DECATUR, Ala. – Tyler Smith of Selma, Alabama brought a three-day total of 14 bass to the scale weighing 43 pounds even to win the Phoenix Bass Fishing League Regional Championship Presented by T-H Marine at Wheeler Lake. For his victory, Smith earned $60,000, including a Phoenix 819 Pro bass boat with a 200-horsepower Mercury outboard and $10,000, along with lucrative contingency awards, including up to an additional $7,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus. Smith also received automatic entry into the 2022 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American Championship, June 2-4, at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas, as well as priority entry into the Toyota Series – the pathway to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit and ultimately the Bass Pro Tour.
With just one previous experience on Wheeler, Smith said he committed to the upriver section in practice.
“That’s where I was going to live or die,” he said. “I only had two days of practice, so I thought I’d learn as much up there as I could.
“The first day of the tournament, I went where I had practiced and the water was chocolate milk from all the rain the night before,” said Smith. “I stayed up there until about 12 o’clock, and finally I had to do something different. I just ran down the lake and fished some obvious stuff, pulled up to a bridge and saw some fish busting behind me. As I was trolling to them, I looked down at the depth finder and thought ‘That looks like fish on the ledge.’ I picked up my crankbait, turned around, made a cast, and that’s how I found the magical spot.”
That spot turned out to be a shell bed in about 12 feet of water on the edge of a ledge that he was able to Spot-Lock on and cast along, bringing his bait down with the current parallel to the break. On Day 1, Smith managed four keepers off it in the last 45 minutes of fishing and rode it the rest of the way.
Starting there on Day 2, Smith tallied up a pair of 4-pounders, a 3-pounder and a keeper before it went dead and he ran up the river to catch his fifth keeper.
Smith clinched the win on Day 3, but it didn’t come easily.
“I went out and told myself the fish are on that shell bed to win,” said Smith. “I started there the last day, and they weren’t really there. I caught one 4-pound smallmouth on the jig, and that was really it. I couldn’t get any more bites.”
After running up the river again and catching a tiny keeper in the back of a creek, Smith said he knew he needed to be down on his main spot to have a shot at a win.
“I ran all the way back down there, and about 30 minutes later I caught a 2 ½-pound smallmouth,” said Smith. “At 2:45, I caught a 5 ½-pound smallmouth. At 2:50, I caught a 6-pound smallmouth on my last cast. I got it in the boat, put it in the livewell, and I didn’t want to take a chance being late. It literally came down to the last cast for me.”
Catching eight smallmouth, four spotted bass and two largemouth on the week, Smith won by more than 3 pounds but needed every fish to do it. His key bait was a chartreuse and blue Strike King 3XD, fished on 12-pound Bass Pro Shops Excel mono, which he burned the first few days and fished a little slower for his final afternoon flurry.
“That is the only thing I could get them to bite on that ledge, except for that one jig bite,” said Smith of his crank. “Other than that, I couldn’t get them to hit a jerkbait, come up on topwater, hit a shaky head, I couldn’t even get a bite on a drop-shot. The only thing they would touch was that crankbait, and they were absolutely eating it.”
Leaving college after about a year, Smith started fishing BFL events and working at the family electrical business. Now, he’s earned a sterling win after three days against some of the stiffest competition the BFL level can offer.
“I’m still speechless, I’ve talked to family, and that’s all I can say,” said Smith of the win. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of and worked hard at for a long time, and to watch it come true, I feel fortunate, because I know there are a lot of people that have worked, if not harder than me, at least longer than me, and still have not been able to accomplish something like this. I feel very blessed.
“I was still using my dad’s boat, the one he let me use since high school,” said Smith. “The first thing I said to him when he hugged me at weigh-in was, ‘I don’t have to use your boat anymore.’ My wife and I had just been looking at buying a boat – everything that has happened lately has just been a dream come true, that’s the best way I can explain it.”
The top six boaters that qualified for the 2022 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American were:
1st: Tyler Smith of Selma, Alabama, 14 bass, 43-0, $60,000, including Phoenix 819 Pro boat w/200-hp Mercury outboard
2nd: Sean Wieda of Walton, Ky., 15 bass, 39-6, $10,000
3rd: Chris Wilkinson of Farmersburg, Ind., 15 bass, 37-5, $5,000
4th: Taylor Parker of Lake View, Ala., 15 bass, 35-7, $3,750
5th: Preston Henson of College Grove, Tenn., 15 bass, 35-0, $2,000
6th: George Brown of Camby, Ind., 15 bass, 33-6, $1,800
Rounding out the top 10 boaters were:
7th: Roger Stegall of Iuka, Miss., 15 bass, 32-15, $1,600
8th: Adam Wagner of Cookeville, Tenn., 15 bass, 32-9, $1,400
9th: Brandon Edel of Hendersonville, Tenn., 15 bass, 31-9, $1,200
10th: David Wesson of Southside, Ala., 15 bass, 30-3, $1,000
Complete results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Parker took home an extra $500 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $7,000 per event in each Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.
Jeffery Johnson of Austin, Indiana weighed in 15 bass over three days totaling 27 pounds, 13 ounces to win the top Strike King co-angler prize package of $50,000, including a new Phoenix 819 Pro bass boat with a 200-horsepower Mercury outboard.
The top six Strike King co-anglers that qualified for the 2022 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American were:
1st: Jeffery Johnson of Austin, Indiana, 15 bass, 27-13, $50,000, including Phoenix 819 Pro boat w/200-hp Mercury outboard
2nd: Gilbert Jolley of Livingston, Tenn., 14 bass, 25-5, $5,000
3rd: Luke Schmits of Alexandria, Ky., 10 bass, 24-8, $2,500
4th: Eric Eden of Hartsville, Tenn., 11 bass, 24-8, $1,500
5th: Andy Vance of Danville, Ind., 11 bass, 22-11, $1,000
6th: Brad Smith of Montevallo, Ala., 10 bass, 21-11, $1,025
Rounding out the top 10 Strike King co-anglers were:
7th: Todd Mowery of Madison, Ala., 12 bass, 19-15, $800
8th: Teddy Baggett of Nashville, Tenn., nine bass, 19-12, $700
9th: Zach Smith of Flatwoods, Ky., 14 bass, 19-6, $600
10th: Barry King of Liberty, Ky., 11 bass, 18-10, $500
The Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine Regional Championship on Wheeler Lake was hosted by Decatur Morgan County Tourism. It featured the top pros and Strike King co-anglers from the Bama, Hoosier, Mountain and Music City divisions.
The 2021 MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine consisted of 24-divisions devoted to weekend anglers, with 128 tournaments throughout the season and five qualifying events in each division. The top 45 boaters and Strike King co-anglers from each division, along with the five winners of the qualifying events, advance to one of six Phoenix Bass Fishing League Regional Championships.
The top six finishers in each regional will qualify for one of the longest-running championships in all of competitive bass fishing – the Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American, which will be held June 2-4 at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas, hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs.
The top boaters and Strike King co-anglers from each Phoenix Bass Fishing League division will also earn priority entry into the Toyota Series, the pathway to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit and ultimately the Bass Pro Tour.
For complete details and updated information visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine on MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.