Story by Justin Brouillard | Photos by Tanner & Travis Lyons
As the 2023 season approaches and the anglers make their way to Pickwick Lake for Stop number 1 on March 15-17, the preparation and anticipation have begun, with the anglers looking forward to getting the season started. With lots of returning anglers, and several new folks to the NPFL tournament trail, we connected with a few of each to get the inside scoop of their journey to ‘the league’ and the events they have their eyes on.
Hailing from Georgia, Will Harkins has lots of history on Lake Lanier and is surely looking forward to stop number 6. The spotted bass fishery is within an hour from his home base in Blairsville, and the opportunity to compete on the professional level on one of his favorite lakes is worth the excitement.
“When god opens a door, you walk through, and that is exactly what I did with the NPFL this season,” said Harkins. “Adding Lanier to the schedule is a bonus as I have spent many days out there fishing. October is a weird time of year but anytime I can chase down spotted bass on that fishery, I am happy.”
Harkins loves to spend time offshore with a spinning rod in hand and growing up on Lake Lanier and Chatuge Lake certainly played a hand. With that said, shallow water lakes are not in his wheelhouse but the opportunity to expand and fish new places is something he is looking forward to.
“Wright Patman is one of those lakes where I definitely have no history and my strengths don’t include shallow fishing,” he said. I have the support this season – the Blairsville Chamber of Commerce, Heavens Harvest and Cameo Fencing – and the drive to make it happen. I am excited for the new experience.”
Stephanie Hemphill-Pellerin is from Texas and is certainly not new to the fishing scene. Having spent several years fishing regional and national trails, the opportunity to hop on board with the NPFL was an easy decision.
“I have heard many great things about the NPFL from the “family” environment to the structure of the tournaments,” Said Hemphill-Pellerin. Also, the top prize of $100,000 is enough to catch the attention of any tournament angler.”
While living in Texas, it’s obvious the northern fisheries are not on top of her list of places with history, and the addition of wind and waves is even less appealing. Additionally, Wright Patman is a cool four hour drive from Village Mills. The event that best suits her fishing style for the season is Pickwick Lake.
“I really enjoy fishing bluff walls and current based lakes in general,” she added. “Watching them eat a jerkbait on Humminbird MEGA Live, fishing offshore with a dropshot, or just picking the bank apart with a stick bait are all things I enjoy – I just want to catch fish.”
Brant Cochran is from Illinois and loves fishing lakes with flooded timber and cover. The Santee Cooper event is on his mind as well as the places that will require more effort in the form of pre practice and planning.
“I am naturally most nervous about the places I have zero history with, so probably Lake Eufaula,” said Cochran. “However, regardless, I will have done my share of pre planning and prep work before those events and I look forward to the challenges.”
Cochran made the switch to the NPFL due to hearing talk of well run events, similar to Hemphill-Pellerin, and had great discussions with owners and other anglers leading up.
“I really like the organization principles and the ownership group and leaders are awesome people,” he said. “My strengths are definitely when I have a plastic in my hand – a Texas rig or wacky rig – but I really am looking forward to this season and the variety of events.”
Another angler looking forward to stop number one has fished the Tennessee River in previous years but mostly in the springtime. Reagan Nelson is another Texas angler in the field and has college level experience on Pickwick specifically.
“I am probably most excited about Pickwick as I have had some good finishes in past college events there – it’s Lake Lanier I am the most worried about,” said Nelson. “I have not been there before nor do I have much time on those types of fisheries in general.”
Like most, Nelson has had a lifelong dream to fish at the professional level and the NPFL was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
As a shallow water angler, Kyle Delong is at his best with heavy gear and a frog tied on. After watching the largemouth beatdown the NPFL anglers put down at Saginaw Bay in 2022, one may think the Michigan angler would have it circled on his calendar.
“It’s actually Pickwick in a few weeks because I am eager and ready to get the year started,” said Delong. “I have no history at Pickwick so the thrill of learning a new body of water has me excited – we will have to wait and see if it fits my fishing style when we get there for practice.”
Fishing at a professional level has been a goal and the NPFL opportunity to fish was one he simply could not pass up.
“I did my research and everyone I talked to had nothing but good things to say,” added Delong. “ I am glad to join in on all the fun. The one place I am least looking forward to is Eufaula – I will be making that drive from Maryland and it’s going to be a long couple weeks, but I am going to put my best foot forward!”
Returning for his third season, John Cox of Carrollton, Georgia has his eyes set on a new destination for the NPFL in 2023.
“I am most looking forward to Santee Cooper, not Lanier, as it fits my preferred style of fishing and I have had some past success on that body of water,” said Cox. “Anywhere I can target cover with moving baits, swim jigs and bladed jigs, that’s my confidence stuff.”
The most recent Progressive Angler of the Year winner Gary Adkins is also back for 2023 and has a big list of lakes he is excited to fish this season.
“There are a lot of lakes this season that fit my style and I am looking forward to getting those events going,” said Adkins. “Lakes such as Pickwick, Saginaw Bay, Eufaula, and Lanier all are places I feel like will fit my style of offshore fishing. I think those events will be won offshore and that is what I will be looking to do.”
On the contrary, there are new lakes for this season that Adkins anticipates will be shallow water events and those are the ones he hopes to survive.
“The lakes that will be shallow, and ones I have not fished before are Wright Patman and Lake Santee Cooper,” added Adkins. “There are a lot of great shallow water anglers in the field.”
Kevin Rogers has done the research on the season and Lake Lanier stood out. Living in Missouri, it’s not a place he has much experience with, but the opportunity to chase fish around with his electronics is something he is excited for.
“Lanier could be one of those special places where I get to do exactly what I like to do,” said Rogers. “There is something about spotted bass, I love to target and catch them, and I have heard that it should be a phenomenal event. Whenever I get a jerkbait or dropshot in hand, and can use Livescope, I am happy.”
On the contrary, Pickwick Lake is probably where Rogers is least excited about.
“I am super excited to get the season going, but Pickwick, I don’t understand that place at all, the current, how they set up, nothing,” added Rogers.
How to Watch
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