Johnson Wins B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier Tournament at Arkansas River

April 5, 2024
B.A.S.S. News

MUSKOGEE, Okla. —  Enduring a painfully slow day that starkly contrasted the previous activity levels, Chris Johnson’s steadfast belief in his area allowed him to tally a three-day total of 51 pounds, 3 ounces and claim the wire-to-wire win at the B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier at the Arkansas River.

“Holy cow, this whole week has been unbelievable,” said the Farmington, Ark., angler. “I’ve been at this tournament thing since I was 11 and this is my first major win. I’ve been really close a lot of times.

“I’ve wanted to be here my whole life. You imagine standing here and what you might say, but it just escapes you.”

After taking the early lead with a Day 1 limit of 19-6, Johnson added 17-15 and held on to the top spot. On Championship Friday, he squeaked out a final-round limit of 13-14, edged Blake Capps of Muskogee, Ark., by 1-9, and took home the top prize of $12,065.

The Top 20 anglers qualified for the 2024 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, scheduled for Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Grove, Okla., Nov. 6-8.

Staying true to the game plan that put him in position to win, Johnson returned to the same backwater ponds he fished the first two days. Running a few miles upriver from takeoff, he snuck through breaks in the rock levees to access the protected waters where he targeted prespawn fish.

As Johnson noted, the fish were positioned about the same as the first two days, but the pacing of his five bites stoked his stress level.

“Today was an absolutely nerve-racking day,” he said. “Fishing had been tough and I knew I was fishing for five to six bites a day.

“I got to my area and had the spot all to myself. I fished 1 1/2 hours with no bites. I finally got a bite and it was my biggest fish — a 4-pounder — about 9:30, but then it was back to the grind.”

With no competition, Johnson thought he should have been catching fish more frequently, but he knew the bites would eventually happen, so he kept on track.

He added his second fish around 10, then another at 11. His fourth keeper came at 1 o’clock and his limit-filler bit at 2:30.

“It played out just like it should,” Johnson said. “The first two fish were deeper, but later in the day, the fish moved shallow. I attribute that to a colder morning that slowed down the bite and then, as the day got warmer, the fish moved up closer to the bank.”

Johnson caught all of his fish on a 3/8-ounce tandem Colorado/willow-leaf spinnerbait with a Zoom Split Tail trailer. A chartreuse/white skirt produced earlier in the day, with a shad pattern getting the afternoon work.

“The main thing all week was keeping that retrieve slow,” Johnson said. “I’d cast close to the bank and keep that bait on a slow, steady reel.”

While the pressure of having many friends and family members on site for this event occasionally whispered in his ear, Johnson said his commitment to a game plan ultimately carried him to victory.

“Mainly, it was just being able to settle in one area and keep grinding because I knew there were good fish in there,” he said. “I just kept making passes over good water and I wasn’t preoccupied with other areas. 

“When your mind starts wandering, you have to tell yourself to stay there and stay after it.”

Statistically, the most consistent angler in the final field, Capps placed sixth on Day 1 with 16-1 and improved to second with a Day 2 limit of 16-12. Adding a third-round limit of 16-13, he settled in second place with 49-10.

Each day, Capps locked down to the Kerr Pool, where he fished spawning bays with a mix of coontail and reeds. He caught his fish by throwing a Booyah Pad Crasher frog and flipping a YUM Baby Christie Critter.

“I was fishing that frog really fast,” Capps said. “A lot of those fish were bedding and you could get a reaction bite. If they missed, I’d flip in there and a lot of times, I’d catch that fish.”

Capps ended each day by saving about an hour of fishing time for when he locked back up to the Muskogee Pool. There, he’d flip bigger rocks with the Baby Christie Critter, but his biggest fish on Day 2 — a 4-pounder — bit a wacky-rigged YUM Dinger.

Jeremy Norris of Ama, La., placed third with 46-15. His daily weights were 14-5, 18-6 and 14-4.

Spending most of his time in Kerr, Norris focused on the same 200-yard drain all three days. In depths of 2 to 4 feet, he flipped lighter vegetation with a Jaboom Bait Co. Boom Bug. 

In thicker mats, he channeled his Louisiana roots and punched a Jaboom Bait Co. Beaver Ball with a 1/2- and 3/4-ounce weight. He used the Cali 420 color in clear areas and black/blue in stained water.

“I knew that with the clear skies and high pressure, they’d be under those mats,” Norris said. “It felt right in my wheelhouse.”

Jeff Clark of Van Buren, Ark., topped the Big Bass standings with his 6-9.

Charlie Miglicco of Cypress, Texas, won the nonboater division with a three-day total of 24-1. Turning in daily three-bass limits of 4-15, 9-9 and 9-9, Miglicco won $4,911.

Shayne Dupree of Haslet, Texas, topped the Big Bass standings in the nonboater division with his 5-8.