Reeling In a Winner

An interview with angler Jon Hertzler, winner of the 2015 Big Bass Bash

By John Neporadny Jr.

Jon Hertzler Wins Big Bass Bash at Lake of the Ozarks

Jon Hertzler’s fervent love for Lake of the Ozarks’ fishing grew even hotter last fall when he won the Anglers in Action Big Bass Bash.

“I am addicted to fishing the lake,” says Hertzler, an angler from Wichita, KS. “I am a junkie. My family started going to Mallard Point for family vacations when I was four or five, and we fished off the seawalls for bluegills and that sort of stuff. That’s when I got lit up on fishing and it has been just a snowball effect ever since. I just love the heck out of it.”

Jon Hertzler wins the fall Big Bass Bash at Lake of the Ozarks His fondness for the lake’s great bass fishing prompted Hertzler to enter the Big Bass Bash spring and fall events a few years ago. The biggest bass Hertzler had ever caught at the lake was a 7¼-pounder, but he never caught a heavyweight fish in the Bash until this past fall.

Planning a strategy

The 34-year-old handyman business owner caught a 6.88-pound largemouth bass at his first stop, at about 7:20 a.m. the first morning of the two-day event. “It was a spot that I have known about for a long time,” Hertzler recalls. “The last couple of years it hasn’t been good to me but for whatever reason the weekend before, when I practiced, I decided to stop on it. I caught two five-pounders and a four-pounder in about 10 casts out of that one spot.”

Hertzler was tempted to start at another part of the lake that morning where he also caught quality fish in practice. Instead, he decided to try the stretch of docks at the 36-mile mark of the Osage arm—the big fish were biting there just the weekend before. “As luck would have it, that was the right decision,” he says.

Big Bass Bash Lake of the Ozarks During practice, Hertzler discovered he could catch heavyweight bass by skipping jigs near the steel pilings under the catwalks of docks. “I figured out if I threw a jig in there I couldn’t move it,” he says. “I had to count to about six or eight, and by about the eight-count a fish would pick it up and run off with it. I found out if I just let the jig soak like that the bigger ones would hit it.”   

The Kansas angler opted for an Omega Custom Tackle Flipping Jig in a Chobee (brown and blue) hue, tipped with a green pumpkin Missile Baits D-Bomb that he pitched behind the docks in about 1½ to 2 feet of water. “That Chobee color jig has caught me a lot of fish in this lake,” Hertzler says. “It’s one of my absolute favorite go-to colors.” 

Work for the win

Detecting a strike early that morning, Hertzler set the hook and then the fun began. “The fish came up and rolled and I thought then it was a really big one,” Hertzler says. “The cables were submerged at the dock I was fishing so I couldn’t skip underneath them. When the fish rolled, it came toward me and went under the cable.”

Since Hertzler’s line kept rubbing against the steel cable as the fish surged back toward his boat, Hertzler recalls he “immediately started to have a heart attack” because he thought the friction of line and cable would eventually break the line. He managed to turn the fish around, but then it jumped and wrapped the line around the cable again.

 “I was fishing by myself so I was trying to hold the rod, gingerly grab hold of the net and not let the line break. I managed, luckily, to get the net under the fish and flip it over the other side and it came right into the net. My line was like Swiss cheese. I couldn’t believe I got that fish in.”

Lake of the Ozarks Big Bass Bash “As soon as I got my heart to stop beating so fast, I put the fish in the livewell and I went to the weigh-in station at Red Oak Resort,” says Hertzler, whose 6.88-pound fish topped the leaderboard. So Hertzler had to play the waiting game for a day and a half to see if his fish would hold the lead. He caught some keepers the rest of the first day and landed a 5½-pounder Sunday afternoon but decided not to weigh in the fish. Finally at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Hertzler found out he won the event and the $70,000 grand prize.

It is understandable why Hertzler and many others enjoy fishing Lake of the Ozarks since it was voted "Best Recreational Lake in the Nation" by USA TODAY readers. Bassmaster Classic champions Guido Hibdon, Dion Hibdon and Denny Brauer (the first angler ever to have his picture on a Wheaties box) and BFL All-American winners Brian Maloney and Marcus Sykora all honed their bass fishing skills on their home waters of Lake of the Ozarks.

The lake also produces great crappie action and fishing for bass and crappie will be good in the future due to the flooding this winter. The lake might remain at a high level this spring to produce ideal spawning conditions for both species. No matter how conditions change from year to year, Lake of the Ozarks is a sure place to enjoy excellent fishing for years to come.

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