Mount Pulaski man’s fishing passion pays off
Third time is a charm for Kerry Malone

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[October 12, 2016]   MOUNT PULASKI -  Kerry Malone of Mount Pulaski won the Big Bass Bash at the Lake of the Ozarks held October 1-2, 2016.

The Big Bass Bash tournament is the largest amateur bass tournament in the Midwest. Approximately 3,800 avid fishermen compete in the event. This was the third time Malone had entered this particular contest and as the saying goes, “Third time's a charm.”

This contest certainly paid off in a big way. He won the $100,000 grand prize for having the biggest fish of the entire weekend and then he received an extra $2,000 for having the biggest fish in a time slot. He didn’t keep all the money for himself, though. He split it with his fishing partner, Jim Lubben of Springfield.

Quite a fish story

With the events still very fresh in his mind, Malone said, “It was pretty surreal, that’s for sure. We went down on Thursday morning and just pre-fished, tried to find out where the fish were at and we really didn’t do that well,” said Malone of the luck he and Lubben started out having.”

With two days worth of practice under their life jackets, they finally decided on a place they would start on Saturday morning. Malone explained, “We found one spot that we found some good fish at but we didn’t know there were any this big. We decided that was where we were going to start because we didn’t have much else to go on.

In this event you can leave and go sit on your spot at two in the morning if you want, you just cannot make a cast until seven o’clock. So we got there on Saturday morning at about five till or ten till seven. I was not 100 percent sure how the rules laid out, so seven o’clock on the money was when I took my lights out of my boat. I didn’t know if you could have them out before because it was just starting to get light out by then and I thought well, I’ll wait until seven to even take them out.”

He continued with his tale, “So, I took my lights out and I could see other people somewhat nearby that were fishin’. So I started fishin’ and I looked at my fish finder and it was seven o’clock and fifty-five seconds. I just started fishin’ and had some little fish hittin’ and I thought well I’m not gonna throw anything to catch the little fish this early in the morning.

I switched baits a couple of times and about the third cast with that chatterbait, a fish hit. And it was exciting from there on. It was a battle to get it in. 7.16 pounds,” Malone says, very clearly. “It was a good one,” he added, flashing a big smile.

“That’s his new name,” '7-1-6', Kerry’s wife Michelle chimed in. Malone kept grinning, “That’s what the guys in the bass club are calling me. 7-1-6.” He speaks those words again, very clearly and distinctly, and says, “It’s pretty funny.”

Speaking of his bass club, Malone mentions that eight members of the Lincolnland Bassmasters of Springfield, Illinois went to the tournament together. “A good group of guys, we all like to tease each other and have a good time.” Still gathering his thoughts about the experience he says, “It was pretty amazing.”

Recounting the fish story in detail, Malone says, “So anyway, we get the fish up to the boat and it takes off and we finally battle and get it in the boat.” Malone told his partner, Lubben, who netted the fish, “I’m like, man that’s a good one.”

The best mistake he ever made

“I said before, it was probably the best mistake I ever made. Because I thought the first fish over five pounds weighed in at the tournament got a $1,000 bonus. I’m looking at the fish, I’m like this is a six pounder. We got a chance to win this hour, because it pays out every two hour time slot.” Malone explained the two hour time slots were: 7 a.m. until 9 a.m., 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.

So with the thought of winning $1,000 on the line, Malone immediately tells Lubben they have to get moving on this. “So I’m thinking we gotta hurry up and get back. So I’m telling my partner we gotta go,” said Malone.

“Let’s weigh the fish first,” said Malone, following his initial instinct and telling the story accurately. “So I weigh it on my scale and it comes up seven pounds two ounces. I’m like, my scale is wrong,” Malone’s voice gets a bit of excitement in it. “This thing’s like six and a half pounds or something like that. So either way we got a chance to win this time slot.”

Malone then says to his partner, Lubben, “Let’s go!” No time to waste. No time for pictures or even admiring the catch.

Two men with a fish, on a mission

Malone continued with his fish story and explained that he and Lubben quickly sat down in the boat and got all their stuff together and took off for the weigh station. “We go as fast as the ole’ Skeeter would let me go,” he said, his voice getting a little excited.

“We get to the weigh in and there’s nobody around,” he said. Pretty soon here comes a guy down the dock and he asks if Malone has a fish to weigh in. Malone answers yes, and the guy says, “I’ve got a weigh in bag and you can keep it. Is it a big one?” Malone answers, “Yeah, it’s a pretty good one,” he grins again, obviously proud.

