Nation: Johnson takes the lead

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Brenden Kanies

JUNCTION CITY, Kan.  Five days ago, it took 17 pounds to win a local, one-day derby on Milford Lake.

Wednesday during the opening round of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional, leading anglers from eight different states struggled to catch five keepers, and not one of them managed 17 pounds.

An almost freakish late-season snowstorm blew through the American midsection overnight Monday, dumping 6 inches of powder in central Kansas. That was a record amount for this late in the spring, according to the National Weather Service, and the sudden blast shut down what had been a pretty productive bite only a few days earlier. And though temperatures climbed to near 50 degrees late Wednesday, a steady 15 mph wind further complicated matters for the 160 competitors.

Only four limits were caught Wednesday  two in the boater division and two more in the co-angler field. In all, 89 anglers zeroed on Day 1.

Chris Johnson of Farmington, Ark., provided some of the highlights Wednesday with a haul of four bass totaling 14 pounds, 12 ounces which put him atop the boater division. Johnson’s bag was anchored by a 7-pounder that proved big bass swim on Milford Lake, even on difficult days like the one Mother Nature dealt Wednesday.

“I caught a couple of my four keepers there early this morning,” Johnson said. “But the rest of the day was a grind with the wind picking up. I tried to eliminate as much of the lake as possible in practice, and I finally just resolved to stick with one pattern.

“It’s similar to what we do at home in the Ozarks this time of year. You have to put the trolling motor down and cover as much lake as possible.”

Johnson, 51, caught his big bass about 40 minutes after takeoff from Acorns Resort. He found a spot in practice that held some nice-sized bass, and an early draw (Boat 19) allowed him to get to it before any other anglers.

He said he lost three bites in the rough conditions.

“It was hard to get fish landed,” he said. “These were some of the most heart-pounding landings I’ve ever had with the waves. It was rough out there, but it’s great to be in this position. I gave myself a good start.”

Mike Wheaton of Ottumwa, Iowa, who qualified for the regional through the Missouri Nation, is just behind Johnson with four bass weighing 14-5, including a 6-6 heavy.

Wheaton said he was able to fish out of the wind and, like Johnson, caught the best of his bass early. He focused his attention on a single point, he said, making multiple passes over it to boat his best bass.

“When he bit, I knew it was big,” the 60-year-old angler said. “I caught one yesterday in practice that was 6 pounds, and it was a different fish. So, I’ll head right back there tomorrow and hope to get another 6-pounder.”

Kris Bosley of Amarillo, Texas, is in third place with a 13-5 total and one of two limits caught by the 80 boaters. Shane Morgan of Littleton, Colo., is fourth with 12-8, Jared Miller of Norman, Okla., is fifth with 10-7 and Travis Sneith of Elizabeth, Colo., is sixth with 10-3. Nick Luna of Grain Valley, Mo., was the other boater with a limit and is in seventh place with 9-11.

Russell Vines of El Dorado, Ark., leads the 80 anglers in the co-angler field with a three-bass limit of 7-6. Morgan Fitzgerald of Durango, Colo., caught the other co-angler limit and sits in second place with 6-6.

B.A.S.S. Nation Director Jon Stewart, a Kansas native, is optimistic the bite will be better on Thursday.

“The fish were biting well just a few days ago, and the snow, the cold and the high skies shut it down,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone catches them tomorrow. The wind is supposed to blow from a different direction, and there may be a little rain. It’s a warm front and it could help.”

Colorado has a solid lead in the team standings after Day 1 with 27 bass weighing 67-13. Texas is second with 19 bass for 48-9. Also, Arkansas is third (16, 42-6), Kansas is fourth (18, 39-5), New Mexico is fifth (17, 39-2), Oklahoma is sixth (14, 35-4), Missouri is seventh (12, 34-5) and Louisiana is eighth (12, 25-12).

The state with the heaviest total after Thursday’s weigh-in will split a $5,000 cash prize courtesy of Ranger and Yamaha. The leading boater after Friday’s weigh-in will win $5,000, courtesy of Ranger, and the top co-angler will win $2,500, courtesy of Yamaha.

The Top 16 anglers on the boater and co-angler sides will survive the cut and compete Friday. The Top 2 anglers from each competing state (and in each division) will also make the cut if either isn’t among the leading 16 heading into the final day.

Competitors are vying for a total of $34,500 in the regional, one of five on the B.A.S.S. Nation tour 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.

The Geary County Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as Acorns Resort, are hosting the regional.