Kerry Milner does a little bit of everything back in Bono, a small town located in Northeast Arkansas. He owns and operates a successful duck hunting guide service, a lawn care business and has worked in construction building streets and laying foundations. In 2014, Milner plans to add yet another title to his résumé – Walmart FLW Tour pro.
The 44-year-old Milner grew up on a small 14- or 15-acre lake. From the time he was able to walk down the hill, he was fishing. According to his uncle, Jimmy Cox, president of Mizmo Bait Company, Milner was infatuated with it. While it was always his dream to tournament fish, there are very few venues in the immediate area. And between work and raising three daughters with his wife Stacey, Milner wasn’t exactly flush with free time.
He’d fish little local tournaments when he could and eventually he joined a bass club. In 2007, he participated in the Mr. Bass of Arkansas series and began competing in the Arkie Division of the BFL. His ninth-place finish in the standings his first full year showed him he wasn’t too far behind the curve. Three years later he won the points race in the Arkie Division.
“I kind of fulfilled my goal at that point,” recalled Milner. “So I made a new goal to qualify for the All-American. I did that by finishing sixth at the 2011 regional on Wheeler Lake. I took 18th at my first All-American and right then I kind of told myself that I can do this.”
Last fall, Milner qualified for his second consecutive All-American by placing third at the BFL Wild Card on Lake Guntersville. He knew Nickajack and the Tennessee River would be more his style as he prefers summer fishing, especially on deep ledges.
“It’s funny; I ended up fishing the tailrace below the dam. It wasn’t supposed to play a factor because they shouldn’t have been running current. But if you ever find a school of fish below a tailrace you have found the winning stringer. I was blessed to have found it and no one else did.”
Milner didn’t fish tight to the dam, but rather 400 yards or so below it in 12 to 14 feet of water.
“They were creating the current on the opposite of the river, but the seam was shooting across. There was a slight ridge where the river meets the locking canal and those fish were stacked up on the current seam. I caught 25 pounds there in prepractice stroking a swimbait. That showed me they were there.”
Come tournament time, the bite changed – as it often does. Milner was forced to adjust after two hours without a bite and finally caught them on a 3/4-ounce homemade football jig with a Zoom Fat Albert Twin Tail grub. Late in the day a barge came out over the canal to tie up and temporarily curtailed his pattern.
“That was frustrating. But at that point I had at least figured out what they were doing. I spent the next two days there.”
Day two was relatively straightforward as Milner caught the heaviest stringer of the day, but no individual giants.
“I still felt like there were more and more sitting up on that seam. The last day it seemed like it was meant to be. On probably my second cast I caught a 5-pounder. Then I followed it up with two more good ones. Within 20 minutes, I had caught a limit that weighed 22 pounds.”
But then another barge came down, ruining what was an unbelievable morning flurry.
“Once again it was parked right on top of what we were doing. We just sat and waited for the barge to leave. At the time I remember thinking that I just needed two more.”
Forty-five minutes later the barge cleared and Milner made it back to the current seam. Soon after, he caught those two and culled up to a final-day weight of 25 pounds, 15 ounces.
“At that point I strapped my rod down on the deck and ran the trolling motor for my co-angler.”
“Winning the All-American was great, but then I realized the Cup was only six weeks away. That’s not a lot of time to mentally and physically prepare, especially for a tournament of that magnitude. I went to Shreveport almost immediately and practiced for three days.”
Arkansas roots lead to backwater success
After a family vacation to Florida, Milner returned to the Red River and grinded through a full week of prepractice. Using his knowledge of the Arkansas River, that’s when he found his bigger fish in McDade and the White House, two backwater areas located in Pool 5.
“McDade was next to impossible to get through because it was full of timber. There were zero lily pads but some milfoil. The great part was that I never saw another competitor, just me and a crappie fisherman.”
On day one of the Cup, Milner caught his fish flipping and on day two he switched to using a shaky head. On day three, he was on his way to McDade and decided to make a stop in the White House, as it was closer to the launch and less difficult to get in and out of.
“I thought I could maybe maximize my time and be more efficient in the White House. Then I noticed all the bream in the lily pads; I could hear them smacking. It was almost one bite after another. I stayed until 11:30 or noon and had a good limit.”
Milner returned to the White House on day four and the bite was strong yet again as he caught an identical 11-pound, 10-ounce limit and finished the Cup fourth. For perspective, when Jacob Wheeler won the All-American, he took 12th in his first Cup.
“Coming into the tournament I wanted to make the top 10 so bad I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to make myself believe I was capable of fishing with those guys.”
Before the Cup commenced, Milner decided if he made the top 10, he would fish the FLW Tour as a pro in 2014.
“The Cup showed me that this is what I’m supposed to do; I need to purse this further. I am 100 percent fishing the Tour next year. After sitting there on that stage the final day, my goal is to make the Cup again next year and get back to the top 10. Holding that Cup would be the ultimate goal, but I’m setting my goal to get back to that top 10.”
Milner is level-headed and realizes the caliber of anglers he’ll be competing against all year. But both his lifetime of experience in the outdoors and his recent string of success have him confident.
“I really think I can get in there and grind away just like the rest of them. They put their pants on one leg at a time like me. All I knew growing up with my dad and uncle was hunting and fishing. That’s what I’ve lived and breathed for all my life. I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”