A statistically unlikely win

Goose eggs happen, but adding no weight on a given tournament’s qualifying day typically nixes one’s hopes of a final-round berth. But say you make it to the last day, what are your chances of winning?

Admittedly, after starting Championship Saturday at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River with the dooming scenario rattling around in his head, William Young did not consider probability in his favor — at least not until Tournament Director Chris Bowes announce his 21-pound, 6-ounce total had earned the first place co-angler trophy.

By the numbers, the competitor from Livingston, Texas led Day 1 with 10 pounds 11 ounces, blanked on day two, but then mirrored his opening effort with another 10-11.

“I was really nervous coming in today, knowing that I had zeroed and knowing that these other co-anglers were going to catch ‘em today,” Young said. “My pro and I were talking numbers all day. That weight surprised me, for sure.”

Young said his improbable achievement hinged on flawless final round fishing.

“Everything went the way I needed it to,” Young said. “I didn’t miss any fish, I set the hook on everything that bit and I was luck to get everything in the boat. 

“I was down this morning, but my boater (Jonn Garrett) told me ‘We’re going to be on ‘em.’ After getting one fish, two fish in the boat, I started getting my positive attitude back and realized it was possible. We caught fish all day.”

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What's in a name?

Scroll through the final standings from the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River and you’ll see one of the coolest names in bass fishing, Spike Stoker in the 10th place spot. Because we know there’s a cool story behind such a name, we asked and the affable Texan proudly explained.

“My dad was a Marine who served in Viet Nam and the Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog named Spike,” Stoke said. “My dad’s name is Gaylon Willis Stoke, so he named me Gaylon Spike Stoker. I named my son Braden Spike Stoker.”

So, what are the implications of the name “Spike”? Well, Tournament Director Chris Bowes’ inquiry about any volleyball relevance was quickly shot down; but Stoker offered an amusing retort. 

“Every girl I ever dated, whenever they said they were going to go on a date with a guy named ‘Spike,’ their dad said they expected a biker to walk into their home, instead of a bass fisherman."

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The dreaded six-fish penalty - again

For the second week in a row, a two-pound penalty for having six fish in the livewell may determine the outcome of a B.A.S.S. tournament. It happened to Shane LeHew in the Elite Series event at Alabama's Lake Eufaula last week. The two-pound penalty kept LeHew from making Sunday's Top 10 final, and allowed eventual tournament winner Buddy Gross to squeak into the 10th spot after Day 3.

And it has happened today to unofficial tournament leader John Garrett. It happens more often than you'd think. In a flurry of fish catches, it's easy to lose track of how many bass are in the livewell. But the occurrences aren't often as dramatic as those of the last week.

"My stomach's been torn up about that sixth fish," said Garrett earlier on Bassmaster LIVE. "I made a mistake, and I'm not sure what happened."

It's too early to determine if Garrett's penalty will hurt his chances for victory. Hamper, yes. But he's got a better than average five-bass limit for the Arkansas River this week, even with the penalty.

Gross was asked about his good luck in barely making the top 10 Saturday before grabbing the title with a 27-pound, 4-ounce bag on Sunday at Eufaula. Gross noted that he'd lost a 7-pounder on Day 1 when his kill switch lanyard got caught in his reel. So his luck evened out.

"When it's meant to be, you can't get out of the way of it," laughed Gross.

Maybe it's meant to be for John Garrett today, two-pound penalty and all.

Leaders within sight of each other

Arkansas River veteran angler Jason Christie was asked yesterday how this tournament would be won today. The Park Hill, Okla., pro was a pre-tournament favorite. He was in 15th place on Day 1, but finished 38th after catching two bass on Day 2. Christie spent both days in the Kerr pool.

"It's going to be won right over there, like it always is," Christie said, pointing to the area just outside Three Forks Harbor.

That just happens to be where all three current leaders - John Garrett, Dale Hightower and Stephen Browning - are fishing. Steve Bowman is photographing all three this morning. He reports they're within sight of each other, about a half-mile apart, "doing what every Arkansas River fisherman does, flipping wood."

