By Todd Ceisner
Last August, Clent Davis left the Bassmaster Elite Series season finale knowing he was unlikely to requalify for the circuit in 2018. By the time he pulled his truck into the driveway of his home in Montevallo, Ala., he’d sold just about every significant piece of fishing equipment he owned.
Boat. Sold. Rods. Sold. Reels. Gone. Tackle. Ditto.
“My basement had nothing in it. I sold everything I had,” he said.
Fishing wasn’t fun for him anymore and he was ready to step away and start down a new path. He figured he could get a job with a utility company, work a 9-to-5 and keep a regular schedule rather than travel for weeks at a time and be away from his wife and their young daughter. It sure sounded appealing.
“I was 100 percent walking away from fishing,” he said.
Until FLW Tour tournament director Bill Taylor checked in with him last fall to see about his 2018 plans. Taylor said if Davis wanted to return to the Tour – Davis had fished the Tour from 2012-15 – he’d need a sponsor exemption, but there was a spot in the field if he wanted it.
Davis was torn. He mulled it over and then the spark returned over the holidays, prompting him to take Taylor up on his offer, but he knew he had to commit to a new regimen that involved unplugging from competitive fishing once the season ended.
The 2018 FLW Tour season came to an end Sunday evening in Hot Springs, Ark., inside a packed Bank of the Ozarks Arena. In the center of the action was Davis, who made history by becoming the first angler to complete a 10th-to-1st rally on the final day of the Forrest Wood Cup (or an FLW Tour event, for that matter). He caught a tournament-best 17-13 today – the day’s lone double-digit stringer and his first of the event – at Lake Ouachita to wipe out a deficit of 4-13 on a lake that was so difficult to decode that such a deficit seemed nearly insurmountable.
Davis finished with a three-day total of 36-13 and continued the trend of massive final-day comebacks in bass fishing’s marquee events. Not only did he rally from nearly 5 pounds back, he won by 7 pounds, 4 ounces, the sixth-largest margin of victory in Cup history. It was a transcendent performance by a man who’s realized that fishing doesn’t have to be an all-consuming activity to be enjoyable.
As the final weigh-in neared its conclusion, day-2 leader Wes Logan placed his first fish in the bag on the scale, then reached back into his bag only to pull out an empty hand. That’s when Davis, standing next to emcee Chris Jones, realized the comeback was complete.
“I don’t believe I just won this,” he said while standing on a stage covered in confetti. “This is all I’ve worked for my whole life and I guess it was time for it to happen."
Davis, who made the top-10 cut by one ounce on Saturday, spent part of the season competing with a broken hand suffered during practice for the Harris Chain FLW Tour in February.
“It’s so surreal that this actually just happened,” he added.
Yes, Clent. That. Just. Happened.
James Niggemeyer, another angler who felt rejuvenated this season after failing to re-qualify for the Elite Series following the 2017 season, wound up 2nd with 29-09, aided by an 8-11 limit today. It’s a career-best finish in a top-level event for the Texas pro.
Justin Atkins, last year’s Cup champion, caught 9-12 and finished 3rd with 28-12 while Nick LeBrun, this year’s BFL All-American winner, slipped to 4th with 28-06 after weighing 5-11 (four fish).
Jason Lambert managed a 7-12 limit and wound up 5th with 27-15.
Here's a look at how the rest of the 10 finalists finished up:
6. Zack Birge: 26-13
7. Wes Logan: 25-9
8. John Cox: 24-7
9. Brandon Cobb: 23-1
10. Bradford Beavers: 20-8
Logan’s lone keeper weighed 1-12 and dropped him to 7th with 25-09.
Ouachita was a ruthless venue all week. It was as stubborn as it’s ever been for a Cup in August and it likely left some wondering what to expect next year when the Cup circles back to Hot Springs. The shallow fish were no sure thing and the schooling fish tended to be on the small side. That’s why Davis, who favors offshore brush-pile fishing anyway, remained committed to that style of fishing. Not only was he in his comfort zone, he had more than 1,000 piles marked between what he found during the 2015 Cup and preparation for this year.
Davis' win was his third top-10 finish of the season.
Fun Was Priority For Davis
> Day 3: 5, 17-13 (15, 36-13)
The emphasis for Davis today was having fun and not straying from his deep-water game plan.
“I didn’t care where I finished today,” he said. “I just went out and had fun. You’re in the Cup. You’re getting paid no matter what. There’s no pressure unless you’re putting it on yourself. I know everybody wants to win, but I fish to earn a living to feed my family and I knew I was getting paid today no matter what. I was just going to have fun.”
He thinks if his name had been at the top of the leaderboard after day 2, he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I’d say I wouldn’t have won if I had been in first. Going out 10th, I had a blast. This was the last day I’ll fish in 2018. I know it’s tough, but I’ll enjoy it. When they bite, it’s way more enjoyable.”
