John Cox considers Lake Chickamauga his favorite lake in the country. On Sunday, it cemented itself as the lake that gave Cox his favorite and most memorable win.
With 21 pounds on Championship Sunday and 83-9 for the tournament, Cox won the FLW Tour event on Chickamauga, presented by Evinrude, thanks in big part to a couple trees the nine-year Tour pro forgot about until the waning moments of day four.
“I’m telling you, it was an amazing day,” Cox says. “I can’t believe this. All day I kept going and going. Right at the end… the last ten minutes was just unreal.
“It was last-minute. I don’t know why, it just popped into [my] head, ‘Go to the trees,’ and I went to them and it was unreal. It was the first cast to them.”
The first cast he’s talking about is the cast that almost broke his heart. Cox pulled up to the pair of trees he’d fished so many times before – but not once during this tournament – with the clock ticking on the end of his day. He hooked a big fish and lost it. It might have been a $100,000 fish.
Cox then went to the next tree and landed a 4-pounder. And then right back to the previous tree, where he’d just lost a big one, to land another 4-pounder, which ultimately sealed the deal on his tournament-winning bag.
“I’m not going to lie, when I caught those two fish real quick in the last 10 minutes, I got all worked up,” he admits. “I’m running back and tears are coming out. I felt something. It felt better than any other tournament any time I’ve won before. It was overwhelming. I’m getting chills thinking about it. I’ve never felt like that before.”
And Cox has had some amazing wins. He already has more hardware than he knows what to do with, including trophies from FLW Tour wins on Hartwell and the Red River, as well as an FLW Cup win on Wheeler. But this one just felt different.
Apart from Chick being his favorite lake in the country, the win also moves Cox into the lead for Angler of the Year, just one point ahead of FLW’s all-time leading money winner, David Dudley (fifth place this week). That means more than anything to Cox, who’s highest finishes in Tour AOY have been sixth (2018) and second (2015). He’s chasing his first title.
“I want it so bad,” he admits. “Champlain (the Tour’s final regular-season event), I’ve been going there forever – since I was like 20. I really want to win there too, but the AOY would be awesome.
“It’s exciting. I really want to win the points. When you lose the points, it always comes down to a dead fish or the top five or six not weighing a fish, not having a limit a day. Whatever it is, it’s always so close. When you don’t win the points and you tried so hard all year, it’s like losing 10 tournaments all at one time. You feel sick. It’s the worst feeling ever.”
Cox talks about how bad it feels to lose the AOY race, but he does it with a smile. The DeBary, Fla., pro is always smiling. He’s always laughing. When things are going well – and even when they aren’t – you’re not likely to see a downtrodden John Cox.
So even after Cox lost the lead to Matt Greenblatt on day two with his smallest bag of the tournament, he wasn’t beating himself up. He came back the next day and weighed in 19-15 to get right back in position to finish the job on Sunday.
Day four didn’t quite start as Cox had planned, though. As Cox put it, he “scrambled most of the tournament,” abandoning his sight-fishing pattern (or at least forgoing it for a while) when the big females he had marked disappeared and the weather turned ugly.
At that point, Cox turned to a white 1/2-ounce Dirty Jigs swim jig with a white Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Meaty Chunk trailer. He used that bait to run shallow water, blind-casting his way to a near-20-pound bag on day three.
But on Sunday, that bite started to dry up. Fortunately, he was able to catch a big bedding female he’d tried to catch all of the previous three days.
When time was winding down and Cox needed a couple big fish, he turned back to his sight-fishing go-to in the form of a 6-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General stickbait in a baby bass color. He didn’t use it in that capacity, though. He just used it to blind-cast to a couple trees that would produce his winning 4-pounders.
Cox is a sight-fishing extraordinaire, but he’s also just an all-around shallow-water hammer. Part of that comes from experience, and his experience this week was telling him to just go with his gut.
“I was just kind of targeting wherever I felt a big one would be,” he explains. “I mixed it up. I fished some sawgrass, some laydowns, some cypress trees, straight banks. I just bounced around.”
That’s the John Cox way, really: Fish what looks good and feels right. He does what he does best and he does it better than anyone else.
Now, the road ahead is clear for Cox. He’s one event away from an AOY title and the FLW Tour trifecta: win a regular-season Tour event, win an FLW Cup and win AOY.
What makes it all even better for Cox is that he’s going from his favorite lake to his second-favorite, Champlain, at the end of June. And with all due respect to Chickamauga, it’s hard to believe Champlain won’t claim the title of “favorite lake” if he’s able to lock down Angler-of-the-Year honors on her waters.
It all boils down to this: The 33-year-old Cox is already one of the best anglers on the planet. His resume is superb. He’s a threat to win any event. And an AOY title is back within his reach, and it’s his to lose.
This time around, with all the momentum pushing him toward Champlain, Cox is as hungry as he’s ever been. This time around, he’s out to prove something, and he’ll do it with a smile on his face.
Top 10 pros
1. John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 83-9 (20) – $102,700
2. Buddy Gross – Chickamauga, Ga. – 81-14 (20) – $30,100
3. Ron Nelson – Berrien Springs, Mich. – 80-5 (20) – $25,000
4. Matt Greenblatt – Port St. Lucie, Fla. – 80-0 (20) – $20,000
5. David Dudley – Lynchburg, Va. – 78-9 (20) – $19,000
6. Ramie Colson Jr. – Cadiz, Ky. – 76-7 (20) – $18,000
7. Alex Davis – Albertville, Ala. – 74-12 (20) – $17,000
8. Jared McMillan – Belle Glade, Fla. – 74-12 (20) – $16,000
9. David Williams – Maiden, N.C. – 69-9 (20) – $15,000
10. Austin Felix – Eden Prairie, Minn. – 66-10 (20) – $14,000