Cody Milton just won his 3rd Kayak Bass Fishing Angler of the Year title.

In 7 years of fishing KBF events.

He came into the KBF National Championship needing a solid finish to nail down the 2022 AOY. His 3-day total of 248.75 inches did it. It also placed him 3rd in the event.

To win a single AOY title is to have a twisting, winding tale to tell, a tale of a season in which more went right than went wrong. Or, at least, the right things went right in order to top thousands of other competitors across the country and the calendar.

To win 3 of them . . .

What’s the key to consistently performing at such a high level?

“Not as much about fishing as it is just trying to be the same person every day,” says Milton. “I grew up when my dad was fishing some of the co-angler stuff on the Elite Series and he did some of the Stren Series, the boater side, with FLW. Most of my childhood was being at tournaments, being around people doing it the right way. You can see when someone’s doing it the wrong way and it’s not working for them.

“I feel like the biggest thing, if you want to fish consistently, is you want to be the same, mentally, every day regardless of what’s actually happening on the water because it’s not always easy, you don’t always catch them. More times than not, you don’t.”

Milton has had to grow as he feels the sport of kayak fishing, as a whole has done so, in order to keep pace. “This is my 7th season of doing this now and the competition has increased dramatically, even the people that have done it for 7 years have gotten a whole lot better, much less the newcomers we have coming from boats and things. They seem to show out pretty quick.”

Angling pressure affects the fisheries and Milton’s game plans, but at the KBF Nationals he was in a remote location and logistics played a bigger role than the presence, or lack, of other anglers. “I had one creek that I knew had a lot of fish. I wanted to spend two days in there, I didn’t think I could spend three. I saved a pretty easy-to-fish place for the last day because it was pretty stressful getting back. I was two-and-a-half hours from check in and fishing a lot further from there. I had a lot of drive time and then floated 14 miles to get to a vehicle so I could go check-in. I couldn’t go through that stress again after the 2nd day. I had to go somewhere closer the 3rd day.”

As far as amassing enough points to win AOY, Milton ups his odds by fishing a bunch of events. “Looking back at the whole season, we have a lot of concurrent events where we have a one-day tournament but there’s also a cumulative, two-day tournament that goes on at the same time. I focused more on the single day events because there’s still a lot of money, $4,000-to-$8,000 for winning one of those. It seems like if you spend 8 hours on the water and fish enough water, you end up coming across something.”

Good old luck had a hand in his good fortune as well. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff this year,” laughed the affable Arkansas angler. “I’ve sight-casted to so many fish that have actually eaten my lure this year that you’d have never thought would have. That stuff doesn’t always happen. Like this week, one of the best fish I caught, a 12-incher had it and I saw her – about an 18-incher behind it – and I just opened my bail and the little one dropped it and I watched the big one eat it. Things that shouldn’t happen, happened. It just seems like whenever things are rolling, you can kind of make some weird things happen sometimes.”

KBF rules are the most liberal in terms of how far upriver anglers are allowed to travel, how they are allowed to portage over obstacles and access fishing spots. Still, Milton did a 20-mile overnight float to ensure that his area was connected to tournament waters and therefore legal to fish. He fell down a 20-foot cliff scouting for productive waters and a legal access point. He camped in his Fish USA-themed van for a couple of weeks with eventual KBF National Champion Rus Snyders during the pre-fishing period.

“Definitely went all out for this one. I did the same thing last year, spent 13 days before the National Championship last year, and we didn’t have as much water to cover.”

In contrast to the 2021 Championship on Cross Lake in Louisiana which saw record inch totals, Milton figured this year’s event would be a different type of test.

“I wasn’t going to take 100 inches every day. It’s no secret Kentucky lake has been pretty tough the last 4 years, but it has so many tributaries that come into it that have their own populations of fish in them. Based on the rules for this tournament, how we can get up some of those tributaries, I knew that if I checked all the tributaries there’d be 4 or 5 of them that would be pretty dang good.

“I think I fished 12 or 13 different rivers and creeks and really only found a couple that were bad. There were 2 days that I didn’t catch a fish. Other than that, it was pretty much every creek I checked was decent whether it would be smallmouth or even spotted bass. The good creeks definitely had big concentrations of largemouth which was kind of the kicker. Seems like they all had smallmouth, but they didn’t all have good largemouth in them.”

Milton recalls a youth spent fishing the region. “My dad is from Western Kentucky. My family is from Murray. All of my summers were spent in Blood River and on Cypress Creek up on the north end of Kentucky Lake. I’ve seen the heyday of the grass being in every pocket and all of that stuff. We’re far from that now.”

As many fishing pros do, Milton has lived and fished in a few different places including Florida for 3 years. He enjoyed Headwaters Lake before most of the country had ever heard of it. “In 2016 I spent 32 days down there when it was kayak only. In 2017 I went and spent 40 days down there. It was just unbelievable!”

Conversation reveals that Milton and I and my then teenage son, Hunter, all competed in a KBF tournament on Headwaters a few years back when a tropical storm blew through. We commiserated about the weather in that event that was almost cancelled.

We also both fished the Bassmaster Kayak Series tournament on Florida’s Harris Chain this past March as Milton participates in multiple kayak fishing tournament trails.

Milton is now preparing to fish the Hobie Bass Open Series Tournament of Champions on Caddo Lake in Louisiana in a couple of weeks.

That well-traveled aspect of Milton’s character has much to do with his sustained success in the sport of fishing, in general. He speaks of fishing sailfish tourneys from a kayak.

Resilience is also important. “There are things that you can either yell about or smile about. One of the best tournaments I had this year I didn’t even have a vehicle. First day of practice I just dropped my keys in the river, and I was like, ‘well, we’re fishing this ramp the whole week’. It ended up being a good tournament. You wouldn’t have expected that going into it. You get shut down and have to go out of one ramp the next four days, probably not super thrilled about it.

“It was smoother than most years I would say. I’ve done it long enough now that those little things don’t get to me quite like they used to.

“And I have some good friends that ravel around with me now and they help. They really do. Like when Rus came and got me after I dropped my keys in the river this year, we had a campground a couple of miles away and he came and picked me up and let me stay at the campground and just launch out of the back of the campground every day.

“Falling off a cliff this week.

“I didn’t have as many flat tires this year as I normally do,” chuckled Milton, counting another of his many blessings this season. “And I think I only got stuck, like 4 or 5 times.”

By ‘stuck’ he means that he often takes his van off-road in search of fishing spots and access points, going the extra miles on and off the water. For example, “My van just sunk in a creek bottom this week. I was on a gravel bar and it just sunk. I guess there was water under the gravel. I don’t know. I just went door to door and about the 3rd door I knocked on, a gentleman had a truck and he was over there in a couple minutes.

“Things just worked out, for the most part.”