Malone was curious if any other fish had been weighed in yet, and the guy on the dock answered, “Well, I don’t know. We’re just getting set up.” Malone was not sure exactly what the guy meant, because he did see people all over doing things.

Well, it’s not five pounds

Nonetheless, Malone put the fish in a bag of water and asked the guy, “Are there any fish over five pounds weighed in, do you know?” The guy looks at Malone and says, “Well, that’s not five pounds.” Malone hesitates and says to the guy, “Well, it’s over five pounds.” Then the guy says, “But it’s not five pounds.” Malone says in the interview, “Oh, I am confused at this point.”

Malone continued, “So I got the fish and I’m holding the bag really tight and I am running up to the scales trying to be the first one because there are five different weigh in sites and it’s all done by the computer somehow.” When Malone gets up to where he needs to be, he asks, “Is there any other fish over five pounds weighed in for the $1,000 bonus?” This guy says, “Well, it’s not five pounds. It’s bigger than that.”

Malone laughs nervously, just like he’s back in that moment all over again. He finally says to this guy, “I know, why do people keep saying this?”

“So I ask again and he goes, it has to be five pounds exact.” Malone shakes his head and says, “Aw, well crap, I didn’t know that.”


Malone is getting to the really good part in the fish story now.

“So anyway we are sitting there and we weigh the fish and it comes up 7.16 pounds,” said Malone. “I’m like, wow, that’s a big one!”

No exaggeration here, that indeed was a big catch.

“So then it still hasn’t really registered with me yet. I was kind of thrilled on that and thinkin’ alright, I have a chance to win the hourly or whatever. I still hadn’t put everything together at this point.” This guy eventually guides Malone in the direction of yet another guy.

This new guy has the lie detector test. “This is serious, yes,” said Malone. “There’s a lot of money on the line and people will cheat for way less, you know. So I go talk to the guy.”

This guy introduces himself and Malone admits he doesn’t remember his name but he did recall the guy saying, “Well, it’s early and obviously the big ones are bitin’, so if you weigh in another one today, ‘cause you can weigh in one every two hours, so if you weigh in another one today, you need to come see me or catch up with me at the end the day.”

Malone said ok and explained that in the tournament you can weigh in a fish every two hours. The guy said again to Malone, “You definitely need to make sure you catch up with me ‘cause you’re probably gonna win this.”

Malone brushed that thought off and said, “Ah, I don’t know about that.”

The guy continues, “I don’t think there’s been a fish over seven pounds weighed in, in over five years.”

Malone nonchalantly answers back, “Oh, okay. Thanks. I’ll catch up with you.”

“Make sure you do,” says the man.

“Alright,” says Malone.

Reality sets in

The fish story continues and the reality begins to set in.

“So no big deal,” Malone said. “I walk back down to the boat and grabbed my life jacket and put it on.”

As Malone had pulled into the boat dock earlier, he remembered his boat had died and he said that thought was in the back of his mind, “Why did my boat die?” Malone wondered. “No big deal. I’m all amped up getting ready to tie up the boat. I get back in the boat and on my life jacket, you have a tether cord that like if you fell out of the boat, it will shut the boat off, and that’s why it died. I’m like, oh there’s my cord. That was somewhere just in the back of my mind. And then I just sat down on the deck and laid down on my back and I thought I might actually win this. This is a possibility.”

He paused, “So then it hit me and uh...” Malone kind of choked up a bit and his voice trailed off.

Seconds later he gathered his thoughts and answered the question about how much time had elapsed now. “This is probably by 7:15 a.m.,” he said. “I weighed the fish in and I think they said it was 7:12 a.m. I was fairly close to the weigh in site. I probably caught the fish at either 7:04 or 7:05 that morning. My boat goes pretty fast,” he laughed and added, “I can cover some water pretty fast. Man, I don’t think it still sunk in good until later that day.”

Without a doubt, a lot sure happened in fifteen minutes that morning. Malone and Lubben had caught what could be the biggest fish of the weekend, but they had to wait until late afternoon on Sunday to know for sure. This was only Saturday morning. One can only imagine the anticipation the rest of the entire weekend.

So what did Malone and Lubben do next? “We went right back to the same spot,” Malone said quickly and laughed.

