Top 12 Tour Highlights

Stetson Blaylock broke down Beaver Lake for Tour Insider with FLW's Daniel Fennel.

A Walmart FLW Tour season is a long and eventful thing. For 24 days, more than 300 pros and co-anglers – the best anglers in the world – duel it out in bass-fishing competition across the country. Stories develop every day. News is made. Techniques are perfected. There are daily highlights. We could never list them all, so we didn’t. But we did come up with a list of 12 highlights that we think best tell the story of the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour season. Click on the links to read more about each.

 

Pro leader Brett Hite holds up part of his 34-pound, 15-ounce stringer.

1. Hite smashes 34-15 on day oneThe 2014 Walmart FLW Tour season started off on the highest of high notes. As if the Florida sun wasn't enough to energize everyone, Brett Hite caught the second-heaviest five-bass limit in Tour history on the first day of the 2014 season. Hite smashed 34 pounds, 15 ounces worth of Okeechobee bass with his trademarked ChatterBait to start what turned out to be the best season of his career on a fabulous note.

Pro leader Casey Ashley caught a 15-pound, 7-ounce limit Saturday and increased his lead to over 9 pounds with one day of competition remaining.

2. Ashley runs away with hometown tourneyCasey Ashley's win on Lake Hartwell was another high note. Though not a rookie, the first-year Tour pro broke onto the scene in grand fashion. Ashley breezed to a win in a frigid, rainy tournament that pushed the rest of the field's endurance to the breaking point. The third and fourth days of the event featured robust hometown crowds whose enthusiasm wasn't dampened in the slightest by the fact that part of Ashley's win depended on judiciously tapping local sources of information.

Cody Meyer is all business moving into the final regular season event and only eight points behind Andy Morgan in the AOY race.

3. Meyer’s streak ends at 50Hartwell produced a number of story lines, and the best was also the most heartbreaking. Repel pro Cody Meyer continued his hot season but fell short of a five-bass limit on the final day of competition (he never failed to bring in five the rest of the season). The four bass he weighed in were enough for fourth place, but not enough to keep his record-setting limit streak going. Meyer ended his streak at 50 consecutive limits, most ever in Tour competition and more than standouts like Jay Yelas, Jason Christie and Randall Tharp have ever achieved.

iON captures Richard Peek landing a giant bass on Kentucky Lake.

4. iONs arrive on TourSam Rayburn was the first event that FLW used iON cameras to capture the action in competitors' boats. The iONs provided amazing footage in their very first event, capturing Steve Kennedy landing an 8-pounder by handing his spinning rod around a cypress tree. As it turned out, that fish catch was only a preview of the great iON footage to come. See Mark Rose catch a 5- and 9-pounder at Rayburn. Watch Arey win at Beaver. See Hackney at Pickwick. See Haynes tossing Magnum Spoons at Kentucky Lake.

Being a hometown hero from Rogers, Ark., Travis Fox was a crowd favorite, and almost pulled off the victory.

5. Beaver Lake pumps out giantsBeaver Lake was a highlight in itself. The Tour's annual visit to the Ozark gem was expected to be a barometer for the effectiveness of umbrella rigs now that they’re outlawed from Tour competition – would the lake revert back to her old self, or would the best in the world catch them regardless? That question was never really answered, but the lake performed amazingly. In 2012, 115 pounds, 2 ounces of bass came to the scale on day four. Jason Christie's romp in 2013 saw 121-8 cross the stage on the final day. But on the day Matt Arey earned his first Tour win, an incredible 141 pounds was weighed in by the top 10.

Small, natural-hued swimbaits and grubs work best. Shown here are (top to bottom) a Keitech swimbait, Missile Baits Shockwave swim bait and Strike King Rage Tail Rage Grub.

6. “Scrubbing” for bass is revealedScrubbing, the process of sloooooowly swimming and dragging swimbaits over the bottom, also came to light at Beaver. Grubs and swimbaits have always been a player in the clear water at the north end of Beaver Lake, but this year was special. We saw stupendous numbers of big smallmouths caught and got a better idea than ever before of how some pros were employing light line and small swimbaits to fool big Ozark bass.

Greg Hackney shows his two best bass!

7. Hack hammers 97-7 at PickwickPickwick produced the final mega-bag of the season. Greg “Hack Attack” Hackney slammed 31-6, the 10th-heaviest five-bass limit in Tour history, on the second day of the event to seize the lead from Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, and he never looked back. In truth, Pickwick was the big-fish highlight of the year. It took an incredible 97-7 to win, and only two of the top 10 averaged less than 20 pounds per day.

8. Prototype Strike King crankbait wins at PickwickThe Pickwick win and Hackney's post-game interviews also brought to light one of the first truly new baits of the season, a giant square-bill crankbait from Strike King that is expected to debut at ICAST. Hackney used it to great effect on the shallow ledge where he camped. What didn't come to light was the bait some of the top finishers threw on the deeper, more traditional ledges. More on that soon.

The Ben Parker Signature Series Magnum Spoon would nearly be a keeper bass in some states.

9. Magnum Spoons blow up Kentucky LakeThe Magnum Spoon was the story of the Kentucky Lake event. We got incredible photos and amazing iON footage of a select group of pros throwing this 8-inch piece of metal, and the rumor mill was working at full speed as pros and fans alike scrambled for baits and information. Not since the breakout of the 10XD or the umbrella rig has there been such excitement about a technique. It was refreshing to see anglers get fired up about something because it was cool, not because it was controversial.

Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer are the top contenders in the 2014 AOY race.

 

10. Meyer, Morgan battle for AOYKentucky Lake was also the climax of maybe the greatest Kellogg's Angler of the Year race the Tour has ever seen. Repel pro Cody Meyer and Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan took it down to the wire to finish out an incredible season. Even cooler than seeing Morgan win his second-consecutive AOY (predicted by David Dudley on the FLW Podcast), was seeing how much he and Meyer enjoyed the race and the huge amount of respect they have for each other as competitors. Check out this exclusive video with Andy Morgan.

 

After being disqualified from the season opener on Okeechobee, Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi rallied to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup held on Lake Murray - his home lake - this August.

 

11. Gagliardi battles back for shot at CupWhat began with tragedy ended with elation. Anthony Gagliardi was disqualified from the season-opener on Lake Okeechobee due to an inadvertent rule violation. It was instant heartbreak for fans of Gags, who assumed he’d miss his shot at fishing the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup on his home fishery, Lake Murray. With a major point deficit to overcome, Gagliardi proved that he truly is one of this sport’s greatest anglers – and one of its greatest people. He never complained in the media, never faltered in his quest and fought his way back through the standings. At the final event on Kentucky Lake, when the scores were tallied, Gags found out he was in … by just one AOY point.

 

It was a big finish for a big man this week on Pickwick Lake. Jason Johnson finished in fourth place on the co-angler side.

 

12. Johnson DQ’d, rises above adversityThe final story line of the 2014 Tour season was about a co-angler. Jason Johnson won the Co-angler of the Year award and then lost it to Braxton Setzer after iON footage revealed a rule violation that forced FLW to disqualify Johnson’s day-three weight. The highlight wasn't the DQ, nor was Setzer's win. It was how Johnson took it. He handled the DQ with the class and level-headedness of a 10-year veteran and showed the world the type of character he has. He did yeoman’s work in the comments section on FLW's Facebook page, came across as completely genuine, and no doubt caught the eye of fans and potential sponsors for when he fishes the Tour as a pro in 2015. 

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