Anglers who have fished the Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine in the southeast any length of time know the name Kip Carter of Mansfield, Ga. For years, Carter has pocketed plenty of checks from both leagues with a career total of 50 top 10s. In 2008, he sought to take his fishing career to the national level on the then FLW Tour, but that same year, the economy tanked and Carter, who has a construction business, took a hit. With that, he had to back down to the Phoenix Bass Fishing League to scratch his fishing itch.
This year, Carter decided to jump back into regional competition with the Southeastern Division of the Toyota Series, and in just his second event back, he found his way to the winner’s circle at Wheeler Lake.
Carter’s win this week is particularly special to him since he used his 2002 aluminum tunnel hull “beater” rig to help him get the job done.
“I’ve had that tunnel hull for 16 years,” Carter says. “It’s a special boat to me. That boat has more epic fishing stories than all the other boats I’ve owned combined. I bought it to fish the Ocmulgee River, which is a shallow, shoaly-type river, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that it worked pretty darn good in a lot of lakes that have shallow backwaters and silted-in creeks.
“To be able to just run in out of creeks – over those big silted-in flats – at will, without worrying about hitting anything makes it an invaluable tool here on these lakes in the southeast.”
When it comes to shallow, silted-in creeks and backwaters, Wheeler Lake fits the bill, and Carter knew his tunnel hull would be an asset this week.
“Wheeler gets really tough in the summertime,” he says. “You can catch a few fish in the creeks, but you have to check so many creeks to find out which ones are good. That’s really when getting around in a tunnel comes in handy.”
After running a lot of creeks in practice, Carter settled on Limestone Creek as his best shot at winning. Limestone has multiple tiny creeks seeping into it, and Carter utilized several of them throughout the week.
“Once I knew Limestone is where I would fish, I almost towed the tunnel hull back to Georgia to trade it for my Ranger,” he admits. “But that’s a four-hour drive one way, so I decided to stick it out in the tournament in my old tunnel.”
Carter’s craft offered an advantage in the tournament as well, allowing him to switch creek heads in Limestone at will. He never had to idle to wait for deeper water to get on pad. In addition, he could actually set down and fish in the vast, silted flats that many bigger boats have to “burn” over to get back into the deeper channels of the creeks. In fact, Carter initially fished in the deeper parts of the creeks until he realized the very flats everyone was running over is where the better fish were.
“I would fish back in the true creeks when it was sunny and slick,” he says. “And I did catch a few fish that way, but if the wind got up and we got some clouds, I’d go back out into the flats. When it got right in those flats, I could catch those better 4-pound fish out there.”
Of course, the tunnel hull could only get Carter to the fish efficiently. From there, it was up to him to catch the fish and get them in the livewell. When it comes to grinding out fish from the dirt, that’s in his wheelhouse.
During the week, Carter did most of his damage with two lures: a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs buzzbait teamed with a black Zoom Horny Toad and a 3/8-ounce white swim jig with a Zoom Super Chunk, also white.
“The first couple of days, the swim jig was the key player,” Carters says. “Today, it was all about the buzzbait. The wind and clouds probably helped that bite – and I had some vicious bites on it today.”
After leading the tournament going into the final day by just 1 pound, 7 ounces, Carter put an exclamation point on his win with the tournament’s best limit today weighing 15 pounds, 8 ounces. His three-day total of 41 pounds, 14 ounces gave him nearly a 5-pound margin of victory.
“This win has been a long time coming,” Carter adds. “I did a lot of celebrating out on the water today with some special fish catches. It’s something to finally pull one of these tournaments off; I get choked up just thinking about it.”