Alabama angler ends remarkable rookie season with championship win
Ranger Pro Justin Atkins won the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray, on August 13. The FLW rookie won the $300,000 first-place prize with a three-day total of 59 pounds, 4 ounces, which included a final-day bag of 22 pounds, 1 ounce – the heaviest of the tournament. The angler experienced a remarkable season with two top-10 finishes and culminated with Atkins taking the title of Forrest Wood Cup Champion.LIPPIN, Ark. (August 16, 2017) –
After deciding to fish the FLW Tour full time, Atkins leaned on his Ranger boat to qualify for the tour. FLW offers qualifying Ranger boat owners registration priority before opening to the general public. This allowed the rookie to begin his professional career as an FLW angler.
“One of the pathways to the Tour is if you have a new Ranger boat,” said Atkins. “There is a Ranger owners’ day that you can sign up before the public. There are open spots from those that aren’t fishing the Tour that year. Normally, those open spots would be taken up, but being a Ranger owner gave me the opportunity to fish the tour.”
Like many other anglers at the Forrest Wood Cup, Atkins relied on bass’ affinity for blueback herring and exclusively threw a top-water bait during the tournament. During pre-fishing, Atkins struggled to fine tune his electronics but came away with approximately 80 waypoints. The majority of these locations were cane piles loaded with largemouth bass feeding on the herring.
“I keyed into about 20 to 30 of those places,” said Atkins. “I felt those cane piles were fresh and had fish in them. I tried to slide in some new, random places each day but I didn’t veer too far from the same milk run each day.”
Atkins’ 30 key spots encompassed the entire lake, making for long runs in his Ranger Z520C.
“My round trip every day was probably 80 miles,” said Atkins. “It was getting so rough out there from boat traffic. The performance of a Z520’s hull is unbelievable. It handles big waves and wakes like no other. I was passing people every morning right after blast off and the lake was rough.”
Keying in on the cane piles, Atkins managed to bring in 21 pounds, 5 ounces, on day one, giving him the lead. Day two, Atkins brought in 15 pounds, 14 ounces, leaving him in second place behind his on-the-road roommate Brandon Cobb. Atkins cites not changing his tactics to coincide with changing conditions as the main reason for his slip in weight on day two.
“Going into the third day, I wasn’t let down at all that I had fallen a little,” he said. “It got me fired up and ready to go out there and pay more attention to what could possibly happen depending upon the conditions.”
While Atkins and Cobb usually share information about fishing during the regular season, the friends decided to keep their cards close to their chests during the Cup.
“We didn’t talk about fishing with this being the last event,” said Atkins. “By the end of practice, we had seen each other enough to know we were on the same deal but we didn’t share waypoints on piles or anything. We just talked about normal stuff.”
Atkins started the final day at a familiar spot that had produced earlier in the tournament. With no success at his first location, he made the decision to run across the lake to a spot he hadn’t fished early the previous days.
“I had fished it about 10 or 11 o’clock each day when the bite was getting slow,” he said. “When I pulled up there, it was lights out. There were big fish schooling. I missed a few but then got settled in. I managed to hook a few of the big ones and got them all in the boat.”
Atkins put four quality fish in his livewell and headed to an area he felt had a high-percentage chance of holding heavy fish.
“I caught a three-pounder and then ran around the corner to another pile that I caught a good one at each day,” said Atkins. “I sat on it and caught a four-pounder, which gave me 21 pounds. When I got to that point, I felt there was a strong chance this thing was a done deal.”
Although he felt good about his weight, Atkins fished his way back to a few spots he previously fished. The angler had yet to get a bite around 1:00 each day but landed another keeper to cull up another pound.
“At that point I knew,” said Atkins. “You can feel it when magic is in the air and you can’t do anything wrong. I got calm at that point and was ready to get back to the weigh-in.”
Atkins final-day weight of 22 pounds, 1 ounce, pushed him to the top of the leaderboard for his first FLW Tour victory and his first big payday. He caught every one of his fish on an ima Little Stick 135 in chrome.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Atkins. “It’s very surreal; kind of like being in a dream. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it. But, at the same time, it’s something that I have worked hard for. It’s a whirlwind of emotions right now.”
Starting the season, Atkins had just enough cash to get him through the first four FLW Tour events. Atkins’ $300,200 in winnings from the Forrest Wood Cup will go a long ways to paying next year’s expenses and a new Ranger boat.
“My dad bought his first Ranger in 1982,” said Atkins. “That’s all we have ever owned. The new Z520L just came out. They had one at the expo. I never had the chance to walk over and take a look, but I am going to order one in the next couple of weeks.”
Editor’s Note: Photo by Chris Brown – AnglersChannel.com
About Ranger Boats
Headquartered in Flippin, Ark., Ranger Boats is the nation’s premier manufacturer of legendary fiberglass and aluminum fishing boats, with acclaimed models and series in the bass, multi-species, fish ‘n play, saltwater, waterfowl utility and pontoon boat segments. Founded in 1968 by Forrest L. Wood, Ranger Boats continues its commitment to building the highest-quality, strongest-performing boats on the water. For more information, go to RangerBoats.com, RangerAluminum.com or RangerPontoons.com.