Findley comes from behind to win B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional on Arkansas River

Cole Findley didn’t lead the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional at Arkansas River until it mattered most. And that’s all that mattered.

Findley, a 39-year-old resident of Forsyth, Mo., caught limits of five bass on each of the tournament’s three days, finishing with a total weight of 36 pounds, 4 ounces. He won $5,000 for finishing atop the 80-angler field. Findley also earned $500 in Garmin Rewards money.

He also locked up a spot in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship scheduled for South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell Oct. 18-20. A Top 3 finish there would earn him a berth in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota which is scheduled for March 22-24 in Tulsa, Okla.

But first thing’s first, and that includes relishing Friday’s B.A.S.S. Nation win on the Arkansas River, the first regional on the Nation calendar in 2023.

“A lot of things have to happen to win a tournament, and everything came together for me this week,” Findley said shortly after lofting the tournament trophy at Three Forks Harbor, where the derby began and ended each day.

“I had a great time this week. The Team (Missouri) was great. My co-anglers were all I could ask for ... It’s just been a perfect week.” Findley locked downriver into the McClellan-Kerr area where he targeted reaction bites around stands of reeds instead of the rock and wood structures many of his fellow competitors were fishing.

“I needed deeper water, from 4 to 6 feet and 12 to 14 feet,” he said. “I got off the main channel and was flipping a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (black/blue) and I caught a few on a 6th Sense Vega Frog. But nothing was easy.”

That might be an understatement, considering Findley only had 19 keeper bites throughout the three-day competition.

“I was making a flip every four seconds,” he said. “The lure was going in and coming out just as quick ... I caught a lot of shorts on the first day, but the bigger bites were just not happening often at all.”

Findley has had momentum on his side recently. He finished 11th in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Alabama’s Pickwick Lake last November and paired with Jeffrey Barrickman to place 17th in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship at Hartwell a month later.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve calmed down,” Findley said. “I don’t spin out. I’m easygoing and relaxed.”

As for his pending return trip to the Nation Championship, Findley was single-minded.

“There’s only one goal and that’s to make the Classic,” he said.

Oklahoma’s Tyler Ramsay slipped into second place in the angler field with a cumulative weight of 34-14. He caught 11-12 on Friday, which was the third-heaviest bag caught by the 40 anglers who made the cut.

“I fished in Kerr all three days,” the 33-year-old Sand Springs, Okla., resident said. “I was catching them in around 2 feet of water in some backwaters and oxbows, around lily pads and reeds.”

Ramsay used a SPRO Bronzeye Frog in black and a variety of white swim jigs to boat his best bass. He won $3,000 for finishing second in the angler field.

Jesse Jordan of Stilwell, Kan., took home Big Bass of the Tournament honors and $500 for the 5-4 he caught Thursday.

James Seymour, of Oglesby, Texas, led the 80 competitors in the co-angler division with a three-day total of six bass weighing 19-8.

Seymour caught a three-bass limit of 11-1 on Friday to jump to the top of his field and earn the $2,500 cash prize. Seymour, 44, rallied after catching only one bass for 2-4 on Day 1 and a pair of fish totaling 6-3 on Day 2.

“I was grinding and knew I had to do something different,” Seymour said.

That involved Texas-rigging a Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin/purple flake) with its tail dipped in red dye. He popped a tungsten nail weight into the other end of the lure, which gave it a unique fall.

Seymour will be making his first trip to the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. He also won the co-angler division of the Texas Nation Championship.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” he said. “We have a tough region. To win here and go to Nationals, it’s really a dream coming true.”

A total of 16 anglers qualified for the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at this week’s event — the leading angler and co-angler from each of the eight states represented.

The team championship of the derby concluded Thursday. Kansas finished first in that contest, with 71 bass weighing a total of 171-2, which was good for $5,000 for their Nation program. Team Louisiana finished second (77 bass, 166-12) and won $3,000, while Team Oklahoma (67 bass, 155-13) was third and won $2,000.

A total of $34,500 was awarded between individual and team competitions.

Four B.A.S.S. Nation Regionals remain on this year’s schedule — at Tennessee’s Douglas Lake (May 24-26), the Potomac River in Maryland (June 7-9), Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago (June 28-30) and the Western Regional, which is still to be announced.

The tournament was hosted by the Muskogee Tourism Authority.