If you’re like everyone on staff here at FLW, your focus right now is on spending time with family and enjoying the holidays before the start of another busy fishing season. Of course, if you live up north, your season might be several months away. In the South, we’re kicking things off nine days after Christmas with the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division opener on Lake Amistad. The FLW Tour gets rolling just one week later at Sam Rayburn.
Before everyone fully transitions into the 2019 season, however, we wanted to take a quick walk back through some of the highlights of 2018. It was a long, exciting and eventful year that included record-breaking performances, tragedy, career-making wins and a lot of change that will impact our industry for the foreseeable future.
Here, then, is a glimpse at some of the more memorable moments from 2018. From everyone at FLW, thank you for your support and participation. We look forward to seeing you on the water in 2019.
Jan. 25 – FLW pros and staff honor Nik Kayler
On the first day of the FLW Tour opener at Lake Okeechobee, FLW observed a moment of silence in memory of Nik Kayler, the co-angler who drowned in Okeechobee at the Costa FLW Series opener a few weeks earlier. Three blasts from a siren – the universal call for man overboard – were then followed by a flare that was shot outside the lock wall at takeoff. It was just one of many tributes paid to the father, husband, military veteran, dedicated bass angler and member of the FLW family who lost his life doing what he loved. Click here to watch a beautiful video of the moment of silence created by Rob Matsuura. You can also still donate to the GoFundMe account set up to support Nik’s family.
Jan. 27 – McMillan splashes down for most impressive fish catch of the season
In terms of wins and dollars earned, it might not have been the most important fish catch of Brandon McMillan’s career, but when the Florida pro practically went swimming for one on day three of the FLW Tour opener on Lake Okeechobee, and the entire sequence was captured on a GoPro, the catch wound up as probably the most impressive of the season. McMillan hooked the fish in a thick mat and quickly fought it to the surface. When he tried to swing it, the fish spit the hook and wallowed on top of the mat. McMillan dove to his stomach and lunged for the fish before sliding right over the gunwale and into the lake. Somehow, McMillan was able to scoop the bass and sling it back into the boat. The only way he was able to avoid a penalty was by keeping one hand in the boat the entire time. There’s no word on whether he ever recovered the flip-flop that slipped off in the drink.
Feb. 10 – Bethel’s Floyd, McNeil pound 28-plus at Seminole
Bethel University’s dominant collegiate bass fishing program got off to a hot start in February when two of its teams topped the field at Lake Seminole. Cole Floyd and Carter McNeil led the way with 28 pounds, 1 ounce, which is the third-heaviest single-day catch in YETI FLW College Fishing history. Kyler Chelminiak and Ricky Harris of Bethel took second with 21-6. While Bethel’s team is filled with rising stars, Floyd stands out above most. He’s the two-time reigning BFL LBL Division AOY, finished second in the 2017 Costa FLW Series Central Division AOY standings, earned seven top-10 finishes in three FLW circuits in 2017 and added another six in 2018.
Feb. 15 – Lasyone blasts 31-6 at Rayburn
Kevin Lasyone started the Southwestern Division of the Costa FLW Series off right at Sam Rayburn with a day-one limit of 31 pounds, 6 ounces to jump way out in front by more than 6 pounds. He went on to win the two-day, weather-shortened tournament by nearly 11 pounds after adding 21-11 on day two. Lasyone’s day-one limit is the third-heaviest single-day weight in FLW history at Sam Rayburn.
Feb. 23 – Johnston catches 25-plus on GoPro, twice
Chris Johnston put together two stellar tournaments in Florida to kick off his season. He finished 10th at the FLW Tour opener on Okeechobee and first at the second Tour stop on Harris Chain. At each tournament, he weighed a mega-bag on day two – 28-7 at Okeechobee and 25-7 at Harris – and both were caught on GoPro. Here’s the footage:
March 3 – New college field size record set at Guntersville
In 2017, a new record for largest YETI FLW College Fishing field was set at Lake Guntersville when 248 teams participated in the second Southeastern Conference event of the season. A little over a year later, that record was surpassed when Lake Guntersville hosted 273 teams for another Southeastern Conference derby. John Lambert and Logan Brewster from the University of Tennessee won the event with 25 pounds, 9 ounces.
March 8 – Hallman tames a passel of “spotopotamuses”
With all the big weights brought in throughout the 2018 tournament season, a 23-pound, 11-ounce limit doesn’t seem like much to brag about, but Bradley Hallman did it with five spotted bass on day one at the FLW Tour event on Lake Lanier. That’s a mega-bag of spots any way you look at it. Hallman went on to win the tournament with a 68-4 four-day total. Along the way, he introduced FLW fans to the term “fence panda,” or spotted bass that hang out around the floating break walls outside marinas in clear mountain reservoirs – a component of his multi-pattern winning strategy. See Hallman blasting “spotopotamuses” on day two in this video. Watch his Day 5 video here.
