Josh Ray Makes It An Arkansas Sweep At B.A.S.S. Nation Regional Tournament On Guntersville

Arkansas scored big as its team and home state angler Josh Ray took top honors at the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Central Regional presented by Magellan Outdoors.

Arkansas beat Indiana by a margin of 30 pounds to win state honors on Day 2. Today, Ray, of Alexander, Ark., won the individual tournament title with a three-day weight of 58 pounds, 8 ounces.

Mark Nies of Cannelton, Ind., finished second with 53-13 and Danny Grantham of Mobile, Ala., took third with 50-11. Matt Pangrac of Norman, Okla., was fourth with 50-11. Ted Heitschmidt of Tomahawk, Wis., was fifth with 50 pounds.

Those anglers also caught the heaviest individual weights for their states. Each top placing boater and non-boater advances to the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. Date and location of the championship will be announced soon.

Ray focused on finding an obscure fishing area to avoid heavy fishing pressure and boat traffic from this and previous tournaments. The Arkansan found what he was looking for 45 minutes by boat from the weigh-in site at Guntersville Harbor.

He spent all three days in a creek near the river channel featuring deep water and aquatic vegetation. Depth and habitat are two key needs of largemouth bass migrating to and from their shallow spawning areas. Ray found ideal conditions in his area.

The creek channel held 8 feet of water with a grassy high spot in 2 feet near the shoreline.

Timing was also everything in his choice of areas.

“I caught prespawn, spawn and postspawn bass in there,” said Ray, a member of the Natural State Bass Club. “The water temperature was a few degrees cooler there, and that helped with the spawning activity.”

With an unpressured area and abundant bass activity he set out to catch enough weight to win top honors among competitors in his state. He was convinced of making the right move after the first hour on Wednesday, the first day of competition.

Ray caught a small limit weighing 13 pounds, 7 ounces but decided the area held potential for his quest to win the title. Thursday, he caught a limit weighing 23-3 and realized the fishing spot had even greater potential. He returned today to seal the win with a five-bass limit of 21-14.

“I caught my limit all three days within an hour,” he said. “Nobody else was using my bait choice and that was another key.”

His choice was a 3/8-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Jig with a green pumpkin Zoom Z Craw trailer. He replaced the stock skirt with a white/chartreuse color to suit the dingy water conditions.

“There was current coming in off the main river channel that kept the water a bit muddy,” he added. “That also helped the bite.”

Lure presentation was another key. Ray discovered the actively feeding bass required a quick presentation with a typically slow-moving lure.

“I had to cast the lure into the grass and snap the rod tip,” he said. Strikes occurred as the jig came free from the strands of weeds.

Ryan Lavigne of Gonzales, La., won the non-boater division with a total weight of 31-1. Justin Harris of McPherson, Kan., took second place with 28-10, and Creighton Sawyer was third with 28-9.

Anglers earned these sponsorship contingency awards:

Livingston Lures Leader Award: Ray earned the $250 boater division bonus by leading the tournament on Day 2 with 36-10. Justin Harris won Livingston Lures merchandise for leading with 23-11.

Big Bass: Heitschmit caught a largemouth weighing 8 pounds, 8 ounces to win a $250 bonus for catching the boater big bass of the tournament. Non-boater Brandon Pickett caught a largemouth weighing 8-2 to win a $125 bonus.

A.R.E. Top Angler: Ray earned the $250 award as the top-finishing angler using the brand’s truck caps.