May 31, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
Bass fishing is supposed to be unpredictable. Each tournament is supposed to be anyone's to win. And when it's a ledge-fishing shoot-out, modern electronics supposedly have leveled the playing field.
Yet, when Randy Haynes enters a tournament on the Tennessee River chain in summer, the results have gotten downright predictable.
This afternoon at the Country Chevrolet dealership parking lot in Benton, Ky., Mark Rose, Jason Lambert and Barry Wilson all brought more than 24 pounds to the scales in a final-day slugfest at the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division tournament on Kentucky Lake. Each probably felt like he had a strong shot at walking away the champion, and statistically they all did. The field was only separated by about 4 pounds to start the day. But, on days when everyone in the field has a stellar outing, it seems like Haynes is still just a little bit better. It almost feels like it's not even fair.
Haynes strung together a three-day series of limits that went 25-01, 22-10 and 27-10 to take the champion's trophy by a margin of 1 pound, 14 ounces. His three-day total was 75 pounds, 5 ounces.
The Counce, Tenn., pro made a big game plan change today that proved to be the clincher.
"I went south the first two days, and I had a couple good places there," Haynes says. "It was getting beat up. Today, I went south first thing and caught a few small keepers that I just threw back, and I had only one fish in the livewell after 30 or 40 minutes."
At that point, Haynes decided to pull the plug in Paris, point his Ranger to the north and head back to the lower end.
"I had some places I was saving, but I had to run south this morning just to not look back," he says. "In practice I felt like Paris was where it was going to be won. The fish were thicker and fatter, which is typical of grass fish. But at yesterday's weigh-in, as soon as I saw some of the fish that those guys fishing up north were weighing, and that they were fatter and healthier, I knew what I had to do."
Haynes had game-planned perfectly. He'd saved a handful of key spots up at the north end, and he had about 40 schools total that he was able to fish today to put together the tournament's largest stringer.
He relied on a handful of lures this week, but the key to the strategy was rotating through them in careful order. He started with a Strike King 10XD crankbait, then followed that up with a prototype Profound Outdoors Z-Boss 20 crankbait, which Haynes says is a more subtle lure. The subdued action helped him catch fish "behind" the 10XD. Once the crankbait action slowed, he followed up with a swimbait and a jig.
"It was unreal this week. The first day, I had 25 pounds and caught two more limits of 20 pounds that I threw back," Haynes says. "The second day was a bit tougher. Today, I threw back about seven 4-pounders."
Haynes found schools all over the lake. His Paris schools were in about 12 feet of water. Up north, he fished deeper, in 21 to 28 feet.
All week long, he was impressed by the sportsmanship of other anglers on the water, including the 300 or so fishing another major tournament out of Paris. According to Haynes, when he'd pull up to a spot, boaters in the other tournament would wave him in then give him plenty of space to work. That was critical to getting on "the juice" of each spot.
To prep for this event, Haynes came down about a week and a half early. All he did from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day was graph ledges.
"I felt like I hadn't really figured this lake out yet," he says. "So I put about 60 or 70 hours on my outboard. That's what it takes to beat Mark Rose and Brandon Hunter and all these great ledge fishermen. You've got to put in the time."
For Haynes, this win makes seven in his career with FLW. Six of those have been on the Tennessee River. Five of those Tennessee River wins have been Rayovac FLW Series events, including the 2012 event on Kentucky Lake.
For this one, he walks away with $40,000 and a new Ranger boat.
Next up, Haynes is heading to his home waters of Pickwick Lake for the fifth Walmart FLW Tour stop of the season, and he'll follow that up with the Tour's season-finale on Kentucky Lake.
For all the Tour pros prepping for those derbies, they'd better bring their A game, because Randy Haynes is coming to town with momentum and confidence. He'll be too much for most pros to handle.
2nd place - Jason Lambert - 73 pounds, 7 ounces
Jason Lambert went into the final day of competition with a narrow 7-ounce lead over Brandon Hunter and a lead of slightly less than 2 pounds over Randy Haynes.
He brought in a cookie-cutter limit of 5-pound-class bass today (a 24-14 limit), a phenomenal bag for sure, but unfortunately that wasn't enough to survive at the top with the weight that Haynes brought in.
