Heading into the final Costa FLW Series Central Division event of the year on Lake of the Ozarks – presented by Evinrude – shorts and T-shirts were the norm. Day one, however, welcomed a cold front that made it feel more like fall with highs in the mid 50s and a decent northwest wind. The fish didn’t seem to mind, and Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., took the early lead by snatching 21 pounds, 3 ounces. It's a tight race behind him with weights fairly stacked and a pile of experienced locals looking to climb the ranks.
Cifuentes’ last two trips to Lake of the Ozarks in the Central Division didn't leave the best taste in his mouth. His weight today is already a pound more than his two-day weight from 2017, proving that learning something from each tournament can pay off down the road.
“I’ve been fishing the Central Division of the Costa Series for the last three years,” Cifuentes says. “I have not done good on [Lake of the Ozarks] in the past. But I’ve learned a lot in the past trips here. The way I’m fishing this year is the same as how I fished last year, except I caught three huge ones today.”
It’s no secret that docks are money on the Missouri impoundment, and Cifuentes is thoroughly working them over. But sometimes you need a little luck to help move you in the right direction.
“I got lucky today, I’ll admit that,” he continues. “I caught a 5-pounder and motored over to another dock that looked right and caught a 6-pounder and a 5-pounder on back-to-back flips. That’s pretty hard to replicate.
“It was a special day and I don’t think I can catch that many big ones off the same spot like today, but I don’t see a reason why I couldn’t catch another solid limit tomorrow.”
By the book, the topwater bite should be on fire right now, but Mother Nature thinks otherwise. Warm water temps in the 70s have fish scattered, along with the bait. Cifuentes tried to make the topwater bite work in practice, but quickly realized that you have to drop a bait on them. From there, he dialed in one bait and perfect pattern to run on the thousands of docks on Lake of the Ozarks.
“I tried throwing a topwater a little bit this morning, but the fish kept swirling on it and not eating it. I put it down and started flipping docks and never left the creek I was in for the rest of the day.
“I got it pretty dialed in to where I have to keep the boat in a certain position and put the bait in a certain depth to get bit. If you’re not at that depth, you don’t get bit.”
The nice thing about Lake of the Ozarks is that you can run a pattern across almost the entire lake when you get on one. Cifuentes doesn’t doubt he can do that, but notes the lack of traffic is also helping him out.
“I think I saw two other guys run in to where I was fishing today. I like where I’m fishing because there’s just not as many boats. I have another creek I’ll probably fish tomorrow that I feel should be about the same way.
“To be honest, I hate flipping docks. I never do it at home, but it is something you need to do here. If you look at the top 10 every year, there are guys either flipping docks or fishing around them, so I’m going to running my pattern and doing what I think is best to catch fish.”
Top 10 pros:
1. Joey Cifuentes – Clinton, Ark. – 21-3 (5)
2. Joel Rumsey – Waverly, Tenn. – 19-12 (5)
3. Jason Vance – Battle Ground, Ind. – 19-8 (5)
4. David Ryan – Levasy, Mo. – 19-1 (5)
5. Dan Martin – Elmhurst, Ill. – 18-3 (5)
6. Arnold Payne Jr. – Kokomo, Ind. – 18-0 (5)
7. Garrett Paquette – Canton, Mich. – 18-0 (5)
8. Jim Stamper – Montreal, Mo. – 17-2 (5)
9. Kelly Readhimer – Beech Bluff, Tenn. – 17-0 (5)
10. Drew Sanford – Springfield, Mo. – 16-7 (5)
Hankinson takes co-angler lead
In just his first season fishing the Costa FLW Series, Dan Hankinson of Paola, Kan., caught the biggest limit of his brief career worth 14-5 to hold just a 3-ounce lead over local Bob Bueltmann heading into Friday.
Top 10 co-anglers:
1. Dan Hankinson – Paola, Kan. – 14-5 (5)
2. Bob Bueltmann – Osage Beach, Mo. – 14-2 (5)
3. Jacob Bovara – Wadsworth, Ill. – 13-10 (5)
4. Bill Fortel – Chesterfield, Mo. – 12-7 (5)
5. Frank Divis Sr. – Farmington, Ark. – 12-0 (5)
6. Jason Howland – Albert Lea, Minn. – 11-14 (5)
7. Kevin McKnight – Camdenton, Mo. – 11-5 (5)
8. Steve Freeman – Eddyville, Ky. – 11-4 (5)
9. Tyrone Phillips – Little Rock, Ark. – 11-1 (5)
10. Phil Williams Jr. – Jamestown, Ky. – 10-6 (3)