Monday, May 20, 2024

Retired U.S. Air Force Vet Earns First Career Win at Phoenix Bass Fishing League Event at DeGray Lake


Boater winner Justin Howard of Austin, Arkansas, and Strike-King co-angler winner Jonathan Dotson of Dover, Arkansas.
Boater Justin Howard of Austin, Arkansas, catches 18-10 limit to top third Arkie Division event of season

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (April 22, 2024) – Boater Justin Howard of Austin, Arkansas, caught a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds, 10 ounces, Saturday to win the MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League (BFL) Presented by T-H Marine on DeGray Lake. Hosted by the City of Caddo Valley , the tournament was the third event of the season for the BFL Arkie Division. Howard earned $4,394 for his victory.

Howard, who retired a couple years ago after a 25-year career in the U.S. Air Force, put in some prep time for this event. Though he didn’t find a lot of bass on beds, he found a key spawning fish that helped him kick off the tournament first thing in the morning. That fish weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces and earned him the Berkley Big Bass award on the boater side.

“I thought if I could catch her, I had an area mid-lake with some cuts that had some better fish flipping bushes and throwing a (Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait) Jack Hammer. It was nothing really crazy or out of the ordinary. I just found the right areas.”

Howard’s goal was to catch four more keepers that weighed about 10 pounds to go with his kicker, and he nailed it right on the money. The key to his best area was wind blowing in, which helped in the clear water by breaking up the surface. He also experienced a productive stretch during a bout of rain.

For his flipping fish, Howard used a Rapala Crush City Cleanup Craw. He also credits the reliability of his Skeeter Yamaha boat-and-engine combo and his Costa Del Mar sunglasses with copper lenses for his win.

After a military career that took him all over the globe, Howard is proud to be in Arkansas competing against what he believes are some of the best bass anglers in the country. He said things just went right for him during the tournament.

“When we got to Arkansas in 2016, I really got into it (tournament fishing) heavy after coming from Alaska because I’ve always loved bass fishing,” Howard said. “I had fished some as a co-angler back in the day when I was stationed down in Georgia. I thought if today ain’t the day, I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

The top 10 boaters finished the tournament:

1st:        Justin Howard, Austin, Ark., five bass, 18-10, $4,394
2nd:       Shawn Gordon, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 14-9, $2,065
3rd:       Rance Warden, Searcy, Ark., five bass, 14-6, $1,293
4th:        Drew Dawson, Pocahontas, Ark., five bass, 13-14, $905
5th:        Fisher Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., five bass, 13-13, $776
6th:        Brennan Cole, White Hall, Ark., five bass, 13-7, $1,211 (includes $500 Phoenix MLF Contingency Bonus)
7th:        Chris Hamilton, Mayflower, Ark., five bass, 13-0, $647
8th:        Quincy Houchin, Mabelvale, Ark., five bass, 12-15, $582
9th:        Chip Hawkins, Little Rock, Ark., five bass, 12-12, $517
10th:     Bryce Boatright, Sheridan, Ark., five bass, 12-8, $453

Complete results can be found at

Howard’s limit included a bass that weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces, which earned him the Berkley Big Bass Boater award of $515.

Jonathan Dotson of Dover, Arkansas, won the Strike King co-angler division and $1,902 Saturday, after bringing five bass to the scale that totaled 15 pounds, 7 ounces.

The top 10 Strike King co-anglers finished:

1st:        Jonathan Dotson, Dover, Ark., five bass, 15-7, $1,902
2nd:       Derek Dixon, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 12-1, $951
3rd:       Adam O’Connell, Conway, Ark., four bass, 11-14, $886
4th:        Kelly Shamlin Jr., Benton, Ark., five bass, 10-6, $444
5th:        Stephen Simms, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 10-3, $380
6th:        Koby Gooden, North Little Rock, Ark., five bass, 10-0, $349
7th:        Brock Krohne, Belton, Mo., five bass, 9-3, $317
8th:        Alan Bernicky, Joliet, Ill., five bass, 9-1, $535
9th:        Michael Massey, Amity, Ark., five bass, 8-14, $254
10th:     Sam Mitchell, Malvern, Ark., five bass, 8-13, $222

Adam O’Connell of Conway, Arkansas, earned the Berkley Big Bass co-angler award of $252, catching a bass that weighed in at 5 pounds, 5 ounces – the largest co-angler catch of the day.

After three events, Chris Darby of Hot Springs, Arkansas, leads the Fishing Clash Arkie Division Angler of the Year (AOY) race with 724 points, while Steve Meredith of Jessieville, Arkansas, leads the Fishing Clash Arkie Division Co-Angler of the Year race with 706 points.

The next event for BFL Arkie Division anglers will be held June 8, at Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Arkansas. To register for the event as a boater or a co-angler, visit or call (270)-252-1000.

The top 45 boaters and co-anglers in the region based on point standings, along with the five tournament winners of each qualifying event, will qualify for the Oct. 17-19 BFL Regional tournament on Wright Patman Lake in Texarkana, Texas. Boaters will fish for a top award of $60,000, including a new Phoenix 819 Pro with a 200-horsepower Mercury or Suzuki outboard and $10,000, while co-anglers will compete for a top award of $50,000, including a new Phoenix 819 Pro with a 200-horsepower Mercury or Suzuki outboard.

The 2024 Phoenix BFL Presented by T-H Marine is a 24-division circuit devoted to weekend anglers, with 128 events throughout the season, five qualifying tournaments in each division. The top 45 boaters and Strike King co-anglers from each division, along with the five qualifying event winners, will advance to one of six BFL Regional tournaments where they are competing to finish in the top six, which then qualifies them for one of the longest-running championships in all of competitive bass fishing – the BFL All-American.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League Presented by T-H Marine include: 7Brew, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Berkley, BUBBA, E3, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, General Tire, GSM Outdoors, Lew’s, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Suzuki, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Toyota and YETI.

For complete details and updated tournament information, visit For regular Bass Fishing League updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF5’s social media outlets at Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

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