“Back to the beginning, why I said maybe it was the greatest mistake I made, because by me thinkin’ that I needed to get weighed in real fast, I got 7.16. A lot of times a fish, I mean they go to the bathroom like we do and they spit up shad or blue gill. So mine weighed 7.16. The second place finisher was 7.15.”

Take a deep breath now and go, wow!

“So pretty close,” Malone let out a deep breath himself and continued. “By me taking it and weighing it right then, might have done the whole deal for me. Because otherwise I might have stayed there and fished a little bit longer to see if there was other big ones.

"I can keep two fish in my live well, I can only weigh in one in a time slot, plus my partner could have caught one. And we were in this fifty-fifty. Whatever I catch he gets half of, and whatever he catches I get half of it. That’s how we work it. That’s not how the tournaments are necessarily set up, that’s just what we agreed on three years ago when we started doing them.”

Second place in the tournament paid out $20,000 by the way. That’s a huge difference.

Still Malone’s mind was just on fishing. “I’m thinkin’ I need to get back out there and fish instead of talking to these people,” Malone laughed. “I don’t think it had really sunk in how big that fish was at that point. I mean, I knew it was a good one. I fish a lot,” he readily admitted.

[to top of second column]

With wife Michelle nodding her head, Malone said, “Probably 50-60 days a year, I bet. I spend a lot of time on the water. About every weekend, and that usually turns into a three-day weekend, from March until the second week of October usually.” Malone confessed, “I fish a lot of tournaments. The last couple of years I kinda pushed it to the limit and maybe did a few too many. I really didn’t feel like I had been competitive like I should because I was bouncing from lake to lake to lake, instead of actually getting time to practice on the lakes.”

Malone and Lubben have more fishing on their minds.

At any rate, Malone and Lubben get back to work. “Honestly, we went back out to the same spot and I ran the boat just as hard going back as I did coming in. We didn’t want to leave fish that were actually biting because we hadn’t gotten very many bites. We got back out there and we got a few but not a lot, nothing of any size. We beat that bank up pretty good. By the end of the weekend on our fish finders you can hit a waypoint and it’ll mark a spot where you are at and then it also saves a tracking from everywhere you’ve been. I had went back and forth so many times up and down that bank that you couldn’t even see the waypoint on my fish finder, almost. So we milked it for everything we could.”

The other half of the “we” in the fish story, Lubben, concurred, “We knew it was going to be a big fish so we didn’t get too excited Saturday yet, but Sunday was when we really got excited and we were nervous. Sunday was when we were really on the pins and needles. We were pretty quiet in the boat. We normally badger back and forth between each another and have a good time, but we were a little quiet on Sunday. We didn’t talk for two or three hours.”

Lubben also mentioned how everyone was nervous on Saturday night and of course the members of the Lincolnland Bassmasters were rooting them on. Lubben added he knew Malone didn’t sleep very well Saturday night.

Looking back, Malone also realized that he was nervous. After he and Lubben returned to that fishing spot Saturday morning, Malone admitted that in about an hour nerves set in. “My chest kept tightening up, my stomach was hurting and I’m like, ah man, my side is killing me and Jim says “you need to slow down a little bit.” I guess I was casting a reel a little fast, it was starting to set in at this point. I switched baits all together just to slow down. I started throwing a jig at that point and that makes me slow down a little bit. That’s when it really started setting in.”

Too close for comfort

Malone was also able to check his phone as the tournament posted frequent updates, adding to his anxiety. He recalled his phone blowing up as friends got wind of his big catch and began calling and texting. One friend even sent a message that read, “Dodged a bullet” or “That was a close one” something like that Malone said. So a curious Malone checked the updates and that’s when he saw the 7.15 fish weighed in, that was maybe 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Finally at one point he just had to shut his phone off and move it to another compartment in his boat. That lasted about ten minutes, he said.

Meanwhile, Malone is in touch with his wife throughout the weekend, as she is back in Illinois.

“That’s a long two days,” Michelle said. She admitted the reality of it didn’t set in with her until after lunch on Sunday. “It was a long, long day,” agreed Kerry. “I was doing everything possible mentally in my mind to keep my composure.”

A passion for fishing

Time to go back in time and discover how this passion for fishing developed. Malone talked about being heavily influenced as a little boy by his father and two uncles. “My whole life I fished. My earliest memories are fishing. I was probably just walking and I was fishing. I started bass fishing in farm ponds pretty young with my uncle and my dad.”

