Blake Hice and Jonathon Collins Take The Win With 20.17 At The First Stop Of The ABT North On Neely Henry Lake
By Jason Duran
Gadsden, Ala. Feb. 20- The Alabama Bass Trail North Division started its 2022 season on Neely Henry Lake. The weather in February in Alabama can be ever changing, and the week leading up to this event brought huge fluctuations in temperature and weather patterns. When anglers arrived on tournament morning, the current was swift on the main river. The large amount of water moving through the system was cold and muddy making conditions even tougher for some anglers. Teams hoped to recover from the tough practice conditions and put together a solid day of fishing to take home the $10,000 first place prize and the title.
The anglers that make up the Alabama Bass Trail are known to be some of the best teams in bass fishing. They enjoy the competition, and this event was set up to be very competitive. Tournament morning teams found air temps in the mid 20s and water temps in the high 40s at blast off. The fact it was going to be a tough fishing didn’t scare away the 225 teams who were anxious to get this season started.
The team of Blake Hice and Jonathon Collins shared at blast off, “we really didn’t have any good bites in practice.” Jonathon “only caught one fish in practice and felt it was going to be a really tough day.” Their morning started with a little bad luck getting a crankbait hung in one of their bibs, having to cut it out and breaking the handle off their net. Blake joked with Jonathon, “with all this bad luck, you know we might just win this event.”
Jonathon shared, “yesterday I just went out to practice; I didn’t practice much, but I got a bite on the Evergreen Flat Force off a Dock. I then moved around and looked for similar docks that had the same depth and color. I was really targeting docks that had the best color and stain I could find that wasn’t just mud. Today, we were going to go upriver and just fish, but we decided to go to the dock where I got that bite in practice and start there. We had people all around us fishing and doing similar things, but felt we were just doing the different things that mattered. The Evergreen Flat Force is a perfect early in the year crankbait and the Pan Fish color is a great muddy water color. It was about fishing a confident bait for me. I have a lot of confidence in this bait and really like the tight wabble. I used a 6:3 Steez reel with 20lb Sunline mono that helped to keep the bait in the strike zone. We really fished slower than the other teams around us. We would make casts around docks in 8-10 feet water. The docks had lots of brush around them, and we bounced the bait of the docks and trees to target the strikes. When we caught the first fish it felt like we might be on to something. The second and the third were nice size fish as well. It wasn’t till the fourth and fifth fish that we felt like we might have a little something going. It is hard to judge how other teams are doing. When we came to the scales, I felt like we had around 15 pounds, but when the scales read 20.17 pounds, it was amazing!”
Blake and Jonathon were able to find key bites on a very difficult day for most of the other anglers. There were only 6 limits weighed in, and many teams only weighed in one fish just to get championship points. Their first place weight doubled many of the top 10 finishers. “We really only had a few bites all day but are thankful we were able to get those fish in the boat on such a difficult day. An emotional Jonathon said,” I really have a lot of friends out here fishing today. Each event we work hard, and today it all paid off for us. It was very surreal for us to be standing here beating some of the best guys on this lake for a long time.”
The second-place team of Adam Brown and Greg Diggs call Neely Henry Home and were one of the teams favored to win this event. With 16.17 pounds they take home $5000 and a solid start to the year. They made the run upriver towards the Weiss Lake Dam. Concentrating on fishing the current breaks, they quickly culled up to about 13 pounds around 10:00. “They had 3 turbines running making the current about as strong as you can get for this lake.” Spending the rest of the day fishing the river and the current break pattern they continued to catch fish and culled up to their 16.17 pounds. The key baits for them were jigs and crankbaits. “We heard many teams were catching them on chatterbaits, but that just wouldn’t work for us.” Their top two baits were a 3/8 oz jig with a black and blue Zoom trailer and a Lucky Craft DT 6 in two different colors; chartreuse black and a custom painted color.
Ethan Franklin and Hunter McCarty took third place with 12.79 pounds and $4000. They were another team that caught them well. However, when the schedule came out, “they were dreading this event because they are more of a Tennessee River team.” They found a 10-yard stretch and worked back and forth over that area to come up with their 5 fish limit. They caught their limit between 9:30 and 11:00, and only had a few bites after that. They described their key area as a little narrow canal where the fish were probably 5 feet away when they caught them. “We found spotted bass in muddy water, and that’s not usual this time of year.” The key bait was a ½ oz ball head jig with a Zoom super chunk both in in black and blue. Starting off the year in 3rd place this year, their goals for the rest of the year include winning AOY against this field and making the BASS Team championship.
The Top 5 places are below for a complete list of standings visit: https://www.alabamabasstrail.org/neely-henry-lake/results/
Download and listen to the ABT Podcast on your favorite Podcast app by searching for “Alabama Bass Trail Podcast.” The podcast is released each week on Tuesday.
The sponsors of the 2022 Alabama Bass Trail include: Phoenix Boats, Academy Sports, Alabama Power, America’s First Federal Credit Union, American Trailer Rental Group, BAJIO, Berkley, Big Bite Baits, Bill Penny Automotive, Black Rife Coffee Company, Buck N’ Bass, Anheuser – Bush, Inc., E3 Sports Apparel, Fish Neely Henry Lake.com, Garmin, Jack’s, Lew’s, Mountain Dew, Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, Power-Pole, Strike King, Sweet Home Alabama, T-H Marine, Wedowee Marine, Yamaha, Navionics and YETI Coolers.