The area has plenty of wood cover and lots of fish are released in and around Three Forks Harbor, as it provides an ideal tournament setting. Christie has reminded himself of this every time he competes here, "but I never do it," he said.

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Poche went from zero to hero

Like a deep bruise, Keith Poche won't forget this tournament for a while. Over the first two days, he caught the fish to be leading by three pounds going into today. However, the Pike Road, Ala., angler had to release 12 pounds on Thursday when he just missed the lock opening and, thus, his check-in time. He rallied on Day 2 from last place to 27th with a 19-pound, 5-ounce limit, the heaviest bag of the tournament so far. He earned some valuable points, at least, with the comeback.

"I said, what the heck, I haven't got anything to lose," Poche said. "So I went to where I wanted to go. I'd gotten in there in practice (without a co-angler in the boat). There's no way to get a fiberglass boat in this place. We had to shimmy, push-pole, walk up to the front of the boat here, walk back there. It took me 30 minutes to get in there. But I knew if I got there, I could catch 'em."

Poche always fishes from an aluminum boat with a 90-horsepower outboard motor when he comes to the Arkansas River.

"I went where I wanted to go, and I caught 'em the way I like to catch 'em," Poche said Friday. "I caught 'em flipping a green-pumpkin Berkley Pit Boss."

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Palaniuk enjoys fishing shallow too

Brandon Palaniuk, 10th, (22-11)

Brandon Palaniuk's success on the Elite Series, which includes the 2017 Angler of the Year title, has been highlighted by top finishes on deep, clear reservoirs or rivers. But in his first tournament on the Arkansas River at Muskogee, he's having success here too. Palaniuk was 44th on Day 1 and made the top 12 in 10th place with a 13-pound, 8-ounce limit yesterday.

"Even though I get coined as an offshore guy, I actually enjoy shallow water," Palaniuk said. "You can juke and jive. It's junk fishing."

Palaniuk, who lives in Rathdrum, Idaho, found a sweet spot at the lower end of Kerr Lake yesterday. It has allowed him to put an 11-pound limit in the boat this morning and moved him up the leaderboard. He began the day 5-6 behind leader Dale Hightower. So he's got a lot of ground to makeup and the shortest day to do it, since he has to lock back up to Muskogee.

"The place I caught them (Friday) afternoon was pretty special," Palaniuk said. "There is so much bait there. I just kept going back and forth, and I'd catch 'em every time. And I'd cull. They were good ones."

The bait he mentioned is both tiny threadfin shad and larger threadfins too. He's catching them on a Rapala BX Brat, a two-inch-long square-billed crankbait.

"Ever since they came out with that it has been my go-to river fishing crankbait and for fish that are up shallow anywhere," Palaniuk said. "I've caught them on it really good at Grand Lake, and I made a top 10 on it at the Sabine River a couple of years ago.

"I feel like a lot of guys are concentrating on the grass down in Kerr. I'm concentrating on rock and wood. The cool thing is that BX Brat is balsa, so it's got buoyancy for fishing around shallow cover, and it's got hard plastic around it, so it's tough, durable. You can bang it up against the rocks, and it will hold up.

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Browning's success here no surprise

Stephen Browning, 6th, (24-3)

It's no surprise to anyone who has followed B.A.S.S. for years that 54-year-old Arkansas angler Stephen Browning made the top 12 cut here at the Arkansas River, or that he took an early lead with the quickest limit of the final day. Browning, who now lives in Hot Springs, Ark., grew up in Pine Bluff, Ark., fishing the Arkansas River there.

"I grew up on it, a couple of hundred miles south of here," said Browning, after finishing sixth yesterday, 3-14 out of the lead. "It's river fishing. That's the big thing. You can't overanalyze it."

There are acres and acres of water in the three pools available to the anglers this week. But often one angler is fishing within sight of another. Even with only 12 boats remaining today, Browning is fishing within sight of Day 2 leader Dale Hightower. This is the sixth Central Open at Muskogee in the last 10 years.

"I think that we've been here so many times that guys have eliminated a lot of the river," Browning said. "When we first came here there was a lot of stuff I fished when I didn't have any company."