 pounds, 3 ounces, barely qualifying for the FLW Cup thanks to the victory. Martin’s final-day limit surpassed 30 pounds, and nearly 100,000 people have watched the episode that documents the drama.
MDJ crushes on Circuit Breaker
While Season 1 of Circuit Breaker garnered more than 400,000 views on YouTube, Season 3 is when the show really broke out, crushing expectations with more than 1.28 million views. It also influenced thousands of anglers to chase their own dreams in tournament fishing. Airing in 2016, Season 3 followed Mark Daniels Jr., who’d given up his career as an agricultural inspector after winning The Bass Federation National Championship to move east and join the FLW Tour. The show captured Daniels’ 2015 sophomore season, during which he finished 26th in AOY points and made the top 10 at the FLW Cup on Lake Ouachita. But fishing aside, it was Daniels’ story, along with the quality of production by Circuit Breaker creator and director Travis Wavescorx, that made the MDJ season a hit.
Morgan, Meyer battle for AOY honors
You won’t find many anglers better liked by fans and their contemporaries than Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer, but you also won’t find two anglers more different in their approaches to bass fishing. Which is what made the 2014 FLW Tour Angler of the Year battle so interesting. Morgan, the Southern power fisherman from Tennessee, and Meyer, a finesse specialist from California, pretty well lapped the field that season, despite an AOY top 15 that included serious firepower (Ehrler, Hite, Rose, Christie, Neal, Thrift, Martin, Strader, Wheeler, Ashley, Schenck, Fukae and Arey). Morgan wound up coming out on top to earn his second consecutive AOY, but to get there he had to average about a 12th-place finish over six events, which was just a couple places better than Meyer’s average finish. All season long, the two superstars gushed mutual respect and were jovial and complimentary of each other, but freely admitted to wanting to beat the pants off the other, which drove their tremendous run and captivated fans.
MLF acquires FLW
In fall of 2019, one of the biggest business moves in the history of professional bass fishing was finalized as Major League Fishing acquired FLW. The deal combined MLF’s star-laden 80-angler no-entry-fee Bass Pro Tour with FLW’s hierarchy of tournament fishing that spans from the grassroots level to the pro ranks. With the change came a lot of positives, including lower entry fees for the FLW Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League and the promise of more live broadcasts and television time for fans to enjoy. As a result, tournament registrations are up across the board. Likewise, MLF and FLW have signed several new sponsors for 2020. Next season, it’s likely more anglers will compete under the FLW banner than ever in company history, thanks to a bold venture negotiated at the end of the decade.
Elias unveils the Alabama Rig
It’s tough to believe the bass fishing version of an umbrella rig, originally unveiled as the Alabama Rig, is not even a decade old, but this controversial multi-lured rig only broke onto the scene in October 2011 at the FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville. Going into the tournament, the consensus opinion among anglers was that fishing would be brutally tough. Rumors swirled that Guntersville was suffering a severe downswing. Then veteran pro Paul Elias showed up in Alabama with Andy Poss’ invention – the original Alabama Rig – and showed everyone that the fish were still there, just not willing to bite what everyone was used to using that time of year. Elias used the rig to catch 102 pounds, 8 ounces and won by more than 17 pounds. Though there were no live cameras at that time, Elias’ five-wire contraption couldn’t escape the lenses of FLW’s photographers – nor the eyes of his competitors. By the end of the tournament, most of the top 10 pros were throwing the rig, and fishing fans everywhere had to have one. Poss, who was originally peddling the Alabama Rig in parking lots around Guntersville, found himself sitting on a bass tackle gold mine. That winter, all anyone talked about was the rig: Should it be outlawed? Who had some for sale? What was the best way to outfit it? Poss licensed the original to Mann’s Bait Co., but copycats and specialty rigs popped up everywhere as tackle makers sought to tap into the multi-bait fervor for everything from crankbaits to topwaters. That offseason also saw a parade of mega-bags and mega-wins on the rig. Dan Morehead used one just a couple weeks later to win the FLW Series Championship on Kentucky Lake. Lake Chickamauga, which had recently received a dose of Florida-strain bass genetics, was beginning to churn out double-digit giants, and it wound up becoming ground zero for umbrella rig antics as local anglers and out-of-towners caught oodles of giant bass and limits surpassing 30 pounds. It instantly became the only thing to throw in the winter and prespawn, and to this day is still probably the greatest tool for catching suspended bass keyed on schools of baitfish. Though umbrella rigs are now heavily regulated by state wildlife officials and even banned by some tournament circuits (including the FLW Pro Circuit and MLF Bass Pro Tour), there’s no denying that the months following the rig’s arrival at the hands of Paul Elias were some of the most exciting in recent memory.
Hanselmania dominates the FLW Series
Unless you fished against him in south Texas in the 2000s, you might not have known who Ray Hanselman was prior to 2015, when the father of two and local bass guide rattled off what was likely the most impressive string of consecutive wins in the history of competitive bass fishing. Hanselman swept the Southwestern Division of the FLW Series with wins on Lake Amistad in February and Sam Rayburn and Lake Texoma in April. Along the way, FLW’s reporters coined the performance Hanselmania. While the Hanselmania three-peat was unprecedented and received plenty of fanfare, fishing fans were able to somewhat explain Hanselman’s success by pointing out that he guides on Amistad and had enjoyed a long career in his home state of Texas. Then it got really nuts. Hanselman travelled to Paducah, Ky., in the fall to compete in the FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River and shocked everyone by winning his fourth tournament in a row. In Kentucky, Hanselman ran up the Tennessee River to the Kentucky Lake tailrace and caught big stringers of smallmouth bass with an umbrella rig. For his sweep, Hanselman earned almost $150,000 and a spot at the 2016 FLW Cup.
