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6/16/21 Hunter Bowling talks 2nd place finish in American Crappie Trail

Hunter Bowling and his fishing partner, Darin Lankford, are hot off a 2nd place finish in the American Crappie Trail and already gearing up for this coming weekend’s Crappie Masters tournament. Both events are filled with some of the top anglers in the country.

Bowling and Lankford narrowly missed the top spot at the American Crappie Trail by 0.36 pounds, finishing behind Frank Haidusek/Cliff Barnes who had 21.96 after two days of fishing.

“We were obviously hoping to pull out a victory, but 2nd place felt pretty dang good in that field,” Bowling said. “The ACT has the best overall anglers out there with diverse experiences across many lakes. Lots of National Champions and Anglers of the Year.”

Heading into the ACT, things didn’t seem so positive for Bowling and his partner. Practice was tough and they were struggling to find good, tournament quality fish. They weren’t the only ones, though. Most of the other teams were struggling as well. That meant it was going to be a game of lake experience and timing.

“Day one the fish were very scattered and they weren’t in places I normally like to tournament fish,” Bowling recounted. “We really had to put our heads together and just cover water.”

When the day was over, Bowling and Lankford were sitting in 7th place with 10.71 pounds. The first place team was sitting at 11.26, and there were a lot of other good teams sitting in that half pound difference. But that didn’t shake their confidence.

“Honestly, I figured we could come back if we caught the same weight we did the first day and maybe even get a victory if we caught a little more,” Bowling said. “A lot of the guys in the top 10 had a 2 pounder on day one, and our biggest fish both days was a 1.72.”

On day two, the heat made it a grind. They returned to some of their favorite areas and got to work. With only an hour and a half left to fish, Lankford made the call to move. They headed to a tree row that they had both prefished and caught nothing.

So why did they go there knowing they had poor results ahead of the event? Experience.

Lankford’s time on the water had showed him all he needed to know over the years. When they reached the spot, they got to work and soon caught two of the fish they weighed-in.

“I told Darin he made a great move on that call and Darin just said it was all down to experience,” Bowling stated. “Day two I was ready to leave one of our other spots pretty early, but Darin made another great call when he said let’s stay for one more pass.”

Turns out one more pass was all that was needed in that mid morning spot. The fish finally came off the bottom where the team could see them on their Garmin Livescope. Soon after, three of their weigh fish were in the boat.

The funny thing was, a lot of the teams focus on the same areas in the upper Grand arm of Truman Lake. The lake level was such that fishing above 13 Highway Bridge was feasible and many teams were within sight of each other all day.

“We could see 25-30 of the boats competing all around us, but sportsmanship was just great. You’d be chasing a fish heading towards a boat and guys would move out of the way for you to give you a chance at that fish.”

Ultimately, the duo came up just short of the victory. Two of their fish were a 1.20 and a 1.19, which aren’t the type of fish normally weighed in later in the year.

“If we could have had just one more good fish, we may have been able to pull out the victory,” Bowling said.

Now, they’re both looking ahead to the next event this coming weekend, the Crappie Masters. That event should draw about 30-40 more boats as well, adding to the already stacked field of skilled crappie anglers.

“Luckily, practice is going a lot better this week. The fish are showing up in areas you should be catching them now, they’re weighing better, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get them this weekend,” Bowling stated.

When asked what his game plan was after coming off a big time finish, Bowling had a few things in mind.

“I’m looking at a lot of underwater stuff that I’m hoping most people overlook or don’t take the time to look for,” he said. “Another thing I’m seeing is that last week they weren’t hardly on trees at all and now they are really getting tight on trees, so that’ll be the first place we look on the flats.”

The Upper Grand is likely to produce the winner in the upcoming Crappie Masters, but there will also be a few teams that run up the Osage arm from Berry Bend to the Tally Bend area looking for some big keeper crappie. If you talk to the local guides on the lake, many will tell you it’s hard to pull off two days in a row of big tournament fish on the Osage. They call it “getting Osage’d”. On a two day event like the upcoming Crappie Masters, that’s not exactly what you want to hear.

“We will be back on the Grand doing what we know best, but I think a lot of the wins come down to having some luck on your side, too,” Bowling concluded. “You really have to be in the right spot at the right time, but experience can help with that as well.”

It’s no doubt that Hunter Bowling, who grew up under the tutelage of longtime expert crappie angler and guide, Richard Bowling, and Darin Lankford, who has fished the lake competitively since the 90s, have experience on their side.

Maybe this coming weekend a little luck will be on their side as well.

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