Pro Griffin Heffington of Murfreesboro, Tennessee brought a five-bass limit to the scale Saturday weighing 24 pounds, 12 ounces to win the MLF Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats at Lake Guntersville and earn the top payout of $65,000. Although Day 1 of the Central Division season opener was cancelled due to high winds and the threat of severe weather, Heffington made the most of the two-day event, weighing in 10 bass totaling 52-5 to earn the win by a whopping 9-pound, 7-ounce margin over Corey Bradley of McDonald, Tennessee, who finished with a two-day total of 42-14, good for second place and $27,500.
Despite a tumultuous practice, rife with electronic issues and only a few bites, followed by the cancellation on Day 1, Heffington said he went into the first day of competition optimistic about his chances in the event.
“Because my practice was so bad, I really only had one spot, but I figured I could still do pretty good with this one area,” said Heffington. “My co-angler and I planned to fish shallow grass, but just didn’t really see anything we liked and weren’t catching many fish up shallow.
“As we idled under the bridges during practice, we noticed that was really the only place we were seeing baitfish. I decided to drop the trolling motor and fish under the Spring Creek bridge on the last day of practice and was shocked,” continued Heffington. “There were easily more than a hundred 4 to 5-pounders swimming around under that bridge chasing bait. I made two casts and caught a five-pounder.”
While he doesn’t typically rely on his electronics much, Heffington said his Garmin LiveScope made a big difference in this event.
“There were a lot of guys that pulled up to fish there as well, but they mostly stayed closer to the bridge,” said Heffington. “I trolled away from the bridge, about the length of a football field, to go further into the creek. It took forever to troll that far, but there was a huge ball of bait there, so thick that my graph said we were in 8 feet of water, although we were really at a depth of 30 feet.
“The key area was right outside that ball of bait,” Heffington continued. “That’s where the fish had set up and were chasing other smaller bait balls outside of that big group. Using LiveScope, we were able to find that point where the bait ball broke up and throw to the fish outside that area.”
Heffington said his key bait was an umbrella rig with green-bean colored True Bass Hollow Body Swimbaits on it.
“The green tint on that swimbait looked really good in the water,” Heffington said. “I’d caught the 5-pounder in practice on it and that’s just really what they seemed to be biting.”
On Friday, Heffington caught seven bass total, bringing a five-bass limit to the scale weighing 27-9 – the biggest bag of the event.
“I caught a 7-12 close to the ramp toward the end of the first day, but I still only thought I had 24 pounds,” Heffington said. “And since I caught that big one shallow, I figured they were really biting for guys up shallow, and we’d see a 30-pound bag. So, I was super surprised when I had over 27 pounds and didn’t get knocked out of the lead.”
Following his weigh-in after the first day of competition, Heffington said he got a call from a friend and fellow angler, who was dead on the water and didn’t think he would be able to make it back for his check-in time. Heffington drove over to help jump his boat and get him back to weigh-in, a decision that almost cost him on Championship Saturday.
“On the morning of the final day, I went to turn on my trolling motor and it was dead,” Heffington said. “Turns out jumping the other boat fried my battery. We reset it and it worked, but soon after we took off, it went dead again.”
Fortunately, Heffinton was able to swap batteries with one of the MLF camera boats and get back on his trolling motor to continue the tournament.
“Going into Day 2, I figured if I could get 23 pounds, I could probably shut the door and make it pretty tough to get beat,” Heffington said. “I ended the day with 24-12 and a victory.
“It’s still hard to wrap my head around,” Heffington continued. “I was able to look back and really think about the fact that we only had two days of competition on the fabled Lake Guntersville, and to win with a nearly 10-pound margin – it’s just mind-blowing to me.
“I feel like I was really blessed in this event and despite all the issues we had, things just fell into place. I’m looking forward to the next event at Smith Lake,” Heffington finished.