March 10 – Guido Hibdon passes away
Bass fishing Hall-of-Famer, outdoor legend and beloved angler Guido Hibdon passed away on March 10. Hibdon, who had been fighting cancer, competed for decades at the top of the sport, and by the time his career ended a few seasons ago, he was one of three Hibdon generations casting for cash in the pro ranks. His skills with a compact jig and other finesse tackle, honed on the clear-water reservoirs of the Missouri Ozarks, are part of what made Guido a success on the water. Off the water, his peers remember him as a mentor to up-and-comers, as well as a constant source of support for anyone who needed it. Click here to read a series of tributes to Guido Hibdon from anglers and others in the industry who knew him best.
March 11 – J-Mac enjoys a rad start to the season
Even though Jared McMillan wasn’t technically an FLW Tour rookie in 2018 (because he’d cherry picked a couple of Tour-level events in Florida earlier in his career), it was his first full year on the circuit, and most folks viewed him as essentially a rookie. He sure didn’t fish like it, though. McMillan opened the season by finishing fourth at Okeechobee, ninth at Harris Chain and 20th at Lake Lanier, where he took over the Angler of the Year lead. It appeared McMillan was ready to keep the AOY train rolling when he weighed in 16-12 on day one at stop No. 4 on Lake Cumberland, but he gave up the points lead on day two when he brought in just three fish for 7-1 and wound up in 78th place. Overall, J-Mac had a stellar season, finishing 19th in the standings and qualifying for the Cup. See him in action on day one at Harris Chain.
March 24 & Oct. 6 – Two Southwestern Division events end by tiebreaker
Ties happen in bass fishing, but to have back-to-back Southwestern Division events end in ties is surely an anomaly that won’t ever happen again. In March, Christopher Jones and Jeff Sprague tied at Grand Lake with 47 pounds, 3 ounces, while Tommy Dickerson and Kyle Cortiana tied at Fort Gibson with 32-6 in October. Only two other first-place ties have ever occurred in Costa FLW Series competition. In each case, the tiebreaker went to the angler who had the higher weight going into the final day, granting the Ws to Jones and Dickerson.
April 7 – LBL Division has a wintry takeoff, BFL hammers shine
April is generally not a cold-weather month in western Kentucky, but Mother Nature being the jokester that she is gave anglers fishing the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League LBL Division tournament on April 7 a dose of snow and cold overnight and at takeoff. Check out the photos at this link to see more. Speaking of the LBL Division, co-angler Ryan Kirkpatrick’s performance in 2018 is worth calling out. He won that April 7 snow derby and also logged two runner-up finishes, a seventh-place finish and a 31st-place finish to win the LBL Division Co-angler of the Year award going away. Wayne Dixon, the Arkie Division AOY, also earned four regular-season top-10 finishes in one division, but he wasn’t alone. Here’s a list of the other BFL anglers who banked four top 10s in a single division this year:
Jeff Ritter (he had five)
Kudos to all those BFL standout performers.
April 15 – Thrift wins again, continues limit streak, is still incredibly good
Bryan Thrift is up to a six-pack … of FLW Tour wins, that is. The North Carolina pro battled through rainy, cold, windy conditions on Lake Cumberland in April to hold off Andy Morgan, Allen Boyd and company for the win. It was great to see Morgan back in the hunt for a win (he led the first two days), but for him, Boyd and others who were targeting largemouths in shallow flooded brush, it wasn’t meant to be. Thrift outlasted them all by fishing swimbaits for smallmouths on the lake’s lower end. The win puts Thrift in a three-way tie for third on the FLW Tour career wins list with David Fritts and Mark Rose. He trails Brent Ehrler (seven) and Scott Martin (eight). Thrift also caught a limit every day of competition this season to extend his record for consecutive limits to 63. The streak is still active. See his Lake Cumberland Day 5 video here.
April 27 – Co-angler Joel Willert goes back-to-back
Joel Willert will be fishing the FLW Tour in the front of the boat this season, but no one is questioning the rookie’s bass-fishing skills. The military veteran won back-to-back Tour events as a co-angler in April 2018, starting with Lake Cumberland and then at Smith Lake. He finished third in the Co-angler of the Year standings and earned more than $55,000. Here’s a Q&A with Willert from last summer.
