June 26, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
What goes around comes around. And for Brett Hite, an all-star Walmart FLW Tour season that began with a statement win in the season-opener on Lake Okeechobee has wound its way throughout the country to Kentucky Lake for the season-finale, where he once again jumped out in front today.
Hite’s 24-pound, 14-ounce limit leads a star-studded top 20 that includes ledge-fishing experts, three former Forrest Wood Cup champions, three past AOY winners and a pack of FLW millionaires, all of them hoping to end Hite’s chances of bookend 2014 Tour victories.
This tournament, which is presented by Evinrude and hosted Henry County Alliance, is a ledge-fishing shootout. Everyone knows it. But for Hite, the keys to besting everyone else today were timing and precision.
“Luckily I had an early boat draw,” he says. “I ran to a spot I found late in the day on the third day of practice. One other guy came in there right after me, but I got lined up in the right position. It was literally cast after cast, and it was all big ones. First thing this morning, it was obvious the fish were active. As the day progressed, it was one or two here and there.
“It [the school] is spread out a little,” adds Hite, whose limit today included the Bridgford Big Bass, a 7-pound, 5-ouncer. “It’s a pretty good stretch, but there are a couple of key spots where the shells are, and there are some stumps and gizzard shad.”
The front deck of Hite’s Ranger is littered with rods, and he rolled through his options each time he needed to re-trigger the school.
Once the morning flurry subsided, Hite slid off onto a shallow flat, poled down and let the school rest – but he stayed just close enough that he could run back out and defend the school from any other anglers who might want to pluck a few grown ones for their livewells. Fortunately, no one else ever found the school.
Today was a day of mixed reports from most of the anglers near the top of the standings. Some caught them all day. Some experienced flurries of activity. Some had to grind. The only consensus is that Kentucky Lake is not fishing exactly at its peak potential, as it was in the Rayovac FLW Series event a few weeks ago. The schools are smaller, and they’re being pressured into moving around on the ledges. Many anglers bounced around a lot to compensate, but not Hite. He didn’t need to today, though he has other options tomorrow.
“I’m excited about going fishing,” he says. “I’ve got a couple other ledges I didn’t hit today that are in that same area where not a lot of other guys are fishing.”
Thus far, Hite’s pre-tournament game plan has been spot-on. He had a goal in mind for weight today, and when he reached it mid-morning, after catching about 20 keepers, he pulled the plug to avoid burning up the school.
“I wanted to get around 25 pounds,” Hite says. “You can’t win it the first day, but you can lose it. When you start throwing back 3 1/2-pounders, those are going to be crucial later in the tournament.”
What’s scariest for anyone trying to catch him is that Hite doesn’t need current or wind. All of his big ones today bit when the lake was slick calm, with almost no flow. If he can match his performance today, which he seems confident can happen, he’ll be tough to catch in his quest for a second wire-to-wire victory.
2nd place - Randy Haynes - 22 pounds, 11 ounces
Here we go again. Fantasy Fishing players rejoice, because everyone’s favorite Tennessee River pick Randy Haynes is back in the top 10 and making a bid for the crown. And if recent history is any indicator, he could very well be the Kentucky Lake King once again this week.
Haynes quietly fished his way into striking distance at the recent Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake for two days, then on the final day dropped a 27-pound bomb that propelled him into the lead.
Haynes is poised to do it all again at this week’s Tour event. After day one, he’s situated just 2 pounds, 3 ounces off Brett Hite’s lead, where all the pressure is on Hite to hold out for the next three days. That’s an uncomfortable place to be with one of the most consistent ledge fishermen in the game right behind him.
Haynes stuck with one lure all day, but he’s not revealing what it was. Truthfully, the key is not in the lure, but in his strategy. Haynes’ motor is always running. He’s one of the most efficient ledge anglers in the game. That’s how he’s able to fish 30 to 50 spots a day in a tournament.
All day today, he hopped from spot to spot. Each one he checked with his electronics, and he marked fish on every spot. But Haynes never made a cast unless he saw that the fish were the right size and that they were positioned just right to feed.
“Things clicked today,” Haynes says. “I got to run and gun and fish plenty of spots. That’s the way I like to fish. I had a handful of spots to myself. I probably hit 40 spots today and rotated on those 40. I fished some spots that didn’t have fish on them in practice. I’m not spending much time on any spots. I’m just hoping I hit each one right. There’s a certain deal I’m looking for, and when I see it, I fish it.”
