Clay Lanier wins first ever Carolina Classic at Hickory

The fourth tournament of the Carolina Kayak Anglers (CKA) 10th anniversary season was a historic one. It also had huge implications for the AOY and ROY races, as you will see below.

Sponsored by Sipe Roofing Company and Powered by Dakota Lithium, the event also featured the Str8UpMounts Big Bass prize, making for a trifecta of excellent top prizes.

Most of all, the Carolina Classic marked the start of a new era of cooperation and coordination among the North Carolina based clubs, with a focus on prizes as well as community, local businesses and excellent competition.

Lanier Re-Opens AOY race

It was 10:43 am on Saturday morning, and anglers had been competing for nearly five hours on Lake Hickory. A familiar name was atop the leaderboard. Bryan Tsiolkas had 83”, and no other competitor had more than 78.5”. It seemed as though Tsiolkas might be heading toward an unassailable lead to repeat for Angler of the Year.

Bryan Tsiolkas at the first Carolina Classic on Lake Hickory. Photo courtesy of Hank Veggian

Dontrell Sullivan was the angler with 78.5”. He had jumped out to an early lead due to a fortunate encounter with some schooling fish. Some were striped bass, however. But there was one special fish mixed in with them. As he told CKA:

“I reached my first spot, a big flat off the main lake. Shortly after, I saw fish schooling on shad. I threw my popper right into the mix. After a couple twitches, big blow up which I thought was another big Striper but it was a giant spotted bass.”

It was a 20.5” Spot, and it held up for him to win the Str8UpMounts Big Bass award. It was also his anchor fish in a third-place finish.

In the meantime, Tsiolkas and Lanier were fishing across from each other, not far from the Wittenburg ramp. Lanier was building his limit, and it took time before he posted. When he did, it turned into a cull-for-cull battle between him and the leader, Tsiolkas. As Lanier told CKA:

“Hickory was fishing tough overall due to the transition into post spawn. Going into the tournament I tried to find fish shallow around blue gill beds or any leftover bed fish. I knew I needed to find Largemouth and not rely on filling a limit with Spotted Bass out deep. I ended up finding one remainder bed fish I caught first thing in the morning and then went searching for active fish. Luckily the pattern paid off and the fish were chasing bluegill heavily. I ended up culling a small 11.75” I caught on my first cast on topwater in the morning; that was around 1:30 with a 17.5” that I fished for nearly 2hrs until it finally ate a jig.”

In the end, Lanier’s late cull of that 11.75” proved to be the difference maker, giving him the win.

Tsiolkas finished in second place and would go on to describe his day – and the lake – as follows:

“Lake Hickory is a fun lake to fish but very pressured from what I could tell. Not having much experience there, I just fished like it was Norman and targeted larger post spawn Spotted bass. I found fish and bait around brush between 8-12ft. I had some missed opportunities, but still a fun day on the water doing what I love.”

Carolina Community

Heading into the CKA 10th anniversary season, the three Carolina-based clubs decided to increase their cooperation. As discussed in this article, CKA together with Foothills Kayak Anglers and Central Carolina Kayak Fishing, organized a rotating event. CKA Lake Hickory doubled then as the first ever Carolina Classic. With strong attendance, successful collaboration and bigger payouts and prizes, the event allowed us to “do what we love,” as Tsiolkas wisely remarked above.  

How big were the payouts? Clay Lanier won $2600 for 1st place, and the third-place winner Dontrell Sullivan cleared the one thousand dollar mark courtesy of his big bass win. That means the top three all took home more than one thousand dollars each.

The Carolina Classic leaderboard at 10:43 am on 5.20.23

But the Carolina Classic is more than just big prizes and paychecks. It’s about our community. Most of all, it gives anglers who might not fish against one another a chance to compete and enjoy the company of like mined competitors.

For example, that same 10:43 leaderboard on Fishing Chaos had some other familiar names on it. Both Austin Vang and Joey Sullivan have terrorized North Carolina kayak tournaments for many years (in Joey Sullivan’s case, nearly two decades). But there were also newer anglers on the list, folks like Steve Simpson and Ashley Barlowe, who held their own against the more renowned hammers (Barlowe and Simpson finished in 11th and 16th places, respectively).

In sum, anglers representing CCKF (Dontrell Sullivan), Foothills (Barlowe) and CKA (Tsiolkas) all had great days on the water, and that is the point of the Carolina Classic.

And if you could see the next spot in that screenshot of the standings, you would see another Carolina legend – Mr. John Ladd. He is a CKA champion, a member of the Cashion rods team and, going back to the 1990’s, a champion on the old FLW circuit.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow: that’s what the Carolina Classic represents, on one lake, and once a year.

 Looking Ahead

Clay Lanier effectively re-opened the CKA Angler of the Year race with his win. Lake Hickory was the mid-way mark of the 2023 CKA season, and it proved to be a pivotal moment. Now, with four events remaining, it’s anyone’s crown to win. Click the link to see the automated Fishing Chaos standings.

The next stop for CKA is our “home lake” – Randleman Reservoir!

Sign up is open for it on Fishing Chaos!

Register here:

Additional Info

Click here for complete standings from Lake Hickory

Dontrel Sullivan is sponsored by Old town Fishing, Bizz Baits, Carolina Waters and Titan tungsten.

CKA wishes to thank Coty Barlowe, Garrett Whisnant and Ashley Barlwoe of Foothills Kayak Anglers, Mitch Lassiter of Central Carolina Kayak Fishing and Charlie and the entire staff of Outdoor Supply Company of Hickory, N.C. for their work in making the Carolina Classic a reality.

CKA’s 2023 Season is brought to you by Dakota Lithium Batteries

Click here to see the full 2023 schedule.

Click here to become a member.

All content and photos © Carolina Kayak Anglers LLC, 2023.

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