By Todd Ceisner
Two years ago, Brad Knight and his wife, Becky, made a decision to take their young family’s life in a new direction.
Option 1 involved him continuing with his plan to attend pharmacy school and give up tournament bass fishing at the pro level so he could be home more regularly with their young daughter. Option 2 involved Becky quitting her nursing job, Brad putting pharmacy school on hold and committing to tournament bass fishing as their way of life – weeks at a time on the road together, but no guarantees as far as financial gain.
The Knights went with the second choice and haven’t looked back. Today, the whole bass fishing world is looking up at Brad Knight, the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup champion.
Knight, who hails from Lancing, Tenn., caught an 11-07 stringer today, his smallest of the week at Lake Ouachita, but it was enough to move out of 2nd place, where he’d been the last 2 days, and clinch the biggest victory of his life with a 4-day total of 51-12.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know what to say. It’s a humbling thing to have my name on a list with names like Scott Martin, Jacob Wheeler and David Dudley and the other world champions. I’m truly honored to have my name on that list. I may never catch another bass, but this can’t be taken away from me.”
When Knight was declared the winner, he threw his arms in the air as confetti rained down. He walked to the front of the stage and titled his head back and closed his eyes. Moments later, he grabbed the trophy, gave it a kiss and was joined on stage by Becky and daughter, Tinsley.
Prior to this week, Knight’s best finish in an FLW Tour event was 12th at Lake Chickamauga in 2011. He claimed the sport’s richest payday by camping in the back of Big Blakely Creek and picking off fish relating to blowdowns and partially submerged trees with a dropshot. He also caught key fish with a buzzbait on flat, mud banks and added a homemade crankbait to his arsenal on the final day. What’s more is that he won despite sharing the area all 4 days with Mark Daniels, Jr., who finished 9th.
Ramie Colson, Jr., caught four fish today for 10-04 and wound up 2nd with 47-13, just 2 ounces ahead of Brandon Cobb, whose final day-best 12-14 bag helped him lock up 3rd. Cobb also caught some fish out of Big Blakely Creek, not far from where Knight and Daniels were.
Day-3 leader Jacob Wheeler had just three fish today for 4-12 and his 45-13 total dropped him to 4th, his third career Top-5 finish in five Cups. Angler of the Year Scott Martin bounced back from a tough day 3 with a 12-08 effort today to finish 5th with 45-04.
Here's a look at the totals for the 10 finalists:
1. Brad Knight: 51-12
2. Ramie Colson, Jr.: 47-13
3. Brandon Cobb: 47-11
4. Jacob Wheeler: 45-13
5. Scott Martin: 45-04
6. Bryan Thrift: 45-00
7. Larry Nixon: 44-10
8. Zack Birge: 43-11
9 Mark Daniels, Jr.: 37-12
10. Chris Baumgardner: 37-09
Mother Nature delivered another curveball today as a thunderstorm peppered much of the lake with a steady downpour and thunder and lightning for a couple hours this morning. Some portions of the lake, including Knight’s area, were spared, but the weather likely contributed to the smaller weights as only half of the finalists brought limits back to Bank of the Ozarks Arena.
After many of the competitors experienced a brutally tough practice session, the dominant theme of the tournament was the effectiveness of topwater baits on schooling fish chasing shad. Others, such as Knight, Colson and Daniels, opted to devote the majority of their time to one area rather than churn through new water each day.
Knight Had to Adjust
> Day 4: 5, 11-07 (20, 51-12)
After catching most of his fish on a dropshot and buzzbait over the first 3 days, Knight had to resort to a couple tactics he hadn’t relied on all week.
“I expected to catch a limit early,” he said. “I knew the right places where they were setting up, but I could tell Saturday the boat pressure in there seemed to affect things. I was always the first one in there so they were fresh every morning and that’s when I could get a couple right away. That didn’t happen this morning.”
Knight lands one of his keepers Sunday at Lake Ouachita.
He caught his first keeper flipping a Beaver-style bait into the heart of a thick tree because that’s where he suspected the fish had moved to.
“That got me started a little bit,” he said. “I caught my second and third really quick on a dropshot, then had a lull, but caught a limit and then culled.”
After another lull, he acted on a hunch that a shallow crankbait would finally work around some of the wood. It’s a tactic he likes to fish at home and he’d thought a crankbait would work at some point this week.
“Around the timber that’s lodged in that stuff, back home cranking a squarebill around that stuff is always a big deal,” he noted. “It puzzled me the whole time that we couldn’t get that to happen. I always thought it was because the pressure was affecting that area. The wind started blowing at a different angle into the creek and the water was getting colored up.”
He had a Lucky Craft square-bill tied on, but opted instead to go with a crankbait that former FLW Tour pro Craig Powers had built for him 10 years ago (Knight did the paint job).
“It’s the dumbest thing, but you always hear people talk about listening to your instincts and your gut. I said, ‘Tie on one of those little homemade cranks and run shallow,’” he said. “I hadn’t caught a fish on this plug in 5 years, so I tie it on and make four casts and catch one of my good fish. I culled a couple more times after that.
“With about 3 hours to go, I knew I needed one more good bite, but it never materialized. I didn’t catch a good one. I did what I thought I needed to do. I don’t have any regrets.”
Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the coming days.
2nd: Sun’s Absence Hindered Colson
> Day 4: 4, 10-04 (18, 47-13)
Colson went back to his key brush-pile areas in Crystal Springs today, but the persistent clouds and having to fish with different electronics hindered his chances. Still, he walked away with his best-ever finish at the Cup and with $60,000 in his pocket.