3rd place - Scott Martin - 22 pounds, 8 ounces
Along with tournament leader Brett Hite, Scott Martin had an early boat draw and put the opportunity to access his best spot first thing in the morning to good use by catching 22 pounds, 8 ounces of Tennessee largemouths. He’s currently in third place.
“I had an early boat draw. That was a blessing,” Martin says. “I had about 18 to 19 pounds by 9 and even lost a good one – my third fish of the day was a gorilla.”
Martin’s fish also seemed to be immune to current. Flow or not, they were going to chew.
“If you get those big schools fired up, you can catch them really quick,” he says. “Current doesn’t really matter to me. It [the bite] is kind of an ebb-and-flow deal. They move up for awhile, then they move down.”
The former Forrest Wood Cup champ is rotating through a selection of about 15 rods. Any one can be the trigger, including one of several deep-diving crankbaits he’s tossing. The key, he says, is being ready to capitalize when the fish do slide up onto the ledge and feed. Because once they drift back into deeper water, he has to work a lot harder to make them bite. It’s that timing that is critical, yet difficult to master on the Tennessee River.
Martin illustrated it like this: He caught about 20 keepers, while his co-angler struggled, even though they were throwing very similar lures. But because Martin had the perfect angle and was ready to drop the perfect cast into the school when the fish turned on, he wrecked ’em.
Tomorrow, he plans to run a similar program. He didn’t have to hit any of his day-one spots twice, and with a late boat draw tomorrow he’ll be fishing during what he thinks is actually the prime window.
“I might be able to get on my starting spot again tomorrow, if someone lets me come in,” he says. “But the good thing about a late boat draw is that the fish have been biting better from 2 to 5 p.m. So I’ll get to maximize my day.”
4th place (tie) - Charlie Ingram - 22 pounds, 6 ounces
Among the late-flight contingent of top 10 pros is Charlie Ingram, who took advantage of his familiarity with Kentucky Lake to sack up 22 pounds, 6 ounces on day one.
“It went good today,” Ingram says. “I fish this lake a lot because I don’t live but an hour from here. I stayed on one spot all day, and it paid off.”
Ingram’s key spot is a 50-yard stretch that’s loaded up. His fish are sliding up into 10 to 12 feet of water to feed, then backing off into deeper water between flurries. He says he caught them steady all day on two lures.
“I’ve got the baits figured out,” Ingram says. “The spot is pretty good. I’ve got some other spots, but I hope I don’t have to use them.”
Getting to the key spot requires a lot of travel, which means calm conditions, like the anglers had all day today, can help Ingram’s cause and maximize his fishing time. He’ll also have to plan for an early boat number tomorrow, which will cut into his fishing.
Still, if his magic spot holds up, Ingram will be right in the hunt as we prepare to cut the field to 20 boats after Friday’s competition ends.
4th place (tie) - Tom Redington - 22 pounds, 6 ounces
Structure fishing is one of Tom Redington’s favorite ways to catch fish, and on day one at Kentucky Lake, the Lake Fork fishing guide proved that he can compete with the best. He opened the event with a 22-pound, 6-ounce limit to tie Charlie Ingram for fourth place.
Interestingly, Redington was a touch disappointed with the way his day went.
“I was really expecting it to be better,” he admits. “I found a lot of schools, like everyone else, but there was a lot of pressure. I’d pull up and catch one, and then it was done. Usually you can grind on them and catch a few more.”
According to Redington, these ledge bass get weary of all the crankbaits and jigs scooting by their faces. They hear the trolling motors whirling overhead and perhaps sense the pinging of sonar signals. That causes them to break off from their prespawn mega-schools.
His strategy for countering “the funk” is to go with the ‘odd-ball pattern.” He’s throwing tiny finesse lures, jumbo lures and even some wild-and-crazy color patterns – like crankbaits in the dusty, faded packages in those colors no one buys. He even made a couple of keepers bite by reversing his angle on the ledge.
It’s not the way he prefers to fish, which would be to peg a couple of active schools then yo-yo between them all day, so that each gets time to rest. Yet, this system seems to be working, if not every time.
“The last spot we pulled up on was the best school of the day,” says Redington, who fished about a dozen spots today. “We had a little chop on the surface, and I thought it would be perfect. But we couldn’t get them to bite.”