May 19 – Lambert and Haynes square off for the motherlode
The FLW Live cameras weren’t even rolling yet when one of the most talked-about moments of the year occurred on day three of the FLW Tour event at Kentucky Lake. Well-known ledge master Randy Haynes was leading the derby going into the weekend, and fellow ledge hammer Jason Lambert was right behind him in the standings. Both had fished a key school on the lake’s north end during the weekday qualifying rounds. At takeoff on day three, Lambert raced around Haynes and beat his competitor to the spot. A few tense minutes ensued after Haynes arrived and the two anglers jockeyed for position to make the precise cast needed to get bit. Lambert, who had the drop on that casting line, caught several fish right away. Finally, fed up and frustrated, Haynes pulled his trolling motor and stowed his gear. “I tell you what, you can have it. I’m fixin’ to go to the damn house. I gotta go to work anyhow,” Haynes told Lambert. Haynes returned to the ramp and withdrew from the tournament. The encounter ignited several important conversations among fans of tournament bass fishing, ranging from the ethics and sportsmanship of modern tournament fishing to the pros and cons of hosting tournaments on ledge fisheries in the summertime. Regardless of where you stand on those issues or your opinion of the way each angler handled the situation, it’s a moment that likely won’t be forgotten. You can see video of the encounter and commentary from Travis Moran and Rob Newell at this video link.
May 20 – Lambert catches 100 pounds, eats pizza
After the drama with Randy Haynes on Saturday morning at Kentucky Lake, Jason Lambert finished off a 30-pound, 8-ounce limit to move almost 20 pounds (yes, 20 pounds) ahead of Scott Martin with one day left to fish. Lambert didn’t even need to compete the last day to finish in first, but he did, and he added 27-3 to join the FLW Tour Century Club with a 101-pound, 9-ounce four-day total. It’s the most weight ever in an FLW event at Kentucky Lake and the 10th-heaviest tournament total among FLW Tour events. He’s just the 11th pro to break the 100-pound mark in an FLW tournament. Not only did Lambert absolutely blow away the field (his 28-pound winning margin is an FLW Tour record), but he quit fishing at about 10:30 after putting yet another 5-pounder in the box. Lambert spent the rest of the day hanging out with fans and other anglers at the takeoff site, tending to his fish and eating pizza. Here are several videos from Lambert’s record-setting tournament:
June 2 – LeBrun lands bookend kickers
Technically, this moment began on May 31, when Nick LeBrun landed an 8-pound kicker within the first hour of competition at the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League All-American, and it ended two days later when LeBrun popped another 6-plus fish with only an hour or so left to go to seal up the victory over his good friend Randy Deaver. Both fish came while slinging a shallow-running 6th Sense crankbait around cypress trees in Cross Lake’s bayous. About that first kicker, LeBrun had this to say: “The way the day started was extremely special. I lost my dad back in February, and when I caught that first fish and it was clearly an 8-plus, I looked up, pointed to the sky and said, ‘That’s for you, Pop.’ After I put it in the livewell, I had to take about five minutes to take a breather. That fish was so big it sort of stunned me. I had to walk around the boat for a minute to compose myself.” All week, LeBrun says he felt the presence of his late father, Billy. The champ dedicated the tournament to his dad, and, on stage at the final weigh-in, recounted a special moment that occurred before takeoff that morning, when the loud speakers cued up Alan Jackson’s “Small Town Southern Man.” “That’s the song my family remembers my dad with,” LeBrun said. “When they played that song this morning, I felt my dad step into the boat with me. It’s something that’s just hard to explain.” See LeBrun in action on the final day by clicking here.
June 2 – Hunter Freeman squeaks into the Cup in College Fish-Off nail-biter
Hunter Freeman and Thomas Soileau didn’t wow anyone with big weights at the YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship Fish-Off, but there was still a healthy dose of drama at the Red River in Louisiana. Freeman made a cull with about two minutes left to fish to up his limit to 7 pounds, 11 ounces. Soileau’s weight totaled just 7-9, giving Freeman the edge, but barely. Later, at the official weigh-in, Soileau’s weight was reduced to 6-9 due to a dead-fish penalty, making things slightly less dramatic. For his win, Freeman earned a spot at the Forrest Wood Cup. See the 2018 YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship TV show at this link.
