FLW is looking forward to getting back on the water for the 2020 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit in a few weeks. In the meantime, we’re offering a little retrospective on some of the all-time greats who’ve fished with FLW through the years.
This time around, we’re shining the spotlight on John Cox, who, in just nine-plus years fishing FLW’s highest level, has already established himself as one of the best bass anglers on the planet. When it comes to shallow-water power-fishing, there might not be a close second.
About John Cox:
Hometown: DeBary, Fla.
Career earnings with FLW: $1,432,924
Career FLW wins: 7
Career FLW top 10s: 33
FLW Cup appearances: 7
Here’s a look at 10 highlights from Cox’s career from over the years:
1. Rookie success
It took John Cox all of four Tour-level FLW events to notch his first win – a $100,000 victory on the Red River in 2011. The 25-year-old rookie led wire-to-wire and edged out another FLW all-time great in Mark Rose by more than 5 pounds. That top 10 also included the likes of Darrel Robertson, Gary Yamamoto, Brent Ehrler and David Dudley. So, you know, not too shabby, all in all.
Cox has since made a name for himself as a guy who likes to fish areas most wouldn’t think of bringing a boat and this tournament was our first glimpse of how the "Tin Man" would come to be. For the first few days of the event Cox pushed and pulled his 17-foot Jon boat through a culvert to reach a secluded backwater where he would catch back-to-back 14-pound limits (two of the biggest limits weighed all week).
Here’s an excerpt from the article on Cox’s win:
But there was fishing to be done to warrant a celebration, and here's how he did it. On days one and two, Cox accessed a backwater area downstream in Pool 4 via a seemingly impassible culvert; it was an area he learned about at a tournament two years ago. He fished out of a 17-foot aluminum boat with a small 75-hp engine and even took all but one battery out to lighten his load as much as possible. Still, it was incredibly difficult to pass through the tunnel, which was so shallow it caused his boat to bottom out and get stuck.
You can watch the entire Red River show here.
Cox would go on to finish 13th at Kentucky Lake the following month and secure his first FLW Cup appearance, in which he finished 26th on Lake Ouachita.
That was his first Cup appearance, but it probably wasn’t his most memorable. That one would come a little later.
2. The turning point
Cox struggled following his rookie breakout, finishing 81st and 144th in points in 2012 and 2013, respectively. And while 2014 resulted in a 67th-place points finish, it marked a turning point for Cox in his pursuit of bass fishing stardom.
After a 175th-place finish at Okeechobee – unusual for the Florida hammer, to say the least – Cox turned in back-to-back top fives in the following events at Hartwell and Rayburn (where Cox would find a lot more success later in his career). That seems to be the point when Cox got back on track, earning $38,000 between those two events, which finally afforded enough breathing room to not have to worry as much about the financial constraints of fishing for a living. He finished the year with $52,000 in winnings and two of his 33 career top-10 finishes with FLW, to date.
3. Talent realized
If 2014 was the turning point, 2015 was a full-on coming-out party for the man affectionately known as “Tin Man.” Since that season, Cox has finished in the top 10 in Angler of the Year points all but once.
That 2015 season included three more top 10s and a 12th-place finish, culminating in a 22nd-place showing at the FLW Cup. It was another taste of success for Cox and a true indicator of what was to come.
Success begets success, and winning money builds confidence. Cox earned $86,904 worth of confidence that year and set the stage for one of the most impressive five-plus-year runs in FLW history.
4. Win No. 2
Cox got revenge on Okeechobee after that 2014 disaster with a 12th-place finish to open the 2016 season. He also finished 13th at Beaver Lake that year and 21st at Pickwick, but the headline to that point was Cox’s second Tour-level win of his career, which came at Lake Hartwell in March.
To that point, many had noticed Cox’s affinity for fishing out of an aluminum rig and forcing his way into the skinniest backwaters he could find. His win on Hartwell, though, made people realize that, while it wasn’t the norm among pro bass anglers, it’s an approach that makes Cox more – not less – dangerous. That win proved that Cox fishing to his strengths is every bit as impressive as anyone else fishing to theirs.
Cox needed a lot on day four at Hartwell to steal the victory from the likes of Clark Wendlandt (second) and Bryan Thrift (fifth) and Larry Nixon (seventh) and Peter Thliveros (ninth). What he had was a section of backwater he’d been saving for when he needed it – from which he pulled 16 pounds, 2 ounces to edge out Wendlandt by 7 ounces.
Impressive, to be sure, but that win is a footnote compared to what happened to finish the season.
5. Becoming a Cup champion
Few things separate professional anglers from their peers like a major championship victory. The momentum was in Cox’s favor to add one of his own in 2016, and in August on Wheeler Lake, Cox found out that a $300,000 check is a whole lot sweeter than the $100,000 version he’d earned at Hartwell, and a big shiny trophy may be sweeter even than that.
Like in his first-ever FLW Tour win, Cox went wire-to-wire on Wheeler. And like both wins before it, Cox relied on his aluminum rig and a whole lot of perseverance to get the job done, spending 40 minutes each day forcing his way into the back of Cotaco Creek to get to his Cup-winning spot.
Giving John Cox shallow water, grass and a frog rod is akin to giving Michelangelo a paint brush and a bare chapel ceiling. To date, it’s hard to argue that Cox’s Cup win on Wheeler isn’t his masterpiece.
But there was still a lot of winning to come.
6. The Million-Dollar Man
Cox had banked more than $920,000 with FLW following his Cup win at Wheeler, and he went on to earn another $72,688 in 2017, leaving him just $5,776 short of eclipsing the $1 million mark.
