Tennessee angler Skylar Hamilton won the pro division of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River by the slimmest margin possible.
The 21-year-old Douglas Lake guide bested Hattiesburg, Miss., angler Teb Jones by 1 ounce to win his first Open and qualify for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic contingent upon his fishing the remaining two Central Opens.
Hamilton’s winning total of 45 pounds, 6 ounces earned him the grand prize of a $45,000 Triton 19TRX/Mercury 200 Pro XS rig and $8,277 in cash.
After catching a 19-pound, 4-ounce limit Friday, Hamilton found the fishing tougher in his primary area today.
“I did the same thing as I did (Friday), but the weather was a lot different this morning,” he said. “We had some storms roll through.”
His primary spot was a backwater area where he flipped to reeds. The area featured baby blackbirds falling in the water and a mayfly hatch, which triggered bluegill into eating the insects and bass feeding on the sunfish, he related.
“My fish were still there today, but they were smaller,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know if I wore them out, but there was another guy in there with me. We planned on fishing there together and everything worked out well.”
Hamilton managed to catch a small limit there by about 10 a.m. and then left for his second spot close to the Three Forks Harbor, where he fished around current breaks.
“I would just flip into those eddies that I knew had fish in them because they had nowhere else to go,” Hamilton said. “They weren’t going to be out there swimming around in that current.”
He was able to cull out some fish at that stop and finished the day with a 12-6 limit.
The Tennessee angler spent all three days flipping a Texas rigged Berkley Havoc Pit Boss in the Okeechobee craw color with a 1/4-ounce weight and a 4/0 Gamakatsu Heavy Cover Flipping Hook.
Runner-up Jones did “the exact same thing” as he did the two previous days to catch his 13-9 limit today.
“I fished eddies and slack water around gravel bars and upstream and downstream of islands,” said Jones, who finished the week with 45-5.
His main lures included a Strike King Shadalicious hollow body swimbait on a 1/2-ounce jighead, a V&M swim jig with a plastic craw trailer and Texas-rigged V&M Baby Swamp Hog.
“All of my big fish this week came on the swimbait and the rest came about equally on the swim jig and the Swamp Hog.”
Finishing in the Top 5 of the pro division were Jason Christie, Park Hill, Okla., third with 45-3; Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., fourth, 43-5; and Lee Livesay, Longview, Texas, fifth, 42-6.
Fishing in his first Open, Joe Nance of Pearland, Texas, won the co-angler division and the top prize of a $30,000 Triton 179 TRX/Mercury 115ELPT Four Stroke package with a three-day total of 21-3. The 58-year-old retired Houston firefighter caught some of his bass on a spinnerbait but the majority bit a Texas rigged black-and-blue Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver that he flipped to reeds and shallow bushes.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $750 went to Mark Goines of Shady Point, Okla., with a 6-1 largemouth. Vernon Sliver of Boutte, La., weighed in 5-12 largemouth to earn the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award on the co-angler side worth $250.
Hamilton also received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2. Finishing as the Day 2 leader on the co-angler side, Robert Fortner, Conway, Ark., received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.
Hamilton earned the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $500 for being the highest-finishing angler using A.R.E. products.
Gerald Spohrer of Gonzales, La., earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $500.