June 28 – Grigsby puts on smallmouth clinic with a spybait in wild-weight St. Clair derby
That Chad Grigsby was able to assemble the 14th-heaviest tournament total in FLW Tour history on a smallmouth fishery remains one of the most ridiculously cool moments of the season. The Minnesota pro, who grew up in Michigan, did it in a return-to-home tournament on Lake St. Clair, which is, obviously, one of the best smallmouth fisheries on the planet. Winning the final tournament of the season also earned him a spot at the Forrest Wood Cup. The way he caught many of his fish, particularly on the final day, was also noteworthy. Grigsby used a spybait to wail on ’em on Sunday to the tune of 26 pounds, 4 ounces and a tournament total of 97-8. He was one of three pros to break 90 pounds, which is just insane. Along the way on the FLW Live show Grigsby gave a great lesson in spybait fishing, breaking down his tackle and technique for the world watching. You can see that video here. Or watch him break things down in this Day 5 video.
June 30 – Rose survives for AOY
It took Mark Rose 20 years to finally achieve the highest rank among FLW Tour pros, but even then his FLW Tour Angler of the Year title didn’t come easily. Rose struggled at the Tour finale on Lake St. Clair and finished 67th, leaving the door open for Scott Martin to try to knock him from his perch at the top. Rose missed the cut on Friday but had to wait for Martin to weigh his fish at the end of the day-three weigh-in to find out his fate. Martin missed the cut, and Rose wound up AOY with a 10-point cushion over runner-up Bryan Thrift. Martin finished third.
Aug. 12 – Clent Davis laughs hysterically while going from 10th to first at the Cup
It was a few minutes before 9:30 a.m. on the final day of the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Ouachita when Clent Davis shifted gears and started his run at history. Davis, fishing a worm in deep brush, landed a 5-pound bass to go with a 2 1/2-pounder. The next keeper, another 2 1/2, unofficially put him in the lead, and he raced on to victory, coming all the way back from 10th place on the final day to win the championship. An FLW marshal video of Davis catching that 5-pounder, and his hysterical laughing reaction, went viral after it ran on the FLW Live program and, later, YouTube. “We can win this thing. We can win this thing. I’m telling you,” Davis said between laughing fits. He was right. Watch the video here.
The Year of the Enormous Smallmouth
You could say 2018 was a great year to be a smallmouth angler. In every tournament circuit, across the smallmouth belt, big weights of brown bass were brought to the scales. Several stats stand out: At the FLW Tour event on Lake St. Clair, 39 limits of more than 20 pounds were weighed in by pros and co-anglers on day one. That number increased to 50 on day two. We saw five 25-plus-pound limits in the tournament. The Costa FLW Series Northern Division opener on Lake Champlain was won by Ron Nelson with three limits of smallmouths, which doesn’t happen often thanks to the largemouth waters of Ticonderoga. At the Northern Division’s second stop on Lake Erie out of Buffalo, weather shortened the tournament to just one day, but it was a doozy. Pros brought in 44 limits of at least 20 pounds, and co-anglers added nine more. On the first day of the Northern Division finale at 1,000 Islands, 46 pros topped 20 pounds, and 11 co-anglers joined them. On day two, the 20-pound-plus limits totaled 30 for pros and five for co-anglers. In the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Michigan Division derby on St. Clair on July 14, 26 20-plus limits were weighed, but the real story was champ Heath Wagner’s 28-pound, 15-ounce limit. Ronnie Goshen kept the trend alive at the Michigan Division Super Tournament in mid-September with the win and limits of 23-10 and 28 pounds even. That tournament saw 38 limits of more than 20 on day one between boaters and co-anglers, and 10 more by the 17 boaters and 17 co-anglers who made the cut to day two. Holy bronzeback beatdown …
Nov. 3 – Chris Jones pays tribute to Ron Lappin
Ron Lappin certainly felt the love all season long. The longtime FLW tournament director announced before the beginning of the 2018 season that it would be his last one leading the Costa FLW Series. Throughout the year, anglers and friends thanked Lappin and wished him well when they came across the weigh-in stage, but few tributes were as heartfelt and meaningful as when FLW Emcee Chris Jones thanked Lappin and his wife, Joan, at the final weigh-in of the season at the Costa FLW Series Championship at Lake Guntersville.
You can’t put a specific date on the moment when Mother Nature made it clear that she would be one of the biggest story lines of the 2018 season. The Costa FLW Series, in particular, was plagued by high winds, rain, fog and just about every adverse condition that could be expected. Five days of Costa FLW Series competition were cancelled due to inclement weather in 2018, including two of the three days at Lake Erie in Buffalo and the first day at the championship on Lake Guntersville. Pro anglers are generally a tough and capable bunch, but tournament directors don’t play around with angler safety. The decisions to cancel were made with angler safety in mind.