SCOTTSBORO, Ala. – They say when it’s your time, everything just goes right. Well, even when it all went wrong for Griffin Heffington, it still turned out right this week.
From a terrible practice with only three bites, to electronics issues throughout the week, to Day 1 being canceled, to blown trolling motor batteries the final morning – nothing seemed to go right for Heffington during the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event on Lake Guntersville. Then again, the optimist would say the opposite, because every obstacle turned out to be a blessing that allowed the young pro to blow away the field. He brought in the biggest bag of the event – 27 pounds, 9 ounces – on Day 1, and then backed it up with 24-12 today for a 52-5 total to win, which was nearly 10 pounds more than second place. For the win, Heffington takes home $65,000 and his first MLF trophy.
“Wow … this is wild,” Heffington said after winning. “This is the last thing I was expecting.”
Zero bites the first couple days of practice will certainly temper expectations, and that’s what happened to Heffington.
Despite working with former college teammates Ethan Shaw and eventual eighth-place-finisher Jake Lee, none of them could find any baitfish anywhere. Finally, on Wednesday, Heffington decided to try looking around the first bridge in Spring Creek for bait.
“Immediately, I saw the bait on Garmin LiveScope, and I was like, ‘dang,’” Heffington said. “I made two casts and caught a 5-pounder, and then started looking around more. I realized there were like 200 fish there, and they were all freaks.”
Freaks that he had to wait an extra day to fish for, as Thursday was canceled due to the threat of severe storms. That front brought wind and miserable conditions on Friday that hampered many anglers. Many, but not Heffington. Tossing a Picasso Bait Ball Pulse Jr. Umbrella Rig with True Bass Hollow Body Swimbaits and protected from the wind by the bridge, Heffington used his sonar to seek out the suspended fish hanging out off the bridge in 25-40 feet of water. And he didn’t have to look hard. Though, getting them to bite could be tricky with so much bait around.
Still, he got a bunch fired up on Day 1 and had a 20-pound limit by 9:30 a.m. That was big in itself, but come the afternoon he got the true surprise. While hitting another bridge to try and help his co-angler catch his fish, he fired up shallow with a Rapala DT 6 and caught a 7-12 to turn a big bag into a megabag to lead Day 1.
Of course, things didn’t get easier. Takeoff temperatures of 25 degrees caused issues for many, but Heffington’s issues came when he realized his trolling motor batteries were blown. Fortunately, he was able to swap batteries with the camera boat for MLF’s on-the-water crew and get back to fishing. Sure enough, a little after 9:30 a.m. he was able to start catching fish. Though the high pressure made it far tougher today, he said.
Still, far tougher is relative when the six bites you catch still produce one of the biggest bags of the event to help you get the first major victory of your young career.
“Honestly, I’m shocked,” Heffington said. “Slugfests are not my thing. I tend to compete when weights are lower. It’s just always been a struggle for me to catch a big bag, to crack over 20 pounds.
“So, this week, with everything that went wrong … I don’t know. When you’re on the winning fish or it’s meant to happen, it just happens.”
1. Griffin Heffington – 52 – 5 (10)
2. Corey Bradley – 42 – 14 (10)
3. Gabe Jelley – 42 – 12 (10)
4. Aaron Stephens – 41 – 15 (10)
5. Terry Fisher – 41 – 14 (10)
6. Josh Bragg – 41 – 13 (10)
7. Vernon Lowe – 39 – 11 (10)
8. Jake Lee – 39 – 10 (8)
9. Isaac Warta – 37 – 14 (10)
10. Travis Alcock – 36 – 7 (10)