John Cox of Debary, Fla., loves fishing ponds. As a kid, he cut his teeth fishing ponds. The first bass club Cox ever joined was a johnboat-only-club that fished on small ponds. The first aluminum boat Cox owned had a blown outboard on it that he could not afford to get fixed. But that didn’t bother him one bit. After all, he just wanted to put the boat in on ponds where he could use the trolling motor to fish around the banks.
Maybe that helps explain why Cox has mostly run aluminum boats on the Walmart FLW Tour. It might also help explain why Cox usually seeks out smaller, limited access backwaters connected to lakes during Tour events.
“These big lakes confuse me,” Cox laughs. “I feel much more comfortable fishing in smaller backwaters off of a main lake or river.”
Today, Cox utilized just such a secluded backwater to come from second place and win the Walmart FLW Tour presented by Evinrude and hosted by the Anderson Convention & Visitors Bureau at Lake Hartwell. His final-day weight of 16 pounds, 2 ounces was enough to nudge past Clark Wendlandt at the finish line by a mere 7 ounces. In four days, Cox accrued 67 pounds, 6 ounces to win the $100,000 payday.
This is the second time Cox has accessed an obscure area for a Tour win. His first Tour win was in 2011 at the Red River when he pushed his aluminum boat through a culvert into a backwater area to reach unpressured fish.
This week at Hartwell, Cox saved a small backwater area located far up the Seneca River in the hopes sparking off a final-day rally to win – and his plan worked.
“I’ve fished this place in other FLW Tour tournaments here at Hartwell,” Cox reveals. “It’s a small pond off the main river that is cut off by a sandbar. It’s a cool little pond, but it’s only big enough for a one-day catch. In low water it’s harder to get into because of the sandbar but with water high like it is now, it’s not a problem to access.”
Cox fished the pond in other Tour events during the qualifying days and it earned him a check. This year he decided to reverse his strategy and save the pond for the final day, if he made it that far.
“I went and checked it practice this year and had three good bites,” he says. “I decided right then to just save it as back up because there were plenty of bedding fish down the lake to catch for the first couple of days.”
During the first three days, Cox relied on his savvy sight-fishing skills to climb atop the leaderboard. On day two, he caught a 20-pound, 5-ounce bag that put him in the lead. That hefty limit was anchored by two brutes – one weighing 6-11 – that came from skipping a wacky rig around docks.
He fell to second behind Wendlandt on day three and sat just 1-pound, 5-ounces off the lead.
With deteriorating weather conditions for sight-fishing on day four, Cox felt the time was right to make the run up the river and get into a place he felt the most comfortable – a pond.
Cox knew he had made the right decision when his first fish of the day was 5-pounder that struck his bait twice. The first time, he had the fish on, but the hook flexed enough for the fish to wiggle free. He returned to the fish a bit later and caught her on the first cast. At that point he knew he had a chance to stage a comeback and retake the lead.
For the rest of the day Cox circled the pond just like he used to do back in his johnboat-only days. His primary weapon in the pond was a 3/8-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait (black and blue) with a Strike King Menace Grub trailer. In all, the pond produced about 8 keepers, including the 5-pounder, three 3-pounders and a 2 pounder – just enough to overtake Wendlandt.
During the first three days, Cox used wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senkos and Zoom Trick Worms (watermelon and green pumpkin) in the mid portion of the lake to skip docks and sight fish. The wacky rigs were fished on 10-pound test braid tied to 10-pound test leader and skipped with a SJ842-MHX spinning rod.
“That rod is a 7-foot, medium action and is perfect for skipping wacky rigs,” Cox says. “It has plenty of tip to skip and enough power to pull fish away from cover. It’s the rod I used to catch most of my weight the first three days.”
With his win, Cox now also leads the FLW Tour Angler of the Year race with 389 points.
Top 10 pros
1. John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 67-6 (20) – $100,000
2. Clark Wendlandt – Leander, Texas – 66-15 (20) – $30,000
3. Jamie Horton – Centerville, Ala. – 62-9 (20) – $25,200
4. Jeff Gustafson – Keewatin, Ontario – 59-14 (20) – $20,500
5. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 59-8 (20) – $19,100
6. Darrel Robertson – Jay, Okla. – 59-3 (20) – $18,000
7. Larry Nixon – Bee Branch, Ark. – 57-14 (20) – $17,000
8. Cory Johnston – Cavan, Ontario – 56-5 (20) – $16,000
9. Peter Thliveros – Saint Augustine, Fla. – 55-0 (20) – $15,000
10. Powell Kemp – Scotland Neck, N.C. – 54-10 (20) – $14,000