FLW Cup Win Life-changing for Knight Family

I love fishing tournaments. Through them we learn new techniques, productive tackle, methods, places and patterns. They aren’t everyone’s passion, but a growing number are becoming fans of this exciting sport.

The FLW was named in honor of Forrest Lee Wood, founder of Ranger Boats. The winner of their championship receives the Forrest Wood Cup plus a check for $500,000!

This is a tremendous amount of money that compares very favorably to many other better publicized prizes. For example, the popular television show America’s Got Talent boasts of their million dollar prize. But watch the fine print at the end of the show and you’ll see it’s spread over forty years. That’s $25,000 a year—nice, but that amount of money isn’t exactly life changing.

This year’s event was held on Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Ark., the best location we have experienced yet for this kind of event. The host hotel, Hilton’s Embassy Suites, had luxurious rooms with cooked-to-order complimentary breakfasts, free “happy hour” refreshments, and a very helpful staff. This was the forth time the FLW Cup was held in Hot Springs.

A walkway connects the hotel to the Bank of the Ozarks Arena, where weigh-ins took place, and the Hot Springs Convention Center where the FLW Expo took place. Exhibitors, kids’ events, seminars, and a barbecue were all in one convenient location. Restaurants and the famous Hot Springs spas are just a short walk away. Many commented that all major bass tournaments should be held here, knowing that’s not practical.

Lake Ouachita is the state’s largest at 40,100 acres, built from 1948 to 1953. Her undeveloped shorelines, surrounded by national forestland, with a maze of coves and islands, are beautiful.

Deep sanctuaries with abundant coves, pockets, points, humps, feeder rivers, creeks and channels provide a multitude of choices for fish and anglers to make and avoid contact. In addition to structure, there’s an abundance of cover with various grasses, trees and brush piles planted over many years.

Forage includes gizzard and threadfin shad, bluegills whose beds attract bass and abundant crawfish. The weather often presents a challenge, and this time hot weather during practice was followed by a rain front on the off day, then a 61-degree morning for the takeoff.

In contacting our friends, twin brothers Bobby and Billy Murray who live in the area, they predicted that drop shot rigs would be important. They even have a new twist in which the hook isn’t tied tight, but allowed to slide with its eye between swivels tied 2 to 3 feet apart, with a weight a foot below the bottom swivel. This keeps the bait out of silt and plants on older lakes with weight to get it down quickly, and the added feature of a slow, wacky-style drop in productive zones.

Fifty of the world’s best anglers shared their boats with 50 top co-anglers for the first two days. Former Cup winner and Indianapolis native Jacob Wheeler stunned the Day 1 crowd with the lead over Ish Monroe, in second place just a pound and 2 ounces behind.

Ish was catching so many fish that he was releasing many limits that other contestants were lusting for. But, on Day 2 he was only able to bring in two bass weighing 4.12, which dropped him to 19th place, barely keeping him in the top 20 who would continue the contest to the third day. Jacob lost 4- and 3-pounders, but held third.

Co-angler Sunny Hawk hails from Salt Lake City, Utah, but has roots and family in Illinois. He won the co-angler title and $50,000 and distinguished himself by wearing plain clothes with none of the typical logos of sponsors, as he had none, but is open to offers.

On Day 3, Jacob regained the lead and was one of 10 anglers qualified to fish the final day. He got off to a quick start with three keepers on Day 4.

Several were catching 30 to 50 bass a day that were under the 13 inches required to keep them. Schooling bass up to 5 pounds were a major factor, but almost no one caught more than one or two of the big schoolers a day, frustrating the pros.

Other patterns keyed on bedding bluegills. Topwater plugs and buzzbaits caught some nice ones.

But, the winner is an angler who fished under the radar. He expected to go to pharmacy school, but found he had a passion for tournament fishing.

Brad Knight hadn’t won a major tournament, but fished well enough to qualify for the richest bass tournament in the world. His total winnings since 2007 with FLW was $188,353.

It was lonely on tour. He missed his wife, who was a nurse, and his daughter. The family needed to stay together on the road fishing or he’d quit tournaments and get work near home. They decided to fish, even though most who make that decision don’t succeed.

He started the first of three practice days on the water just after 3 a.m., checking and marking brush piles, rivers and structure with his GPS. Fishing was tough and he’d not caught any keepers. At lunch time, he began to check a creek with water running in, finding that a tornado had deposited a lot of twisted trees on its banks and flats. He caught a couple of keepers there.

Not having any other productive places, Brad began the first contest day in that small creek. Surprised that Mark Daniels, Jr. and Brandon Cobb had also found this small area, the three competitors practiced great sportsmanship and courtesy throughout the contest and all three finished in the top ten.

Brad’s first day he produced most of his fish on a buzzbait. Day 2 it was a drop shot rig fished shallow by fallen tree root wads, and missed fish cost him. But, on Day 3 he jumped to second, less than a pound behind Wheeler.

Jacob got three keepers quickly on Day 4, but never caught another keeper all day, stunning everyone, as he was the last to weigh in. Brad noticed wind blowing into the creek for the first time and tied on a Tennessee wood crankbait he’d made ten years ago. He hadn’t caught a fish with it for five years, but proceeded to nail ‘em.

He and his family’s lives are changed. They will pay off their home’s mortgage, put money away for their daughter’s college tuition, buy more fishing tackle and fish with much less pressure, but even more passion.

“The greatest thing, though, is to have his name on the Forrest Wood Cup trophy with so many other great fisherman,” Knight said. “It was a very emotional moment for all to see this family’s dream come true, even as their daughter was having fun playing with other children in the confetti dropped during the celebration of another great tournament.”