Strong Field meets the Challenge of Variable Spring Conditions, Ladehoff and Driver take home AOY Honors
Spring fishing can be a fickle challenge for anglers and Stockton Lake presented a full range of variables for the second Missouri TBF Qualifier. Dock talk from practice had rumors of 10-pound bass and a wide range of patterns producing large numbers of keepers being caught in many areas of the lake. Alabama rigs and Wiggle Warts seemed to be the dominate pattern, but wobble head jigs and spinner baits were in play with the seasonable weather on Thursday and Friday. Water temps ranged from 50-57 degrees during practice with moderate winds from the West, great conditions for all the anglers to find a pattern for the weekend.
As so often happens in the spring, mother nature had one last trick up her sleeve for the anglers to overcome. This spring has had several severe cold fronts and Saturday started with clouds and wind, which can make Stockton a rough lake to navigate. Several practice spots were blown out on Saturday, forcing anglers to adjust both their locations and lures. As is always the case, some of the anglers made the adjustment and lead the way in the standings in a very tight race.
Leading the boater side was our defending Missouri TBF champion, Ken Whitfield. After an exhausting week at the TBF National Championship Ken came to Stockton on short rest to find a pattern that would produce the winning sack. Ken stayed in the main lake area and the Little Sac arm and used a wide range of baits (surprise) to bag a 10 fish limit of 24.61 pounds. With few big females being caught Ken waded through multiple keepers each day to slowly upgrade his bag by ounces each day. He primarily used an Alabama Rig and spinner bait but supplemented the catch with some Rock Crawler fish each day.
Finishing second in the event was Tim Merkh with 10 fish for 23.78. Tim really worked hard to upgrade his bag, wading through 10-15 keepers each day. Even with changing conditions his bite was consistent, using a Wiggle Wart fished parallel to the bank. He fished near the take-off and dam staying in the clearer water to catch all his fish.
Our third-place angler was perennial qualifier, Brian Maloney. After just missing the top 3 at Lake of the Ozarks Brian met the challenge at Stockton with 10 keepers for 23.49 pounds. Like our other qualifiers he caught multiple keepers each day, upgrading his sack by ounces throughout the day. He started each day in the main lake area dragging an A-Rig in 8-12 feet of water to get a quick limit. In an effort to upgrade his bag later in the morning he would run up the Big Sac arm and throw jigs and jerk baits on bluff wall ends, finishing his day up back at the dam area looking for another big fish like he caught in practice.
Leading our Co-Angler field was Troy Richter with an extremely strong performance with the only 10 fish limits of 20.68 pounds. Troy culled each day, moving up critical ounces several times. As a co-angler Troy had to adjust to his boater locations but used an Alabama Rig effectively each day to catch his fish.
The second-place co-angler was one of our more consistent back-of-the-boat anglers, Jon Small. He followed up a strong 4 fish performance on Saturday with 5 keepers on Sunday for a total weight of 17.42 pounds. He overcame the stress of boat problems on Sunday and continued to use his Alabama Rig to catch his fish.
Rounding out the co-angler field was one of our new friends from Kansas, Darrin Jones. Like all the qualifiers Darren caught lots of fish between 14-16 inches and were able to piece together 8 keepers for 16.68 pounds.
Overall Big Bass honors went to one of our co-anglers, Tim Biondo, who presented a 7.25-pound lunker to the scale on Sunday. Also finding quality fish, and cashing checks, were Brad Tyer 5.47 pounds, Trace Hannaford 5.63 pounds and Jeff Finch 2.85 pounds. Winning the coveted Presidents Award for the boater with the best co-angler bag were Troy Ladehoff and Faron Morris. Taking home, the Ranger Cup bonus was our second-place boater, Tim Merkh.
Since Stockton represented our last Qualifying event it also was the end of a very tight Angler of the Year race. Squeaking out the win on the Boater side in a tie breaker was Troy Ladehoff (17 fish), tying Brian Maloney (16 fish) with 390 total points. Finishing first on the Co-angler side was John Driver with 388 points, ahead of Jeff Finch with 384 points. Congratulations to all our Angler of the Year contestants and thanks for such an exciting race!