"I caught them quick this morning," Lambert says. "I had 22 pounds by 9 or 9:30, then hit a dry spell. I caught a lot of fish, but none that helped me until 1 p.m., when I caught a 6."
Lambert stuck with his day-two game plan of running and gunning to as many spots as he could hit in a day. It's a strategy he employed to help counter the extreme pressure that the lake's southern end was facing. He spent the entire tournament at the south end and ran around so much that he had to refill his gas tank each of the last two days.
"I only fished one school that I caught fish on for more than one day," he says. "I probably had 80 schools to fish."
Lambert caught bass on a variety of lures this week, but every one he weighed was caught with a Yank-Um Custom Tackle vibrating jighead rigged with a Castaic Jerky J Series straight-tail minnow that he slow-rolled along bottom.
Although he wasn't able to pull off the win this week, Lambert has a lot to look forward to. The Walmart FLW Tour event next week is on his home waters of Pickwick Lake, and he's got a lot of confidence after catching so many fish on Kentucky Lake. He knows he was just one or two big fish away from winning.
"I haven't caught a big fish all week - no 7- or 8-pounders like a lot of these guys caught. I caught a lot of 5 1/2-pound fish," Lambert says. "But I'm satisfied. When you catch 24-plus for three days in a row and get beat, all you can do is congratulate the other guy."
3rd place - Mark Rose - 71 pounds, 3 ounces
Sometimes in bass fishing, a good day is just meant to be. Walmart pro Mark Rose had already loaded the truck and started making his way out of town yesterday when he found out he'd unexpectedly made the top-10 cut after what he considered a mediocre two-day performance. So, he did a 180, came back to Kentucky Lake and stuck a 27-pound limit to jump seven spots up the leaderboard from where he began the day in 10th.
For Rose, the key to his huge limit today was just having fun, and appreciating that he got another day to fish.
"I fished the Rayovacs back when I started out as a pro as my main trail," Rose says. "Now, I fish them for enjoyment. I don't put as much pressure on myself as I do on the Tour. I fish the Tennessee River Rayovacs because I love it [the system]. I use it to `keep my pencil sharp' and to practice, and for the passion for bass fishing."
Rose says he shared some water with Haynes today, but while Randy caught his fish deep, Rose stayed in about 13 feet of water. He caught an early limit each day with a swimbait, then used a Strike King 6XD crankbait to cull up.
"I was just fishing on the fly," Rose says. "I had one primary school up north, and I used it to get 20 pounds each day. Then I just went fishing."
According to Rose, once he had his early limit, he spent a lot of time idling and looking, just like he did throughout practice.
"In ledge fishing, what you have to have is a passion for looking, not fishing," he says. "It doesn't take long to catch them once you find them."
As for his friendship with Haynes, his roommate and the other half of what is widely considered the best ledge-fishing duo in the nation, Rose was just as happy to see his good buddy win as he would've been if he'd hoisted the trophy himself. That sportsmanship played out on the water today when they found themselves in the same area.
"We're friends before we're competitors," Rose says. "He had a 4-pound lead on me, so the right thing to do was to give him some water."
4th place - Barry Wilson - 70 pounds, 2 ounces
Barry Wilson might not have pulled in the winning stringer today, but he sure had a blast and managed to impress his co-angler partner, Roger Olson Jr.
"He put on a clinic this morning that I couldn't believe," Olson Jr. told the weigh-in crowd. "I've never seen someone catch so many 3-pounders so quick."
The scene unfolded on a spot just outside of Jonathan Creek, where the anglers launched this morning (takeoff was moved to a smaller ramp just north of Kenlake State Resort Park for the final day). Wilson had tried to get on it earlier in the week, but a couple other boats were sitting on it. Today, he saw the spot open in the morning and took advantage.
"It was a huge school," Wilson says. "I put my trolling motor down and never cranked the big engine. It was all day long. I probably caught at least three 20-pound bags.
"It was a funnel coming off spawning flats," he adds. "There were more fish coming out today. I could tell because they were still white; they were fresh. And it was loaded with shad."
Wilson used the same secret lure that he's relied on all week (he's still not sharing), but he also caught fish on Strike King crankbaits today. His final-day stringer of 25 pounds, 13 ounces was an improvement over day two, when he caught 19-11, but the second day proved to be his undoing this week.
For now, he's satisfied taking his "hush-hush" new lure down to Pickwick for the Tour.
