MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Skylar Hamilton brought his aluminum boat to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open for the wrong reason. But it now looks like a great decision. In fact, the tunnel hull on his 18-foot Tracker Grizzly boat pointed Hamilton to the spot where he caught a five-bass limit weighing 19-4 Friday and took the lead going into the final day.
"I'd never been here before," said the 21-year-old Hamilton, who is from Dandridge, Tenn. "I'd heard the tailwaters at Ft. Gibson Dam were good, and if the water was low, bass boats would have a hard time getting through there.
"When I got here, and it was flooding, I knew everybody could get up there. So I looked at the map and found a couple of more rivers where it's shallow – the Canadian and the Illinois. I thought I could catch them there, but that didn't pan out too well."
In fact, Hamilton read the situation in the Illinois River so quickly on Thursday, that he'd motored back upriver through the lock and started looking for another place to fish.
"Coming back from the lock, I hit some debris and it got clogged in the tunnel (of the tunnel hull boat)," he said. "There's a bar in the middle of the tunnel to throw water back in it when the motor cavitates. I stopped about three or four times to clear it out. Then I looked on my map and found this spot.
"I wanted to go somewhere where somebody else would have a hard time getting in. I saw what I liked."
Hamilton caught all of his Day 1, 15th-place weight of 13-12 there. And he definitely saw what he liked.
"My co-angler lost a legitimate eight-pounder there," Hamilton said. "It was definitely eight."
By 9:30 Friday, Hamilton had a limit. He stayed a couple more hours and culled up once. And he eventually culled three more times after he left, at a spot close to Three Forks Harbor. But he's anxious to find out what he could catch if he stayed on this spot all day, which he will Saturday.
"I think I can catch a 20-pound bag," Hamilton said. "But that's if nothing changes. You know how fishing is."
What's so special about this shallow backwater area?
"There's a lot of mayflies," Hamilton said. "That's part of the deal. Big mayflies, and redwing blackbirds. All kinds of good stuff. Turtles, snakes."
Hamilton's aluminum boat has opened a world of possibilities for him, even if his top speed with a 70-horsepower four-stroke Yamaha motor pales in comparison to all the other anglers running 250-horsepower engines on their full-size fiberglass bass boats.
"I can fish the way I need to fish out of it," he said. "The fish I'm catching are in a foot or less of water."
It was two years ago in June when Hamilton won the Second Chance Tournament held in conjunction with BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga. The one-day Second Chance event was held on Lake Nickajack, where Hamilton had no experience. He caught 25-13 that day to win easily. His bag included a 9-15 big bass.
"I think I'm just going to do it this way all the time," laughed Hamilton. "The more I practice for a tournament, the more it seems to hurt me."