GADSDEN, Ala. — Focusing on current-related habitat enabled Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas, to win the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on Neely Henry Lake with a three-day total of 34 pounds, 1 ounce.
Bird placed third on Day 1 with a limit of 13-1 and moved into the Day 2 lead after adding 11-9. On Championship Saturday, he turned in a limit of 9-7 and earned the $35,000 top prize for his first B.A.S.S. win.
“I have two seconds, a third, a fourth, two fifths, a sixth and three sevenths — it feels good to finally win one,” Bird said. “I’m just not a closer. This time, when I got up there, I made up my mind that they were going to have to take it from me.
“It took me a while, but it was worth it. I earned this one, for sure.”
Fishing fast to cover lots of water, Bird said he covered a 15-mile stretch up the Coosa River. Throughout the event, he reported making upwards of 100 stops a day — often visiting key spots multiple times — and making approximately 1,000 casts a day.
Bird formulated his fast-paced strategy for the tough fall transitional period that found Neely Henry in a stingy mood. Bites were scarce, but Bird quickly dialed in the types of spots he needed to fish.
“I had a terrible first day of practice, so I decided to run up the river and check it out,” he said. “(Alabama Power) was running water wide open and the fish were really biting, so I figured that I was going to stay in that area.
“I knew the fish wouldn’t bite as good when they weren’t running water, so I ran tons of little drains that had water running out.”
Bird said he also targeted docks positioned in areas with good current exposure.
“I had a couple little stretches where I could line up with where the current came down,” he said. “The end of a dock is always good and you could get in behind them and find a few fish.
“I also caught several goods ones off stumps. I didn’t ever catch many off laydowns, but they were on stumps.”
Catching a mix of largemouth and spotted bass, Bird did most of his work with Lucky Craft RC 1.5 squarebills. He had each bait custom-painted in bright chartreuse patterns, but presentation was the most important element.
“The whole key to it was burning that bait,” he said. “The water was a little clear for a squarebill, so you had to trick them. I don’t know how many spots hit my bait at the boat and didn’t take it.”
Matthew Robertson of Kuttawa, Ky., finished second with 33-1. The first two days saw Robertson weigh limits of 11-0 and 11-8. On Saturday, he missed his limit by one fish but turned in the biggest sack of Championship Saturday — 10-9.
“This week I’ve just been winging it; fishing stuff I never fish,” Robertson said. “I stayed on the main river and threw a Strike King Red Eyed Special spinnerbait.”
Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., finished third with 32-11. After a Day 1 bag of 9-5 had him in a tie for 38th place, Browning found his biggest sack on Friday — a 13-6 limit that included a 5-5. He closed with a 10-pound Day 3 limit.
Targeting wood, riprap, chunk rock and gravel banks, Browning caught his fish on a Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait with a Z-Man Razor ShadZ trailer and a Jewel finesse jig with a craw worm.
“It was just typical river fishing; you just fish what’s in front of you,” Browning said. “Realistically, I had (approximately) the same bag three days in a row, I just had that big fish on Friday that bumped me up really good.”
Browning won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 5-5.
Fifth-place Kenta Kimura, of Osaka, Japan, won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards.
John Goul of Philadelphia, Miss., won the co-angler division with a three-day total of 17-15. Goul weighed two fish for 4-11 on Day 1, added a three-fish limit of 5-10 on Day 2 and earned his first B.A.S.S. win with a final round limit of 7-10.
Paired with Bird, Goul caught his final-round fish on a 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Finesse Jig in the Go To color with a watermelon Zoom Twin Tail trailer. He dyed the trailer tips chartreuse.
“He was cranking and paralleling the bank and he just gave me a few targets that just happened to have quality fish on them,” Goul said. “I caught fish as shallow as 6 inches, and I caught my biggest from the end of a tree in about 8 feet of water.”
Jason Henson of Rome, Ga., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with a 4-0.
Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., leads the Central Open points race with 547 points, followed by Darold Gleason with 540. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Lee Livesay is in third with 539, followed by Marc Frazier in fourth with 533 and Elite pro Brandon Palaniuk with 531.
Christie leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 929 points.
The tournament is being hosted by Greater Gadsden Area Tourism.