By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

On Wednesday, Tom Redington made the drive to Kentucky Lake for the annual youth fishing camp that FLW puts on. It’s where youth anglers get to interact with pros and learn some of the ins and outs of what it takes to succeed in the sport.

From there, he plans to head north for the Mississippi River Bassmaster Central Open in La Crosse, Wis. He grew up along Pool 12 in Illinois, so he’ll get to mix in some family time as well. After that, it’s down to Arkansas for the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Hamilton, his first taste of FLW’s championship event as a competitor. What is typically a quiet time on Redington’s calendar is suddenly brimming with activity, and he’s loving it.

“From ICAST until Aug. 11, it’s going to be non-stop,” he said. “I’m not complaining in the slightest. It’s a great problem to have.”

Just a few weeks ago, though, the Cup was a giant question mark in his mind. After an uncharacteristic 143rd-place finish at the Lake Chickamauga FLW Tour, he found himself 72nd in the points standings. Entering the season finale at Lake Champlain, he knew the top 42 or 43 finishers in points would earn a Cup berth once potential double-qualifiers were factored in.

“It was looking like I’d have a little free time,” he joked, sizing up his prospects of overcoming the 55-point deficit to 43rd.

Making up 30 places in points in one event at the end of the season isn’t done very often, especially by someone who had just two top-10 Tour finishes in 10 previous seasons. Redington knew the odds weren’t in his favor, but a gutsy decision to commit to fishing near Ticonderoga while at Champlain paid off. He bookended the season with his second top-10 of the year (the other came at Sam Rayburn in the season opener) and he snuck inside the Cup cutoff line by 5 points.

“To go to Champlain knowing I had to do well and then to do well, it’s exciting,” Redington said. “With Lake Hamilton, it’s little bit of an unknown. I go from barely having a shot to get in to being there and now I have a 1-in-52 shot to win the Cup. If you win a Cup, you become a legend in the sport.”

Trouble in Tennessee

Prior to 2019, Redington’s history of top-10 finishes in FLW competition amounted to four post-spawn events on the Tennessee River between 2013 and 2017. Included among those results was an FLW Series victory at Kentucky Lake in May 2015. He hails from Texas and loves fishing grass lakes as well.

“If we had more grass fishing and ledge fishing on the schedule, people would know my name,” he joked.

He figured with where Chickamauga fell on the schedule this year (early May), he’d be able to find some of the first schools to move out toward the ledges and if not, he knew enough to not get buried on the leaderboard. The offshore bite never fired up and he was left scrambling. After two days, he was 143rd and heading back to Texas scratching his head, thinking his Cup hopes were toast.

“I finished 8th and 11th the last two times I was there,” he said. “I was not sure I’d be in the top 10. I knew it was not going to be a layup, but I needed par.”

It turned into a triple bogey.

“That was a hard drive home. They always are after those,” he said. “If I had it to do over again, I wanted to catch them off shore and if you’re ahead of the curve and you get on it, you can do well. I should’ve gone shallow and figured that out and then moved out. I did it in reverse and I kept popping in and out. It was tough leaving there because I dropped so far in the points. I thought I literally had to win (at Champlain) or get a top 10.

“It was really tough. We work so hard all season to be consistent and then at one of my favorite places I lay an egg. It was tough.”

NY State of Mind

Knowing he was backed into a corner at Champlain, Redington said the decision-making process on where to fish was actually pretty painless.

“If I’d done okay at Chickamauga and been near the cut line in points, then all of a sudden I’d be thinking about what the safe play would be,” he said. “I wouldn’t be as willing to take chances. As it turns out, I needed to be in the position I was in to get out of that mode.”

In past tournaments at Champlain, his best finishes have come at the south end near Ticonderoga, so that’s where he committed. He spent two days of practice there and another up north as a backup plan. Ultimately, he knew he was heading south.

“That peace of mind knowing I needed a top-10 anyway, I slept pretty easy that week, “he said. “There was no second-guessing. It was a pretty easy decision.

“That’s what I’ve done this season. It’s like a hitter in baseball who can hit fastballs on the inner half pretty well. If you sit on a curveball or changeup, you can slap it to the opposite field, but if you sit on that and you get a fastball you might miss. I decided to sit on fastballs all year and if I struck out on a curveball, so be it. At Champlain, I could do alright up north, but if they caught them down at Ti, I couldn’t have lived with myself. Ti was my fastball.”

The first two days followed the same script: Catch three keepers early, then endure a long lull before the bite turned back on before it was time to start heading back to Plattsburgh. He had 36-15 and made the top-30 cut in 9th place. His Cup hopes were still alive and he figured he needed to finish 14th or 15th to earn enough points.

That set the stage for a pretty stressful day 3 that featured rainy conditions. He had a limit in the morning and began expanding on his area.

“I was catching more fish, but not the size I’d been catching,” he said. “The storms were coming and I know you can’t get caught there.”

On his way back up the lake, he stopped along a stretch of moored sailboats where he’d caught fish at before. It’d been too windy earlier to fish them.

“There were 10 of them and I fished the first four and then another guy pulls in front me,” he said. “I see I have one more sailboat to fish so I slowed way down.”

He flicked out a wacky-rigged worm and once it settled, a 4-pound smallmouth engulfed it. Redington got it in the boat, culled out his smallest fish and continued north.

“That’s when I knew I made the cut for the final day,” he said. “That was probably one of the happiest moments of the year. The weights were so tight and I was having fun catching them all day. My stomach was rolling. It’s the most nervous I’ve ever been. It was nice to make the right move and upgrade for a change at the end.”

He was in eighth entering the final day, just 3 1/2 pounds out of the lead, but the weather that moved through the previous day had dirtied the water near Ti and he was unable to challenge for the win. Still, he’d achieved his goal.

“I can’t complain, but I had the chance to do damage,” he said. “I just never had the chance.”

Deep Thoughts

Redington says he’ll have no problem shaking off the happy-to-be-here vibe that often strikes newcomers at the Cup. He put in a few days of pre-practice at Lake Hamilton and knows the conditions will be challenging with the August heat and recreational boat traffic.

“I’m going to the plate and sitting on a 2-0 fastball,” he said. “There are a lot of docks there and lately, the shallow grass has been good along with the flooded banks, but there’s a deep bite there, too. It wasn’t going great in pre-practice, but if that goes through, that’s my fastball. If it works out, I have a chance to make some noise.

“To me, it’s like fishing two or three day 4s. You just do what you have to do to win. I’m not going to be happy to be there. If I blank doing what I think I need to do to win, I won’t hang my head in the least.”