May 26, 2014 by Colin Moore
Until 2013, Kerry Milner had a good life.
Up to then, he worked with his family's earth-moving and construction business. In the summer, he ran 'dozers; in the winter, he operated a duck-hunting guide service in the flooded green timber and rice fields of northeast Arkansas. In between, he spent time with his wife, Stacey, and their daughters, and fished for bass when he could.
Life was good for Milner until 2013, but then it got great. He won the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American championship on Tennessee's Lake Nickajack and earned $100,000 for first place, plus a Ranger Cup contingency award of $20,000. The Arkie Division angler also locked up an automatic berth in the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, and that's where his luck kicked into high gear.
On the Red River at Shreveport in August, Milner didn't settle for merely making a respectable showing. He came in fourth. It followed a script that's become familiar in recent years: BFL angler wins All-American, BFL angler does well in the Forrest Wood Cup, BFL angler becomes a touring pro. After all, 2011 All-American winner and 2012 Cup champ Jacob Wheeler was runner-up to 2013 Cup champion Randall Tharp, and 2010 All-American winner Troy Morrow finished eighth at last year's Cup.
Qualifying for his second Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American in 2013 was a big deal to Milner, but winning it did wonders for his reputation and confidence. Among the 49 boaters who gathered at Lake Nickajack were some of the BFL's all-time best, veteran tournament winners such as Marcus Sykora of the Ozark Division, Robert Walser and David J. Wright of the North Carolina Division, Mike Brueggen of the Great Lakes Division and David Williams of the Piedmont Division, among them. A couple of months later, the Forrest Wood Cup removed all doubts that Milner might have had regarding his future as a pro, and the money he won along the way enabled him to make the quantum leap from the BFL to the Walmart FLW Tour.
"I learned a lot from the BFL experience," Milner says. "I was a seasoned fisherman before I ever entered a tournament, but I didn't have any idea about how I would stack up in the BFL. It was intimidating at first because I found out pretty fast that the most accomplished fishermen in the world are competing at the BFL level. It convinced me that a person who can do consistently well at the BFL level is ready to move up. He might not be able to because of family considerations or other obligations, but the top guys of the BFL can fish with the best of them."
In February, Milner began his rookie season on the Walmart FLW Tour much the same as he ended his last year in the BFL. At Okeechobee, the Arkansas pro came in 12th on a lake he's never fished before and profited from a $12,000 payday. It's been a bit of a rougher road since the opener, though Milner did cash a check in Texas at Sam Rayburn Reservoir.
Though he prefers to "power fish," Milner understands that versatility is the key to a long, successful career in the big leagues, and he'll do whatever his fishing instincts tell him is the right move.
With a couple of qualifying tournaments to go in the season, at Pickwick and at Kentucky Lake, Milner's in 90th place and has no illusions about his chances of making it to the Cup again this year. But that's not going to keep him from trying.
"I still wear the rubber bracelet that they gave me as a competitor in the Forrest Wood Cup last year," he says. "It's there to remind me that I'm going to fish the best I can in every tournament, and I won't take this one off until they slide a new one over my hand."