One more thing to note: En route to winning the season opener at Lake Amistad, Hanselman relied on his extensive local knowledge to make a harrowing run up a tiny ditch through a canyon in the upper end of the lake to access a sweet spot that produced most of his final-round catch. A video of the run, which will make any bass boat owner’s rear end pucker, was captured by FLW. You can watch it here.
Dudley defies odds, wins back-to-back AOYs, then adds a record fourth
The recession that flat-lined the economy at the end of the last decade cost some talented bass anglers their careers, and threatened many others, including that of FLW’s all-time money winner David Dudley. Which is what makes Dudley’s back-to-back FLW Tour Angler of the Year titles in 2011 and 2012 that much more impressive. He did it while his livelihood was on the line, after selling rods just to pay his bills, against a stacked field, following a couple of meager seasons – at least by his own high standards. Andy Morgan later claimed that Dudley’s performance to usher in the decade, with so much pressure on his shoulders off the water, was one of the most impressive feats he’d ever witnessed in pro bass fishing. Dudley added another AOY in 2019 to become the only angler ever to win the title four times on the FLW Tour. In the fall, Major League Fishing announced that Dudley would be joining the Bass Pro Tour in 2020, when he’ll begin the next chapter in one of the most impressive careers in the history of the sport.
Ehrler wins three Tour-level events in one year
From 2009 to 2013, Brent Ehrler pieced together one of the most dominant runs of tournament bass fishing – in terms of wins – that the sport has seen by winning six Tour-level events with FLW. His 2010 season was particularly impressive. Ehrler, who won the FLW Cup in 2006 to launch his career, won three Tour-level events to ring in the new decade: Lake Shasta in California in January, Table Rock in Missouri in March and Lake Ouachita in Arkansas in May. Ehrler earned more than $2.2 million in his FLW career and now competes on the MLF Bass Pro Tour.
Okeechobee hosts Century Club beatdown
The 2011 season opened with a notable showcase of big-bass talent when Lake Okeechobee hosted the FLW Tour Open event in early February and three anglers cracked the 100-pound mark. Brandon McMillan led the way with a ridiculous 106-pound, 10-ounce four-day limit, followed by Randall Tharp with 102-2 and Chad Prough with 100-15. Terry Scroggins finished fourth with 99-9, and Jacob Powroznik added 95 pounds even. The following season, the Tour kicked off with an Open at Okeechobee in February again, and this time Tharp bested the field with another Century Club performance, catching 101-12 to win by more than 23 pounds over runner-up John Cox.
Cole Floyd wins three LBL AOY titles in a row
Extended runs of dominance aren’t totally uncommon at the Phoenix Bass Fishing League level, but Cole Floyd’s run as a boater in the LBL Division from 2017-2019 is pretty remarkable. While still in college at Bethel University, Floyd went up against the best regional anglers western Kentucky and Tennessee have to offer and came out on top in the AOY rankings three years in a row. During his stretch of titles (which is ongoing), the quiet killer earned four top-10 finishes in 2017 and 2018 and two top 10s in 2019. Additionally, he did it as Kentucky Lake changed dramatically around him, going from one of the most wide-open ledge fisheries in the country to a place where tournament limits have been legitimately hard to come by.
Gagliardi goes from disqualified to the FLW Cup champ
The 2014 FLW Tour season almost ended before it began for Anthony Gagliardi. After a DQ at the opener on Okeechobee due to a practice violation before the season started, Gagliardi began the year in last place with just five events to try to qualify for the FLW Cup, which happened to be on his home waters of Lake Murray. After the rest of the crew fished at Okeechobee, Gagliardi started his season at Hartwell with a top 10. From there, he finished 30th at Sam Rayburn, 13th at Beaver Lake, 46th and Pickwick and 48th on Kentucky Lake, literally earning a spot in the Cup by 1 ounce at the finale. He also won the Cup by 1 ounce on Lake Murray.
The best weigh-in ever blows the roof off in Columbia, S.C.
Anthony Gagliardi’s Cup win in 2014 was superlative on a number of fronts, but the tournament itself was a barnburner. Despite tough fishing, the event was a rollercoaster, with some big weights on day one and two courtesy of David Dudley and Phillip Jarabeck before Brent Ehrler edged into the lead on day three. Things got wild on day four, as Steve Kennedy caught a giant bag worth 20-2 by fishing up the river with a buzz frog, stoking the idea that he might be able to go from 10th to first on the final day. Come weigh-in, the house was packed and enthusiastic. The final day had some big names, including Scott Martin and Bryan Thrift, but it also included hometown favorites Casey Ashley and Gagliardi, who were both in the hunt for the win. After Kennedy electrified the crowd with his big bag, he held the lead until Ashley squeaked ahead of him, actually tying him by weight. After Ashley, Scott Canterbury weighed in to move into the lead by about half a pound, only to immediately be edged out by just 1 ounce by Gagliardi. Ehrler weighed in just 6 ounces shy of Gagliardi and slipped into third, giving Gagliardi the win and the home crowd reason to erupt.
Hawk goes all-in to win the Cup
After qualifying for the 2010 FLW Cup out of the FLW Series Western Division in 2009, Kevin Hawk up and moved from California to Georgia to start a months-long practice period for the 2010 Cup on Lake Lanier. Living in a rented pool house and showering outside, Hawk fished Lanier about four days a week, learning everything he could about brush piles and spotted bass. The dedication paid off in August when Hawk weighed the biggest limit of the final day of the Cup to move from fourth to first to earn the $600,000 top prize.