And that fun centered around a series of brush piles on the bottom in 22 to 30 feet of water that he probed with a 12-inch Mister Twister Mag Buzzworm (plum apple) rigged on a 1/2-ounce swing-head jig.
“We all have our strengths,” he said, referring to the other top-5 finishers around him on the podium. “I think I’m a decent offshore fisherman and I think I’m a really good brush-pile fisherman. To me, I have one strength that I’m really good at and that’s fishing brush and I knew that the only way to beat these guys was to fish brush. It was the only thing I was going to do from day 1.”
He set the tone this morning with a 2 1/2-pounder followed by a 5-pound kicker caught on the worm. Another 2 1/2-pounder gave him a 10-pound limit before the day was a few hours old.
He eventually finished his limit, which weighed 15-plus, before catching another 4-plus in the last 30 minutes to gain more separation from the crowd.
“I got a little redemption on that one,” he said. “I’d lost three big fish there this week and it may have been the same fish, I don’t know, but I finally got her out of the tree.”
To confirm the fish were still around the piles he intended to fish, he was able to idle over them to get a definitive view. Sometimes, that can spook fish. Not at Ouachita, Davis says.
“I graphed ‘em all before I fished them,” he said. “Idling over them seemed to stir them up. With the big motors they’re so used to all the boats on this lake. It moves the bait around and they seem to bite better.”
Details about Davis’ and the other top finishers’ patterns will be published early this week.
James Niggemeyer capped off his first FLW Tour season with a runner-up finish in the Cup.
2nd: No Complaints For Niggemeyer
> Day 3: 5, 8-11 (14, 29-09)
Like Davis, Niggemeyer had to regroup after the 2017 season and he came out energized, and it showed in his results.
“If you don’t requalify for the tour and they tell you’re not coming back, if that doesn’t mess with your head, you’re not human,” he said. “You have to think past all that. This season refreshed some things in me and renewed the passion in my heart and I got excited again.”
He had no qualms about finishing in the runner-up position this week, considering how tough it was.
“There’s no shame in finishing 2nd, especially when you get beat like that,” he added. “Kudos to Clent. If I’d have lost by six ounces with having four fish on day 2, I’d have a hard time leaving the building, but after today I can keep my head high.”
Niggemeyer was hoping for a repeat of the early momentum he built on day 2 when he had four keepers in the boat by 10 a.m.
As was the case at Ouachita this week, nothing was reliable from one day to the next. He didn’t land his first keeper until 9:30 and that came in the wake of losing a good one that jumped off in an area he’d been on Saturday.
“That lost fish would’ve been keeper number one,” he said. “I was in there yesterday and today, they started schooling and I was thinking, this might be what I needed. They were everywhere – on the bottom, right under the shad balls and roaming on top.”
But getting the fish to commit was a different story.
“It was just a different day,” he said. “I thought the overcast would play into my hand with that shallow buzzbait. The funny thing is that first keeper bit just when the sun pierced through the clouds and got on the banks.”
3rd: Atkins Hurt By Lost Fish
> Day 3: 5, 9-12 (15, 28-12)
As far as consistency goes, Atkins led the way this week, carding no more than 9-14 and no less than 9-02. He said those figures could’ve been bigger had he landed everything that bit over the course of the tournament.
He spent the majority of his day again in the south fork of the Ouachita River, mixing a variety of baits for schoolers and bottom-dwellers.
“I’d spend first half of the day up there and then come back into the main lake and fish some islands or certain stretches where I’d seen bass in practice and places I felt were high-percentage that I could go down and possibly get a bite,” he said.
He said there’s nothing about how he fished that he would’ve changed despite having to share water throughout the event with other anglers, including Lambert.
With his reign as Cup champ over, Atkins was happy to pass the torch to Davis, along with some sage advice.
“The biggest thing is get a planner and keep up with all the dates and answer all the calls,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be calling you and asking a lot of you, but in the end it’s all worth it. It’s going to open a lot of doors and it’s an unbelievable experience.”
4th: Smallest Bag for LeBrun
> Day 3: 4, 5-11 (12, 28-06)
LeBrun experienced the gamut of what Ouachita had to offer this week. He started with a solid limit on day 1 to mark his territory in the top 5. Day 2 saw him come in with just three fish, but one was a 6-plus pounder so he was able to move up to 2nd.
He came up short of a limit again today, but this time there was no kicker to make up for it. Still, the Bossier City, La., angler acquitted himself well against some of the best names in the sport and he announced Sunday that he’ll accept the invitation to the 2019 FLW Tour that came with winning the BFL All-American this year.
In reflecting on how the day played out, he’s confident he made the right decisions and put himself in the best position to be successful.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” LeBrun said. “My mindset was to keep baits and patterns in my hands that catch those bigger fish. I thought the weights would be higher. I thought maybe 43 pounds. My mindset was to catch those 3-pounders and leave the spinning tackle in the box. I was only catching small keepers on that so I had to fish to win. Just like Clent throwing that big worm. If you get bit on it, you know it’s the right kind of fish.”
