Kentucky’s Michael Boggs Takes First Round Lead In B.A.S.S. Nation Championship
CONROE, Texas —

CONROE, Texas — Michael Boggs II of Kentucky surprised everyone at the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan with his 20-pound, 10-ounce limit of bass, heaviest of the day.


It was a surprise because it was near the end of the first-day weigh-in on Texas’ Lake Conroe, and no one else had even come close.

“I’m tickled to death,” said Boggs, who is representing Kentucky but lives in Portsmouth, Ohio.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good all week,” Boggs added. “I caught some 5- and 6-pounders in practice, so I knew they were there. But today was a tough day, and I really had to work for it. And I worked all day long!”

He means that sincerely. In the last hour-and-a-half, he and his nonboater partner, Bradley Rilling of Georgia, caught at least 20 fish. Boggs was still culling 20 minutes before he checked in at Lakeview Marina.

Boggs was one of only eight anglers out of 113 to bring in a limit of five bass. The minimum length limit on Lake Conroe is 16 inches, which proved difficult for many competitors, who measured multiple 15 1/2-inch fish. Forty-one anglers failed to weigh in a single bass, many of them citing the length — not the quantity caught — as the reason.

“If someone would come up with a fish stretcher of some sort, they’d make a million dollars,” said Scott Green of Vermont, one of the competitors who zeroed.

Boggs’ closest competitor was Greg Vance of Iowa, who weighed in 15 pounds, 11 ounces, nearly 5 pounds behind Boggs.

“I thought I could get 15 pounds, but I didn’t think it would put me near the top,” Vance said. “I thought it would just keep me in the Top 15.”

Several anglers said the wind kept them on the move; it was hard for them to hold still on one spot for long. Boggs had the same experience.

“The wind made it tough,” he said. “But I fished a lot of spots today, and I still have a lot left for tomorrow.”

Boggs credits baits from Power Team Lures for his Day 1 lead, although he’s keeping the type and color of lures a secret for now. Other anglers said jigs were key and that crankbaits were moderately successful. But most are staying tight-lipped, hoping to divulge their perfect bait after the final-day weigh-in on Saturday, while holding the trophy.

The trophy comes with a special prize — a berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, in March 2017 on this same body of water.

“I’ve dreamed of going to the Classic since I was 8 years old,” Boggs said through tears, with his son, Nicholas, tearing up next to him. To do that, though, Boggs has to keep up the hard work for the next two days.

“I’ve got to do it again tomorrow,” he said. “Hopefully, it will hold up.”

On the nonboater side, Rick Hamer took the lead with 14 pounds, 7 ounces. He was the only nonboater to catch a limit of five bass.

“I was matching the hatch,” said Hamer, referring to matching the color of the forage with his soft plastics, which were made by a new lure company, FYAO.

Hamer and his boater partner, Andrew Sams of Maryland, spent lots of time on Thursday moving around, dodging the wind.

“We were getting crushed by the wind,” Hamer said. “We just kept going places to keep out of the wind.”

Despite the relatively low weights outside of the Top 10, Jon Harshbarger of Kaufman, Texas, said he knows the lake and the quality of bass it holds.

“Conroe produces one-day limits of 18, 21 and 24 pounds sometimes,” he said. “It’s got ’em; they’re not eating.”

Maybe the bass will eat on Friday, which will be the last day of competition for most anglers. The only remaining competitors for the final day will be the Top 10 boaters, the nonboater champion (the top nonboater at the end of Day 2) and the best two boaters from each of the three regions (Eastern, Central and Western) if they have not already qualified as part of the Top 10.

The Top 3 at the end of Saturday will earn berths in the 2017 Classic, as well as paid entry into the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens series of their choice, and the B.A.S.S. Nation’s Best prize package, which is the use of a Toyota Tundra truck and a fully rigged, tournament-ready Phoenix boat for one year. A 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series berth is on the line, too.

The nonboater champion will also win paid entry into the Opens division of choice, a boat and a spot as a marshal in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.

Two bright spots in the first day of competition were a few big bass brought in that lit up the crowd.

Jason Vaughn of Delaware caught the biggest of the day, a 7-pound, 3-ounce bass. The biggest on the nonboater side was a 6-pound, 14-ounce bass by Justin Barnes of Alabama.

Competition resumes Friday from Lakeview Marina, 880 Beach Boulevard, in Conroe at 6:45 a.m. CT when the anglers take off for Day 2. The weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. CT at the same place. All events are free and open to the public.

The tournament is hosted by the Conroe Convention and Visitors Bureau.