Milliken maintains lead at Bassmaster Open on famed Toledo Bend Reservoir
MANY, La. — Go big or go home.

Ben Milliken will stick around a while longer, thank you very much.

Milliken, a 33-year-old New Caney, Texas, resident with a penchant for catching big bass, didn’t let up on Day 2 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Toledo Bend. Milliken caught a five-bass limit of 26 pounds, 15 ounces on Friday, adding to the 29-8 sack he weighed on Day 1, and giving him a two-day total of 56-7 in this derby on the 185,000-acre reservoir that forms the border between Louisiana and his home state.

Milliken’s assault on Toledo Bend gives him nearly 12 pounds of cushion on the other nine anglers who got inside the Phoenix Boats Cutline and will fish Saturday for a first-place cash prize of over $52,000. A total of 223 anglers, 168 of them in the inaugural Elite Qualifiers Division, started this tournament with the Top 40 splitting a $285,000 cash purse.

None have been mightier than Milliken, who is throwing some giant lures at the storied reservoir’s giant bass. Milliken isn’t quite ready to discuss those lures in detail, but it is no secret he’s fond of big baits. Photographs from the water show he has got several crankbaits and swimbaits, some 8 to 12 inches long, tied onto an arsenal of rods.

“It’s not just one bait, there’s a handful of them,” he said. “This is what I do all the time. LiveScope with these big baits.”

Milliken began Day 2 in the same area he fished on Day 1, about 20 miles down the reservoir from Cypress Bend Park and in 6 to 7 feet of water. He had a limit in the livewell before 10 a.m. which allowed him more than five hours to search for additional hot spots on Toledo Bend should his sweet spot go sour for some reason.

Not that it seems likely. If anything, Milliken appears to be gaining confidence as the Open progresses.

"It’s more of a pattern than I thought before, as opposed to just an area (I need to fish),” Milliken said. “I can pretty much know exactly where they’re gonna’ be when I look at my map. So, that’s exciting.”

Milliken doesn't plan to change his approach Saturday — and why would he? Inclement weather is expected later in the day, but Milliken said his best spot is largely shielded from the wind.

If he does lose the hot hand, he’s confident he can rely on a Carolina rig to catch a limit. Given the way he’s dominated this derby, that could be enough to lock up the tournament title, no matter what his peers do.

“It’s been incredible; some of the most fun fishing of my life,” he said.

Trey McKinney, an 18-year-old fishing phenom from Carbondale, Ill., is in second place at Toledo Bend with a two-day total of 44-13. McKinney caught a 23-1 limit on Friday to follow his 21-12 a day earlier, making him the only angler besides Milliken to bag more than 20 pounds on both days.

“I’m shallow fishing and I burned a lot of my fish just to keep up today,” McKinney said. “But I saved a few areas for tomorrow. I’ve got a heavy line, and I’m flipping the center of the thickest thing you can flip in.”

Rounding out the Top 10 fishing Saturday are third, Minnesota’s Keith Tuma, 41-8; fourth, Tennessee’s John Garrett, 37-6; fifth, Texas’ Todd Castledine, 37-4; sixth, Texas’ Brett Cannon, 37-3; seventh, Georgia’s Matt Henry, 37-2; eighth, Louisiana’s Kyle Metzger, 36-10; ninth, Wisconsin’s Jacob Bigelow, 36-8; and 10th, Missouri’s Casey Scanlon, 35-12.

Each of the nine Open champions in 2023 will earn a berth in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota when it is held next March on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. Competitors in the Elite Qualifiers Division are required to fish in each of the nine Opens scheduled in 2023. The top nine in the EQ standings when the season is complete will earn invites to compete in the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Kerry Terrebonne, of Ponchatoula, La., won the co-angler division with a two-day total of four bass weighing 21-9. He caught three of those bass (19-4 of the total weight) on Thursday when his pro fished in the shallow water he’s accustomed to seeing in south Louisiana. When his Friday pro headed to deeper water, Terrebonne struggled, catching only one bass for 2-5. Still, it was enough to win the division and the $15,754 cash prize that accompanied it.

“That first day was special,” Terrebonne said. “Something in my brain said to throw a Rayburn Red Rat-L-Trap and it was the right call. A 9-6 hit it and that fish won it for me.”

Terrebonne collected an extra $250 for having the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament in his division.
Rounding out the Top 5 in the co-angler field are second, Minnesota’s Parker Knudsen, 19-11; third, Oklahoma’s Steven Doolittle, 19-6; fourth, Alabama’s Brenton Godwin, 18-13; and fifth, Florida’s AJ Jones, 18-5.

A total of 139 competitors entered the co-angler division and the Top 40 split just over $54,400 in cash prizes.

The remaining 10 anglers in the derby are scheduled to take off Saturday at 6:45 a.m. CT from Cypress Bend Park. They’ll end there, too, with weigh-in scheduled for 2:45 p.m. CT.

The St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Toledo Bend is being hosted by the Sabine Parish Tourist & Recreation Commission and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.