The 2018 season started at Okeechobee, and unlike in 2014, Cox got the job done by just missing the weekend cut but finishing in 31st place nonetheless. With that finish, Cox earned $10,000 and a became the newest member of the $1 Million Club.
To date, Cox has earned $1,432,924 with FLW across all tournament circuits.
7. AOY Near-Miss
After finishing sixth in the AOY points race in 2018, Cox entered the 2019 season as one of the favorites to cement himself as a superstar of the sport with an AOY title. To do so, he’d have to outperform Bryan Thrift, David Dudley, Scott Martin and a handful of other usual suspects always in the running.
Cox’s season started at Sam Rayburn and resulted in a 32nd-place finish – his third worst of the year. He then very nearly missed a win on Lake Toho the following event, coming up less than 5 pounds short of winner Buddy Gross for second place.
From there it was 51st at Seminole and fourth at Grand Lake. Two top fives in three events isn’t too shabby, especially when you consider that one of them – Grand Lake – was an exceedingly tough derby thanks to cold and wet weather conditions that left the field scrambling for whatever pattern they could find. That event was a far cry from the sunshine and warmth of Toho in Cox’s home state, and he managed to make the top five in both.
Following a win at the Lake Chickamauga event in May (more on that in a minute), Cox headed to Lake Champlain for the FLW Tour’s final stop of the regular season, one point ahead of Dudley, who knows his way around Northern smallmouth fisheries. Cox had a great event – 26th place – but Dudley is Dudley. The Virginia pro finished seventh to snatch away Cox’s AOY hopes. When you lose the AOY lead to a man who sewed up his record fourth AOY title, there’s really nothing to be ashamed about.
Some may consider an AOY runner-up a “greatest miss,” but that only takes away from an incredible season for both Cox and Dudley, both of whom deserved to win one of the most exciting points races in FLW history.
8. Two magic trees and win No. 4
What set up Cox’s near-miss AOY finish in 2019 was an event on Lake Chickamauga in May that cemented Chick as Cox’s favorite lake in the country. Sure, he won a Cup on Wheeler and a couple other Tour events on the Red River and Hartwell, but none of those fisheries has any magic trees.
Cox jumped out to an early lead in the tournament with 24-11 on day one, but he saw that lead go to Matt Greenblatt on day two and then rookie Ron Nelson on day three. After a strong start, Cox slipped to third entering the final day, 2 pounds, 7 ounces off the lead.
Day four seemed like another missed opportunity for Cox, who struggled throughout the day to get much going with his sight-fishing pattern. He was up against the clock and all but defeated with 10 minutes to fish when he remembered something about the lake: a pair of cypress trees under which he’d caught some big fish in the past.
With just minutes to fish, Cox made a cast to one of the trees and broke off what could have been a $100,000 fish. He cast to the next tree and landed a 4-pounder. He made one more cast to the first tree and landed another 4-pounder. Heartbreak, excitement and then elation.
Cox made it back in time, and, by his own admission, had tears in his eyes on the run back to check-in. He knew he had the winning fish in his livewell thanks to that last-minute hunch and Hail Mary.
Cox won by less than 2 pounds, and while he’d won bigger checks with more prestige tied to them in the past, that one was special. From FLW’s winner article on Cox following the event:
“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.”
9. Two circuits
In 2019, along with fishing a full schedule of FLW Tour events, Cox participated in Bassmaster Central Open and Eastern Open events, finishing second and fourth in the standings, respectively, and earning qualification to the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2020.
While many anglers were making decisions about what trail they wanted to fish this season, Cox opted for both FLW and B.A.S.S.
There aren’t many pros who could handle fishing both Tour-level schedules, but Cox is a different cat. The guy just loves fishing, and he especially loves fishing for big paychecks against some of the best bass anglers in the world.
Cox went into 2020 with a plan to go along with his carefully coordinated travel and practice schedule that would allow him to potentially only miss one event combined between the two circuits.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made all that a moot point for now – and Cox will have some difficult decisions ahead with some overlap between FLW’s and B.A.S.S.’s revamped schedules – but it’s no less impressive that Cox was able to qualify for both trails and prepare to fish the majority of both.
10. A new skill and win No. 5
Speaking of pre-COVID-19 2020, a list of Cox’s greatest hits couldn’t be complete without a win that highlighted his prowess at cranking.
Yeah, Cox has seemingly added a new trick to his arsenal in 2020, and we can’t wait to see what he does with it when the 2020 schedule resumes.
During the offseason following 2019, Cox decided he wanted to hone his cranking skills – a blind spot he realized hindered his performance in 2019, namely at Grand Lake when he had a chance to eke out a victory. So, he dedicated the time and resources to getting familiar with the Berkley Frittside line of crankbaits, with which he earned maybe his most impressive win to date on Sam Rayburn to start the 2020 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season.
Cox spent the first two days of the event – a tough one by Rayburn standards – cranking one little area that kept replenishing with quality fish. He made the same cast over and over again, sitting in the same spot, which more than likely drove him nuts. But for a guy who’s known for covering a bunch of shallow water, it’s pretty impressive that Cox was able to commit to what turned out to be the winning approach.
Sure, Cox had to abandon that spot when it dried up on days three and four and scramble around with a swim jig in hand to get the win, but that just goes to show how talented Cox is. He’s really, really good power-fishing shallow water, but that’s not all he can do.
And jokes aside, winning five Tour-level events in 10 years is kind of bonkers.
Honorable mention: Cox’s best catch
If this list were in order of importance, Cox would likely put this one at the very top.
To put the finishing touches on perhaps his best year ever, Cox tied the knot with his girlfriend of three years, Melissa, to close out 2019.
The two got married at the end of December and spent New Year’s driving from northern California to Lake Tahoe to Death Valley and Las Vegas.
Arguably his best catch ever.