Good Knight! Mercury pro Brad Knight takes Forrest Wood Cup trophy

HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas – At 31 years old, with a new baby daughter and comfortable living managing a pharmacy, Team Mercury pro Brad Knight had a decision to make: "Do I go to school to be a pharmacist, or do I try to make a living as a tournament bass fisherman?"

Luckily for Knight – and not-so-luckily for the 49 other anglers competing in the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Ouachita, Arkansas – Knight decided against the pharmacist's white coat and opted for a tournament jersey instead. Knight became the 20th winner of the Forrest Wood Cup on Sunday, bringing 51 pounds, 12 ounces of Lake Ouchita bass to the scales in four days and earning a $500,000 payday.

"I had worked in a pharmacy for almost 20 years, had all of my undergraduate work finished, and decided to go fish the Everstart Series instead of starting school – not the most popular move to those two people right over there," Knight joked backstage after the win, pointing to his parents Ed and Susan. "I kinda like that decision at the moment. It's been a bumpy road, but when you do your own thing, sometimes that's how it goes. Peaks and valleys. But whatever happens from here on out, the bumps and valleys are all worth it."

Knight came into the Cup, Aug. 20-23, after narrowly squeezing into the championship based on the FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings – he was 34th out of the 37 who qualified – and with no notable experience on Lake Ouachita, a 66,000-acre impoundment of the Ouachita River in central Arkansas. It was just as well, though, as weather and water conditions fluctuated madly over the course of the field's three-day practice window and the four-day tournament. After struggling through a seemingly unproductive practice in the lake's 88-degree waters, Knight located a series of laydowns and brushpiles in the back of Big Blakely Creek and went to work picking apart the timber with a drop-shot.

"The first day of practice, I got one or two bites in that area, but I didn't think it was anything special," Knight admitted. "I didn't get a single keeper bite the rest of practice, so I went back to this area on Day 1 because it was the only place I felt like I could catch a keeper."

The major setback, though, was that two other Top 10 contenders – Mercury teammate Mark Daniels Jr. and Brandon Cobb – had located the same structure, and spent most of the tournament within sight of Knight and his Mercury-powered Phoenix. No matter, as Knight caught 14-4 on Day 1 and backed that up with 14-0 on Day 2 and 12-1 on Day 3 to enter Championship Sunday in second place, just 12 ounces behind 2012 Cup champion Jacob Wheeler.

And then Mother Nature changed the game again, delivering a massive downpour that sent many of the Top 10 and their pursuing spectator and media boats scurrying for cover. Big Blakely Creek was mostly unaffected by the deluge, but Knight was forced to alter his tactics midway through the morning on Championship Sunday as weekend anglers hovered over and around his best laydowns. Knight ditched the drop-shot and caught his first fish flippin', and then finished out his five-fish limit "junk fishing" with a squarebilled crankbait and buzzbait.

"That sort of fishing suits my style pretty well," Knight said. "I grew up fishing that way, targeting isolated wood in the backs of creeks. The run-in water is generally a lot better quality than the water out on the main lake. It's a little cooler and better oxygenated. Most of all, it's unpressured. Those fish are living back there in their own little world, and all I wanted to do was disrupt that a little."

Knight brought 11-7 to the scales Sunday while Wheeler faltered, bringing in only three fish. Ramie Colson Jr. claimed second place with 47-13, Cobb was third with 47-11, and Wheeler was fourth with 45-13.

Knight's OptiMax carried him this season
The seven days of practice and competition on Lake Ouachita were only part of Knight's season-long dependence on his Mercury 250 OptiMax ProXS.

"You can't even make it to the Forrest Wood Cup if you have one bad mechanical day," Knight said. "The reliability of the 250 OptiMax ProXS is critical to even get to this tournament, and to make it through a year with the kind of work we put these motors through. I made a lot of long, long runs this year, and I knew I could do that, fish with total confidence, and get back where I needed to go, every single day."

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