The top 10 pros on Lake Guntersville finished:
2nd: Corey Bradley, McDonald, Tenn., 10 bass, 42-14, $27,500
3rd: Gabe Jelley, Mulkeytown, Ill., 10 bass, 42-12, $18,000
4th: Aaron Stephens, Hanceville, Ala., 10 bass, 41-15, $16,000
5th: Terry Fisher, Decatur, Ala., 10 bass, 41-14, $15,000
6th: Josh Bragg, Fayetteville, Ga., 10 bass, 41-13, $12,500
7th: Vernon Lowe, Oneida, Tenn., 10 bass, 39-11, $10,000
8th: Jake Lee, Powell, Tenn., eight bass, 39-10, $8,500
9th: Isaac Warta, Mount Juliet, Tenn., 10 bass, 37-14, $7,500
10th: Travis Alcock, Burlington, Wis., 10 bass, 36-7, $5,500
Pro Chris Ferguson of Wittensville, Kentucky won the $500 Day 1 Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division Friday with a bass weighing 8 pounds, 5 ounces. On Saturday, pro Donavan Carson of Bluff City, Tennessee, earned the $500 Berkley Big Bass prize after bringing an 8-pound, 3-ounce bass to the scale.
Bragg took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.
Alan Hults of Gautier, Mississippi won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a two-day total of nine bass weighing 36 pounds, 2 ounces. Hults took home the top prize package worth $33,500, including a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.
The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Guntersville finished:
2nd: Kyle Gelles, Pingree, Idaho, eight bass, 32-2, $8,150
3rd: Andy Miles, White House, Tenn., eight bass, 29-12, $6,500
4th: Sam Maxwell, Vincennes, Ind., 10 bass, 28-7, $5,150
5th: Dakota Bishop, Brodhead, Ky., nine bass, 27-15, $4,500
6th: Andrew Kilgore, Whitewell, Tenn., six bass, 27-2, $3,750
7th: Michael Miller, Greenville, S.C., seven bass, 26-11, $3,250
8th: Jon Fatheree, Grantsburg, Ill., seven bass, 26-10, $2,500
9th: Mark Lyons, Marion, Ind., six bass, 25-10, $1,800
10th: Joseph Koch, Kewaskum, Wis., seven bass, 25-4, $1,600
With one regular-season event in the Toyota Series Central Division now complete, pro Griffin Heffington of Murfreesboro, Tennessee leads the Central Division Angler of the Year (AOY) race with 260 points, while Alan Hults of Gautier, Mississippi leads the Strike King Co-angler Division AOY race with 260 points.
The Toyota Series at Lake Gunterville, hosted by the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce, was the first of three regular-season events for the Toyota Series Central Division. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will be the Toyota Series at the California Delta Presented by Psycho Tuna, March 15-17, in Bethel Island, California. For a complete schedule of events, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.
The 2023 Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and the Western Division Presented by Tackle Warehouse – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International and Wild Card divisions. Anglers who fish in any of the six divisions or the Wild Card division and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Championship for a shot at winning up to $235,000 and a qualification to REDCREST V. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard. The 2023 Toyota Series Championship will be held Nov. 2-4 on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, and is hosted by ExploreBranson.com.
Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Toyota Series include: 4WP, 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Black Rifle Coffee Company, E3, Favorite Fishing, Fox Rent a Car, General Tire, Gill, Grundéns, Lew’s, Lowrance, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Wiley X and YETI.
For complete details and updated information, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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Major League Fishing (MLF) is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, producing more than 250 events annually at some of the most prestigious fisheries in the world, while broadcasting to America’s living rooms on CBS, the Discovery Channel, the Outdoor Channel, CBS Sports Network, the World Fishing Network and on-demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, the MLF roster of bass anglers includes the world’s top pros and more than 30,000 competitors in all 50 states and 13 countries. Since its founding in 2011, MLF has advanced the sport of competitive fishing through its premier television broadcasts and livestreams and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bass through research, education, fisheries enhancement and fish care.
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