5th place - Brandon Hunter - 69 pounds, 13 ounces
For hometown favorite Brandon Hunter, it was a mission accomplished this week in front of his friends and family, even if it was a bittersweet finish.
Hunter's goal coming in was to simply make the top-10 cut, yet his 27-pound, 9-ounce limit on day one gave him a glimpse at a possible Rayovac FLW Series win. He believed he was on the school of fish to do it, but those fish moved and he wasn't able to get back on their trail.
Today, he caught 21-11.
"I don't know what I'd do different," Hunter says. "I fished a new spot and just hung with it. They were grouped on it; they were everywhere.
"When I first pulled up on it today, they were up off bottom," he adds. "I had to throw a swimbait. When I went back to it later in the day, I graphed them and they were tighter to bottom, and I knew I was going to catch them on a crankbait."
The crankbait of choice for Hunter was a Lucky Craft Flat CB D-20.
As for that magical day-one spot, Hutner has a theory as to why his fish moved.
"I think pressure had a lot to do with it," he says. "There were a lot of boats driving over it. It's a secondary spot in 14 feet. I think they moved out deeper, and I never found them.
"Today, instead of running around a bunch, like I did on day two, I just laid with them on a different spot," he adds. "I just needed that big key bite."
Rest of the best
6th place - Scott Canterbury - 68 pounds, 1 ounce
7th place - Michael Wooley - 67 pounds, 2 ounces
8th place - Todd Hollowell - 66 pounds, 1 ounce
9th place - Mark Pierce - 63 pounds, 8 ounces
10th place -Ray Barga - 63 pounds, 1 ounce
Click here for full results.
Webb wins co-angler title
That's the only word that Tim Webb could come up with to describe his experience this week on Kentucky Lake. The Olpe, Kan., co-angler, who led the tournament going into the final day, put together a 22-pound, 12-ounce limit today to seal up the Rayovac FLW Series victory, which earned him a new Ranger bass boat.
"I've been blessed this week. I want to thank the good Lord," Webb says. "I've been waiting for this for quite awhile."
For Webb, this win is about more than just a nice payday. It's about redemption.
"I've been trying to fish as a pro for several years, and I had a really good sponsor who went out of business," he says. "I almost quit. But my wife said, `You have to get back in there.' I decided to humble myself and asked the Lord to help me, and he did."
A Basstrix swimbait was Webb's go-to lure all week, but it took a day-one tweak to finally figure out the details that helped him win. He began the day throwing a slightly smaller model of the swimbait but followed the advice of his pro partner, Mark Pierce, to try a 6-inch model on a 3/4-ounce jighead. The change worked.
"I felt like I fished a pretty clean tournament," says Webb. "The first day I had a pretty good one jump off, but I caught so many that it didn't really affect me mentally too much. I probably caught 25 keepers today. Most came on the Basstrix. I tried to always throw something a little bit different than my pro, whether it was a different color or size."
Webb also offered major thanks to his day-two partner, Forrest Smith.
"Day two was just a slugfest," says Webb. "I ended up culling twice at the end of the day. He [Smith] was out of it and knew what I needed. Instead of running around, he stayed put and kept me on the fish."
2nd place - Tim Beale - 57 pounds, 2 ounces
3rd place - Damon Brown - 54 pounds, 15 ounces
4th place - Vince Denina - 52 pounds, 6 ounces
5th place - Frank Divis Sr. - 51 pounds, 12 ounces
6th place - Roger Olson Jr. - 51 pounds, 3 ounces
7th place - Joey Schmidt - 50 pounds, 9 ounces
8th place - Chuck Rounds - 49 pounds, 3 ounces
9th place - Shawn Overton - 47 pounds
10th place - Wes Hardman - 44 pounds, 13 ounces
Pros fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518C with a 200-hp Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers are competing for a top award of a Ranger Z117 with 90-hp Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.
The Rayovac FLW Series consists of five divisions - Central, Northern, Southeast, Texas and Western. Each division consists of three tournaments, and competitors will be vying for valuable points in each division that could earn them the opportunity to fish in the Rayovac FLW Series Championship, to be held Oct. 30-Nov. 1 on Wheeler Lake in Rogersville, Ala.
The Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Kentucky Lake was hosted by the Marshall County Tourist Commission.
For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Rayovac FLW Series on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.