Concord man wins $10,000 in fishing tournament at Kerr Lake

May 13—HENDERSON — On May 6, Jason Barnes out of Concord nabbed a $10,412 prize at the MLF Phoenix Bass Fishing League on Kerr Lake. Barnes' winnings included a $7,000 Major League Fishing Contingency Bonus for rocking a Phoenix boat during the competition.

Barnes is a Construction Estimator and Project Manager in Concord — over two hours away — but he's been fishing at Kerr Lake for 15 years.

Barnes attributed his wealth of experience with the lake to his success in the BLF tournament.

"Over the years, I've kind of developed areas where I feel I can get a bite," he said.

Needing one more fish to put him over the hump, Barnes went to a unique spot at the lower end of the lake and caught a 4-lb large-mouth bass for his final catch of the day. As the co-winner, Barnes qualified for the 2024 All-American Phoenix Fishing Team for the first time in his fishing career.

Barnes and Wade Grooms of Bonneau, South Carolina, each caught five bass weighing 16 pounds, 13 ounces and tied for the first-place spot with Grooms winning $2,502 in prize money.

Nicholas Burke from Maiden finished as the top Strike King co-angler with his five fish totaling over 15 lbs and took home a $1,668 prize.

The Vance County Tourism Development Authority hosted the tournament and it was the BFL North Carolina Division's third event of the season.

"Henderson is a great bass fishing community," said Joe Opager, the Director of Communications for Major League Fishing.

"The fishing is always great and the local community is always happy to see them," said Opager.

The BFL is a grassroots division of the Major League Fishing network that airs every Saturday on Discovery Channel. According to Opager, these events are mostly for weekend anglers looking to fish competitively, with a relatively low barrier to entry, and these divisions are some of the most popular in the entire league.

For $150, people can sign up to be co-anglers and are randomly paired up with a boater — the two fishermen then work together to compete in different divisions — and if you do well, you can move up the ladder into more competitive circuits.

"It's a fun way to get some tournament angling experience at a low cost without needing a boat or having to travel across the country," said Opager.

According to Opager, a handful of top-ranked pros have come out of North Carolina, including Marty Stone and David Williams who won the event two years ago.

Additionally, Opager said there is a level of respect and courtesy when it comes to competitive fishing between competitors, spectators and other people out on the lake. Since these competitions take place on public waters, jet skis and water tubes can disrupt fishing conditions. However, Opager says locals in Vance County are very mindful of the anglers fishing for money and welcome the BFL with open arms.

But even in rural communities like Vance County where hunting and fishing are common, there is still a limited amount of interest and media coverage in professional fishing — which in turn limits its exposure.

"Media is kind of tough with this sport because it's so niche, but we don't get a lot of mainstream coverage," said Opager. "Ultimately we're trying to get on ESPN and get that maximum coverage, but not a lot of media outlets are interested."

Right now, Opager is part PR director and part sports reporter for Major League Fishing as he does most of the press releases for the events around the country. He says he wants to see MLF take off and become similar to PGA and NASCAR — which are also niche sports leagues but garner way more fans and coverage.

Opager said MLF needs a "Lebron of fishing" or their own Netflix show to get more eyes on the sport and positive media coverage of professional fishing — and not just when something crazy happens.

"I want media across the country to cover these events," he said.

The MLF has a CBS special twice a year, but Opager said they are jonesing for a Sunday slot every week when football is not in season. The highest level of MLF is televised and there is an official present in each boat, weighing the fish as they are caught in real-time and updating a live scoreboard. Opager believes the added anticipation from this arrangement will add more drama to the sport and increase viewership and appeal.

"We've got a unique format that no one else can really do," said Opager. "I'm excited about what the future could be for this company."