Justin Atkins was consistent at Lake Ouachita despite not catching more than 10 pounds.
5th: Lambert Will Take It
> Day 3: 5, 7-12 (15, 27-15)
Lambert changed things up this morning by spending 30 to 45 minutes winding a Whopper Plopper through and around some standing timber. He came up empty and eventually headed off to the south fork of the Ouachita.
That’s where the majority of his damage was done, but the quality just wasn’t what it had been.
“Today I made a little gamble trying to win and probably should’ve stayed out deeper longer, but at the end of the day, if I had it to do over, I’d do the same thing again,” he said. “I decided to fish my strengths. Maybe it’s old school for me because it’s what I grew up doing – fishing off the bank. Regardless if it was brush piles and I didn’t do very well in brush piles in practice so me and (Atkins) found the same little area and we just did what we do at Pickwick. We got offshore on a river ledge and went fishing.
“I didn’t catch them in the tournament like I caught them in practice. For me, it was fishing what I was comfortable fishing.”
6th: No Changes for Birge
> Day 3: 5, 6-07 (15, 26-13)
Birge was one of four competitors this week to card a limit each day. His problem was his stringers got progressively smaller.
Still, he felt confident that he put himself in position to be a contender and he’d fish the same way if he was heading back out Monday.
“I wouldn’t try to do anything different at all,” he said. “Just maybe try to get a little more lucky.”
7th: Logan Got Tripped Up
> Day 3: 1, 1-12 (11, 25-09)
For how Logan was fishing – shallow in the morning, deeper in the afternoon – timing was key. Over the first couple of days, his better bites had come in the afternoon. After coming up empty this morning, he almost got shut out later on, too. He blames the timing of his stops for his struggles.
“I wouldn’t have changed much about how I fished,” he said. “Today, I wish I would’ve ran my rotation at a different time. I hit my stuff at the wrong times I think. Other than that, it was a good week.”
8th: Smallest Bag for Cox
> Day 3: 4, 4-09 (13, 24-07)
Through the first two days, John Cox’s average fish was just above 2 pounds. Today, that number was cut in half as he came in with his smallest stringer of the tournament.
Asked afterward if he’d have changed anything looking back, he offered a sarcastic reply, “I would’ve come a month early and cut down 100 trees and then I would’ve fished offshore in the tournament.”
9th: Cobb Content
> Day 3: 2, 3-15 (12, 23-01)
Brandon Cobb saw his weight fall off significantly today from yesterday, but he was still satisfied with a fourth straight top-10 showing in the Cup.
“I wouldn’t change much other than today, I got hung up on some schooling fish that I couldn’t catch,” he said. “It was about covering water and seeing what happens.”
10th: Beavers Looked Everywhere
> Day 3: 1, 1-03 (9, 20-08)
Bradford Beavers’ only fish came right away this morning and he struggled the rest of the way. Still, he came away with positive vibes from his second straight Cup (he finished 11th in 2017).
“As much as we all practiced, I couldn’t find anything else and my results were getting worse and worse as the days went by,” he said.
> Day 3 stats – 10 anglers, 5 limits, 2 fours, 1 two, 2 ones.
> Total attendance for the three-day Cup festivities was 66,293. Spectators were turned away from the arena this afternoon and offered a chance to watch the weigh-in in the convention center space adjacent to the arena.
1. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, Al – 9-8 (5) – 9-8 (5) – 17-13 (5) – 36-13 (15) -- $300,000
2. James Niggemeyer -- Van, Tx – 12-2 (5) – 8-12 (4) – 8-11 (5) – 29-9 (14) -- $60,000
3. Justin Atkins -- Florence, Al – 9-14 (5) – 9-2 (5) – 9-12 (5) – 28-12 (15) -- $50,000
4. Nick Lebrun -- Bossier City, La – 13-5 (5) – 9-6 (3) – 5-11 (4) – 28-6 (12) -- $37,500
5. Jason Lambert -- Michie, Tn – 10-0 (5) – 10-3 (5) – 7-12 (5) – 27-15 (15) -- $30,000
6. Zack Birge -- Blanchard, Ok – 13-1 (5) – 7-5 (5) – 6-7 (5) – 26-13 (15) -- $24,000
7. Wes Logan -- Springville, Al – 11-9 (5) – 12-4 (5) – 1-12 (1) – 25-9 (11) -- $23,000
8. John Cox -- Debary, Fl – 11-3 (5) – 8-11 (4) – 4-09 (4) – 24-7 (13) -- $22,000
9. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC – 8-7 (5) – 10-11 (5) – 3-15 (2) –23-01 (12) -- $21,000
10. Bradford Beavers -- Summerville, SC – 11-6 (3) – 7-15 (5) – 1-3 (1) – 20-08 (9) -- $20,000