“I was fishing the way I like to fish,” he said. “I stayed in my comfort zone and beat it out over 4 days. I was satisfied with the week.
His first keeper today came on a Heddon Spook Jr. during the thunderstorm. Once the rain let up, he headed back to the brush and continued to sling a Zoom Ol’ Monster. He caught his other three fish after the rain stopped falling.
"I expected to get them after the sun came out,” he said. “If I had another 30 minutes to an hour, I think I could’ve caught my fifth one. That’s the same for everybody. If they all had extra time, they might’ve caught more, too.”
Ramie Colson waits for his turn to weigh in on Sunday at the Forrest Wood Cup.
3rd: Cobb Finished Strong
> Day 4: 5, 12-14 (20, 47-11)
Like Knight, Cobb posted his best career finish this week. He had been catching a few key fish early on in the same creek as Knight, but today he opted to target schooling fish on the lower end.
At one point, he encountered a group of fish that were breaking the surface for nearly a half hour straight. He tried different baits, but none seemed to match the effectiveness of the Sébile Bong Minnow, a bait he’d not thrown in a couple years.
“I threw everything in the boat at them for 30 minutes,” he said. “They were schooling constantly for 30 minutes and I never hooked one. It was rusty and old and the first one I hooked I landed on it. I ended up losing three in a row on it and then I caught a 3. I hooked another 3 and it broke me off in the tree.”
He switched to another topwater walking bait, but he couldn’t generate any additional momentum. He also threw a Zoom Horny Toad later in the day to catch schooling fish.
“You’d land on 10 before you got one to bite,” he said.
"I had a horrible practice. I didn’t find anything that I thought was spectacular. I caught some fish, but every area I found seemed to be just as good as any other area."
4th: Storm Turned Off Wheeler’s Fish
> Day 4: 3, 4-12 (18, 45-13)
Wheeler said he never panicked today despite not having the success he’d had on days 1 and 3.
“I was fishing cool today,” he said. “This morning, on those breaking fish it was intense. Everything around me I was paying attention to. If I missed one cast, it could be the difference between winning and not winning.
“The only thing that messed me up today was the storm. Topwater fish do not like lightning.
I was fishing in South Fork and then I went to North Fork and caught two fish. I caught my third and ran back to South Fork and never got another bite the rest of the day.”
He said if he could restart the day, he’d have gone down lake, which was largely spared from the rain and lightning.
5th: Martin Stuck With Schoolers
> Day 4: 5, 12-08 (18, 45-04)
Martin’s bid to win a second Cup at Ouachita fell short this week, but he still recorded his fourth Top-10 finish in the last five Cups.
“This week was a lot different than 2011 for me,” he said.
Martin said that he truly got dialed into a particular pattern and caught his fish using numerous baits and techniques, including buzzbaits, crankbaits and swimbaits on jigheads.
“The key to the last couple of days was I think the fish were getting conditioned to seeing the same lure over and over again,” he said. “I couldn’t get them to bite when they weren’t actually breaking the surface. I started changing size and brands of swimbaits.”
Today, he had three good fish in the boat when his schooling bite tailed off.
“I was having some trouble today getting something going,” he said. “I had three nice fish in the boat and I picked up the old Jacob Wheeler buzzbait at noon and caught a few on banks with that.”
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 5 limits, 3 fours, 1 three, 1 two.
> Knight’s winning total was nearly 10 pounds less than what Martin won with at Ouachita in 2011.
1. Brad Knight -- Lancing, Tn -- 14-4 (5) -- 14-0 (5) -- 28-4 (10) -- 12-1 (5) -- 11-07 (5) -- 51-12 (20) -- $500,000
2. Ramie Colson Jr -- Cadiz, Ky -- 13-3 (5) -- 17-14 (5) -- 31-1 (10) -- 6-8 (4) -- 10-04 (4) -- 47-13 (18) -- $60,000
3. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 14-10 (5) -- 11-2 (5) -- 25-12 (10) -- 9-1 (5) -- 12-14 (5) -- 47-11 (20) -- $50,000
4. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 16-2 (5) -- 10-15 (5) -- 27-1 (10) -- 14-0 (5) -- 4-12 (3) -- 45-13 (18) -- $37,500
5. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 14-6 (5) -- 10-3 (5) -- 24-9 (10) -- 8-3 (3) -- 12-08 (5) -- 45-04 (18) -- $30,000
6. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 11-4 (5) -- 10-6 (5) -- 21-10 (10) -- 14-3 (5) -- 9-03 (5) -- 45-00 (20) -- $24,000
7. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 9-5 (5) -- 12-2 (5) -- 21-7 (10) -- 11-3 (4) -- 12-00 (4) -- 44-10 (18) -- $23,000
8. Zack Birge -- Blanchard, Ok -- 10-14 (5) -- 9-11 (5) -- 20-9 (10) -- 10-12 (5) -- 12-06 (5) -- 43-11 (20) -- $22,000
9. Mark Daniels Jr -- Tuskegee, Al -- 12-15 (5) -- 10-5 (5) -- 23-4 (10) -- 8-13 (5) -- 5-11 (4) -- 37-12 (19) -- $21,000
10. Chris Baumgardner -- Gastonia, NC -- 13-8 (5) -- 12-2 (5) -- 25-10 (10) -- 8-1 (4) -- 3-14 (2) -- 37-09 (16) -- $20,000