Malone’s dad was George Malone and this uncle he is referring to was Jim Barfield. Both men are deceased.

“That was over in Brown County, Illinois, where we usually fished.” Malone later converted an aluminum boat into “somewhat of a bass boat” and got a trolling motor from his uncle Ross Hall, who has also since passed. He ended up taking that boat to Clinton a few times. He spent much of his childhood fishing around these men.

Later on Malone would have two brother-in-laws who influenced his passion for fishing. He said they were like having “extra-dads.” Harold Coats and Norman Heath were the brother-in-laws who helped to mold him into the fisherman he is today.

Eventually that boy grew up but he never outgrew his love for fishing.

An addiction (of the good kind)

So when Malone started a new job in Lincoln, his fishing turned serious. He got hired at the bottle factory in Lincoln in June of 1994 and he admits, “That’s where my fishing addiction really became a true addiction.”

He hadn’t been at the bottle factory very long, when Mary Morgan had a conversation with Malone in the parking lot. Malone just happened to have a sticker in his truck window that read, “BASS” for Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society, he explained.

Mary and Malone made small talk and Mary finally asked, “Do you like to bass fish?” Malone told her he really did like to fish. Mary asked if he ever fished in any tournaments. Malone recalled answering, “No, I’ve never been in a tournament.” Mary threw him some bait, “Well, my husband fishes tournaments and bass fishes all the time. He’s always looking for somebody to go. I need to get you guys together.”

Malone took the bait and said, “Ok, sounds good.” No big deal, he thought at the time.

Just a couple days later, Mary hollers at Malone from across the catwalk at the bottle factory and wants him to come over to that side of the building. Malone followed directions and moments later he was meeting Mary’s husband, Travis. “He got me into fishing, bass fishing, bigger lakes and he had a nice big Ranger boat. I started fishing with him, I got into a bass club and the addiction has spiraled out of control since then.”

Michelle lets out a big laugh and says, “He is not lying.”

Kerry smiles and says, “I couldn’t even imagine how much I have in rods and reels and tackle.” The two just keep laughing as Kerry goes on to say that he’s always “organizing that stuff this year.”

Malone mentions that he was just in contact with Travis after winning the tournament. “I just sent the information to Travis because he was kind of my mentor. I sent it to him and he’s still got the old style flip phone so he couldn’t even see one of the pictures. Then he called me and we talked a little bit.”

What’s next

Back to the future. For now the fish is back in the lake and Malone will be back to the Big Bass Bash in the spring. “Absolutely, hopefully I catch it,” Malone said of the 7.16 bass released back into the Lake of the Ozarks. “I’ve never fished the one in the spring but now, how can I miss it?”

Of course not.

A grateful family man

Kerry is indeed thankful for his understanding wife. “Michelle makes a lot of sacrifices for me to do this. I spend a lot of her money on this. Plus she’s running errands for me because I am fishing,” he said.

Kerry also appreciates the efforts of his coworkers who help to make these fishing trips possible. He works for Memorial Medical Center in the HVAC department and he’s thankful for the great guys in the shop, who often switch the schedule with him and cover for him so he can fish. “It’s a good deal,” he said.

Finally, he added, “It’s pretty awesome for both us,” as Michelle continues to smile. “It’s a big accomplishment and I’ll do everything I possibly can to win another one. I don’t know that I can do it but....” Michelle jumps in to finish the sentence, “all things are possible, right?” “Absolutely,” says Kerry. “If it happened once, it can happen twice.”

Kerry and Michelle have a son, Cory, who also fishes with his father but he’s not quite as intense about it. “Cory likes to fish but not quite like me,” said Kerry.

Summing up his big weekend win, Malone simply says, “Right place, right time, it was just my time.”

One final note:

Of course, I had to ask what he was going to do with his half of the money. He answered honestly that with his phone blowing up so much, combined with the busy week he was having, he and his wife had not even had a chance to talk about the money yet.

The guy didn’t even get a chance to go cash the check, since this reporter was bothering him. He was just so humble and still in awe of the amazing experience.

There were even balloons decorating his porch when he arrived home, compliments of Taylor Lowe.

By the way, Kerry is an awesome storyteller, as one would expect, since that comes along with being a fisherman. If you see Kerry, ask him about another fish tale that happened to him while at the Ozarks. I love the guy’s attention to detail. This fish story began at 1:48 p.m. on Sunday.

Congratulations, Kerry!

[Teena Lowery]

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