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5. Dylan Hays – Sheridan, Ark. – 23-6

Count Dylan Hays among those who were pleasantly surprised by how well the big fish bit on day one.

“I didn’t really know how much I could catch,” says Hays, who fished the Canadian side of the lake. “I knew I was around some big ones, and fortunately today I got the right bites.”

Of course, surprises can be short-lived, and while Hays feels his area still has plenty more left in it, he also knows how fickle smallmouths can be.

“The nice part is it’s a large area, and there’s not a lot of people there,” says Hays. “So I’ll hopefully connect with a couple more big bites tomorrow.”

Despite its impressive productivity throughout the season, 162,000-acre Kentucky Lake can be a tough fishery to unlock come fall, particularly when “typical autumn” weather is temporarily replaced by the season’s first frost and near-freezing temperatures.

I have this in mind when I meet Arkansas pro Dylan Hays in New Johnsonville, Tenn., on the second chilly day of practice for the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship on the big Tennessee River reservoir.

4. Hays rises by the day

Dylan Hays has put together an impressive 2017, finishing 12th in the standings in the Southwestern Division and 10th in the Northern Division of the Costa FLW Series. He capped the regular season off with his second top 10 of the year, to go with a third place showing in the FLW Tour event at Lake Travis.

Hays tapped into both the brush bite and the topwater bite to weigh 45-7 on the week.

“The first day I caught one on a buzzbait and then I fished brush piles the rest of the day,” says Hays. “The second day I couldn’t get a topwater bite going at all, I actually caught one flipping a dock, and then I caught the rest out of brush. Today I had an epic morning right off the bat and caught four keepers in 10 minutes on a buzzbait.”

Unfortunately, that epic morning fizzled a bit, and Hays was only able to scratch up one more keeper from his brush the rest of the day.

Fishing mostly mid-lake and in the Glaize Arm, Hays found the brush he targeted in practice and says that most of it was 15-to-20 feet deep.  

He relied on a variety of baits for the brush including a ¾-ounce PB&J football jig, a 10-inch worm and a Strike King 6XD. His buzzbait of choice was a Hart Tackle buzzbait with a black Zoom Horny Toad.

3. Running far pays off for Hays

Rookie pro Dylan Hays of Sheridan, Ark., checked in the most consistent weights, varying between 13 and 15 pounds each day, to climb to third place with a total of 54 pounds.

Hays won the unofficial Long Distance Award for putting the most miles on his boat during the four-day event. He ran some 50 miles each day all the way to the next dam on the Colorado River. Some of his catches in the river came from fishing current breaks when the water was running and pitching to a variety of bushes, rocks and bank debris that blocked the current.

Farther down the river, Hays also discovered a hot spot located on a big flat point in a river bend. A big school was staged up on bushes and rocks.

“The fish in that current up by the dam were not real reliable,” Hays says. “They would bite one day, but not the next. So those fish on that big point really helped me stay consistent. If the current fish didn’t bite, I had that point to fall back on.”

When pitching to current breaks, Hays used a Zoom Super Hog and a YUM Bad Mamma on a 1/4-ounce weight. When fishing the school on the point, he favored a Texas-rigged 6-inch green pumpkin lizard on a 1/4-ounce weight. All of his baits were tied to 20-pound-test HI-SEAS fluorocarbon.