Tomorrow, Redington hopes he’ll be able to pull up on schools with no other boats around, find bass lined up on the ledge and ready to eat, and then throw “ordinary lures.” But if not, he’ll be ready with his circus of oddities because and a whatever-it-takes approach.
Rest of the best
6th place - Michael Neal - 22 pounds, 4 ounces
7th place - Jason Christie - 22 pounds, 1 ounce
8th place - Skip Johnson - 22 pounds
9th place - Jim Moynagh - 21 pounds, 6 ounces
10th place - Andy Morgan - 21 pounds, 4 ounces
Angler of the Year update
Andy Morgan distanced himself in the Kellogg’s Angler of the Year race with a 21-pound, 4-ounce limit. If the tournament ended today, he'd be 23 points ahead of Repel pro Cody Meyer and is currently in the top 10 of this event.
Rookie of the Year update
In the Rookie of the Year chase, Jason Lambert overtook the hot seat after catching 20-15 to sit in 13th place overall for the tournament. Right on his heels is Richard Peek, who caught 19-15 and is in 22nd place.
Click here for full results.
Co-angler Cup champ Corcoran back on top
Once you meet Theo Corcoran, you’ll never forget him. The charismatic co-angler is always scheming up some weigh-in stage gimmick to draw the attention of the crowd and – he hopes – the sponsors who can make his dream of fishing as a professional come true. But lately his fishing has been making even more noise than his weigh-in antics, proving that he just might have what it takes to one day fish out of the front of the boat.
Today on Kentucky Lake, Corcoran slammed a day-one limit of 22 pounds, 6 ounces to take the co-angler lead. He brought in a 6-pound, 2-ounce bass that won the Bridgford Big Bass Award on the co-angler side and has a 1-pound, 5-ounce lead over co-angler Mark Howard.
It was an early flurry followed by a long day of culling that gave Corcoran the edge today while fishing with Skip Johnson, who’s currently in eighth place on the pro side.
“We pulled up in the morning and each had a 20-pound flurry,” says Corcoran. “We had our limits by 7:53. At the end of the day, we got them fired up again. I was catching them on a crankbait, and we left them biting. My last cull was at 2:29.”
The Independence, Mo., co-angler found a trigger with aggressive presentations. Then throughout the day he culled up with a 7-inch Nemesis soft-plastic stick bait.
“If you can get one or two to commit, then you have to get right back in there,” he explains. “I was being really aggressive with all my presentations.”
Co-angler of the Year update
Co-angler Jason Johnson is one day closer to locking up the Co-angler of the Year title after opening the Kentucky Lake event with a 34th-place showing. He moved up three spots today and maintains a solid lead over co-angler Bryan New, who came into this event in the second-place spot. New is currently in 69th place in the Kentucky Lake standings.
2nd place - Mark Howard - 21 pounds, 1 ounce
3rd place - Greg Scott - 20 pounds, 15 ounces
4th place - Keith Honeycutt - 19 pounds, 14 ounces
5th place - Tony Bennett - 19 pounds, 7 ounces
6th place - Cody Kelley - 18 pounds, 11 ounces
7th place (tie) - Dennis Cameron - 18 pounds, 8 ounces
7th place (tie) - Timothy Curran - 18 pounds, 8 ounces
7th place (tie) - Joe McClary - 18 pounds, 8 ounces
10th place - Jeff Rikard - 17 pounds, 13 ounces
Bridford Big Bass Awards
Pro: Brett Hite – 7 pounds, 5 ounces
Co-angler: Theo Corcoran – 6 pounds, 2 ounces
In Walmart FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday’s weigh-in, and the top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days.
For more coverage
For those who can’t catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio.
In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com offers real-time updates from the water. Simply click on the tournament ID within the “On the Water” banner at the top of the FLW or Walmart FLW Tour home pages.
Walmart FLW Tour event information
Location: Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Highway 79 North, Buchanan, Tenn.
Time: 6:30 a.m.
Thursday and Friday location: Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Highway 79 North, Buchanan, Tenn.
Time: 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday
Saturday and Sunday location: Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn.
Time: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Date: Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29
Location: Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn.
Time: noon to 4 p.m.
Free Concert: See country star Michael Ray live in concert Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free.
Activities: Fans are welcome to join FLW for the FLW Expo at the Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn. Come meet Walmart FLW Tour pros, who’ll be on site signing autographs. Families can enjoy interactive games, explore the Walmart Kids Zone, receive free samples, drive a Ranger Boat simulator and have a chance to win a $250 Walmart gift card.