JUNCTION CITY, Kan. — Chris Johnson said he likes a tournament that makes anglers “grind.”
He’s at the right event.
The 160 competitors in the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional struggled to find fish for a second consecutive day on Milford Lake here in the center of the Sunflower State. A late-season snowstorm rolled through the heartland overnight Monday, and the 6 inches of powder it dumped completely disrupted what in recent weeks had been a quality bite on the 15,700-acre reservoir.
The freak storm was a curveball that anglers from eight different states have struggled to hit. A total of 89 anglers zeroed Wednesday and 116 didn’t weigh a fish Thursday – 53 of 80 entered in the boater division and 63 of 80 in the co-angler field.
Johnson, a 51-year-old Farmington, Ark., resident, has been one of the bright spots this week, starting with the four bass he caught Wednesday that weighed a day’s best 14 pounds, 12 ounces. He struggled to catch two bass for an additional 4-12 Thursday, but the 19-8 total was just enough to maintain the lead.
“It’s really tough out there,” Johnson said. “The wind switched around on me today, coming straight out of the south. I had a later start too, and when I got to the spot where I caught the 7-pounder yesterday, there were eight boats already there. I just had to get in there and mix it up.”
Problem was, there were hardly any bass biting.
“I caught my first keeper, my first bite, at about 11 o’clock,” he said. “I had to scramble and find some new water upriver. I’m fishing shallow rock and I’ve got to have moving water, but it really took all day to get the two fish I had.”
Johnson’s lead is slim, with Kris Bosley of Amarillo, Texas, an ounce behind with 19-7.
Bosley, who qualified for the regional through the New Mexico B.A.S.S. Nation, caught one of only four limits Wednesday — a 13-5 total that put him in third place. He managed only three bass Thursday for 6-2, but still scratched his way into second.
“The lake is fishing really small,” Bosley said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the fish right now and that snowstorm earlier in the week certainly didn’t help.”
Bosley said he’s fishing a reaction bite, doing everything he can to tempt the smallmouth he’s targeting.
“The good strong north wind blowing yesterday hit a couple of my key spots and it helped me,” he said. “Today, it was slick and I couldn’t get them to react … I just hunkered down and counted the rocks until the wind picked up a bit in the afternoon.”
Bosley is sharing water with New Mexico teammate Christian Gladfelter, who was the big mover on Thursday with five bass weighing 11-15. The Albuquerque angler caught one of only two limits weighed on Day 2, with the other coming from fellow New Mexico competitor Brad Hauf, who weighed in three bass for 5-5, gaining him third place in the co-angler division.
Ray Cates of Overland Park, Kan., leads co-anglers with three bass weighing 7-7. Russell Vines of El Dorado, Ark., is second with three bass for 7-6.
A total of 40 anglers survived Thursday’s cut and will fish Friday. The field includes the Top 16 anglers in both divisions, as well as four additional anglers who were in the Top 2 from their state but not among the Top 16 in their respective divisions.
They’re all fighting for a share of the $34,500 total purse. The winning boater will take home $5,000 courtesy of Ranger and the leading co-angler will net $2,500 courtesy of Yamaha.
Colorado won the team competition that ended Thursday with a two-day total of 34 bass that weighed 84-9. The 20-person squad (10 boaters and 10 co-anglers) stormed to a 19-pound lead on Day 1 and held on to win $5,000 courtesy of Ranger and Yamaha for finishing first in team totals.
New Mexico made a hard charge at the team title, but settled for second with 36 bass weighing 81-13. The squad, which won $3,000 for finishing second, caught 19 bass on Day 2 weighing 42-11 to challenge Colorado for team honors.
Texas was third with 27 bass for 66-3 and won $2,000. Other teams included, fourth, Arkansas (27, 65-8); fifth, Oklahoma (24, 59-14); sixth, Kansas (23, 53-13); seventh, Missouri (19, 49-7); and eighth, Louisiana (15, 33-7).
Friday’s final-round takeoff will be at 6:30 a.m. CT from Acorns Resort, and the weigh-in will be held back at the resort at 2:30 p.m.
The tournament is one of five B.A.S.S. Nation regionals this year. Leading anglers at each qualify for the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship to be held Nov. 3-5 on the Ouachita River in Louisiana.