This couple is ‘Stoked’!
Barry & April Stokes rock the ABA Couples Trail
Match made in fishing heaven, after a blind date courtship involving kids, cats, goats & one unlikely pig
Don’t let those great smiles fool you! This fishing couple is one of the nation’s best–and they are as happy on the water as they are off.
Donald & Melania are America’s new First Couple, but Georgia tournament bass fishing has its own ‘First Couple’. And while Barry & April Stokes won’t be moving into the White House in January–this happy couple loves their home in Oxford–they will enter the New Year as the King and Queen of the American Bass Angler’s (ABA) Couples Tournament Trail. And if you thought Trump was impressive in winning the presidency, you also have to be impressed with the way April and Barry have won their own version of primary states. They’re ranked at the top of the ABA’s Couples Tournament Trail not only in Georgia–but nationally.
Besides, they’re not only a great fishing couple, they’re great fun. As you’ll see from the interview below, if you can’t have a good time around Barry & April, you need to check your pulse. And if you are fishing against them, you are probably fishing for second place.
Barry, a long-time Georgia Big Stick who has owned Stokes Cleaning Solutions for 26 years, still fishes many of the state’s top tournaments. He’s basically owned the Georgia ABA tournament trail the last few years, winning the Angler of the Year (AOY) the last four years in a row–and leads the national points race three out of four years in a row.
Barry with one of his Angler of the Year (AOY) trophies from the American Bass Angler’s trail. If he’s not winning there, he and April are winning on the ABA Couple’s trail.
Barry has fished only three BFL’s in the last three years, but he finished 2nd in two of them (both of those on Sinclair, in 2014 and 2016). Barry won the Bassmasters Weekend Series on Sinclair in 2012 and also won the Bassmaster Weekend event on Oconee in 2013.
April has quickly become a Georgia Big Stick and has added more trophies to the family mantle. As a couple, she and Barry have won the AOY title three years in a row in the ABA Couples Trail, including leading the nation in total points. They’ve also fished the HD Couples Trail, and had a second place in the Dave Fox benefit tournament a couple of weeks ago on Sinclair.
These two are a hoot off the water, but on tournament day, they show no mercy to the competition. They’re ranked number one nationally–and have totaled 140 pounds of fish in their last 12 tournaments. Yes, that’s an average tournament sack of 11.6 pounds–something many angling teams would love to have (which includes a couple of nearly 18 pounds sacks and at least one over 22 pounds).
Barry met April, also a Covington native, in 2013 on a blind date and the chemistry was instant–although Barry did fall asleep on the second date (April tells that story best in our interview below).
And then there was the courtship–definitely one for the ages. “When Barry asked me to marry him I didn’t quite say “yes” at first. I asked him if he was sure; me, the kids, the cats, the pig or a pug and he said ‘yes’ to all of that except ‘I don’t know about a pig‘! You’ll enjoy reading how that turned out–but let’s just say, like most of their tournament days, Barry and April ended up bringing home the bacon.
April, who now works for Oral Surgery Associates & Dental Implant Centers in Covington, fished with her Dad and grandparents using orange twine from hay bales instead of braid, but she had never fished a tournament–or for bass. April knew Barry was a fisherman but didn’t how much of one. After Barry asked her one day early in their relationship to make a cast in her driveway and she hit the lawn chair on the first cast, he knew they would get along just fine.
Now, after four years of fishing together and making the arrangement “official” with a wedding last summer,
After a blind date and plenty of fishing trips, Barry & April made it “official” this past summer, marrying on July 16th.
these guys are both at the top of their game, though they are a study in contrast. When it comes to tournament preparation, Barry will not be outdone. Still diligent, sharpening every hook, checking his line, planning his strategy, he wears the tournament fisherman’s game face, often tense and focused. April, new to the game, takes a different approach. Though fully engaged once the tournament starts, she sits with her two shakey head rods on the back deck, smiling, enjoying the tournament and not stressing over it, waiting for the next big bite (which, as you will read, has come to her often).
These are two funny people. If they didn’t already have full-time jobs and ruled the ABA Couples Tournament trail, they could take their act on the road (maybe they could open at one of the comedy shows they enjoy attending). But don’t let their humor fool you. April and Barry are two serious anglers and they’ve got the record to prove it. They’ve won the Georgia state championship in the American Bass Association Couples tournaments for the past three years–and been ranked number one in the points nationally out of 240 couples.
One of the nation’s hottest fishing couple, Barry & April Stokes, holding up part of an 18 pound sack after winning a tournament at Lake Oconee in November 2013. It was their first win–and they would quickly come to dominate the ABA Couples Tournament Trail.
More recently, they won a HD Marine tournament just three weeks ago on Lake Jackson, and April walked away with big fish, a 4.53 pound largemouth that hit her (you guessed it) shakey head in shallow water.
Their story shows that sometimes two people are just meant to be together–both on the water and off. And it shows in many ways, in Barry’s relationships with April’s two boys from a previous marriage and in the “calmness” that she has brought to him on the water, which he says has made him a better tournament fisherman.
We caught up with this colorful couple just after that last couples tournament on Lake Jackson.
Their unlikely relationship began 3 1/2 years ago on a blind date, and April (with Barry adding his two cents worth) picks up the story from there.
GBS: So where did it all start?
April: Well, I had a friend I was out with one night about four years ago–she worked at Nationwide and she said ‘I have this customer who comes in and I think you should look him up on Facebook and just kinda introduce yourself (laughing). And I said ‘oh no, I’m not gonna do that. Just forget it.’ She said ‘no, no, you need to‘. Well, we were about three or four margaritas in and
Barry: [interrupting & laughing] I was looking better by then…..
April: …she said ‘I’m not going to let you leave here tonight without at least looking him up on Facebook and at least say hello‘. So I sent him a message that said “My friend wanted me to introduce myself and I hope you’re not seeing anyone else but if you are I apologize.” And about an hour later I get a response back from Barry, and it’s like, ‘…do I know you?‘ [both Barry and April are laughing loudly at this point]. And I respond, ‘well, not yet’. And he said ‘well, do you want to meet up for coffee or something so I can meet you,’ and I said ‘no, I don’t drink coffee,’ and then he said ‘how about Longhorn’s next weekend,’ and I said sure, that’s fine. But then I couldn’t get a babysitter for the boys and I said ‘Oh my God, he’s gonna think I am standing him up,’ and so I texted him that I couldn’t get a babysitter and I think he was like ‘oh yeah, sure, whatever‘. Well, we met the next weekend at Longhorns and we talked about anything and everything–except fishing. I mean, I knew Barry fished, but I didn’t know he fished!
GBS: You just didn’t know how much, right?
April: Exactly, I didn’t know what I was getting into….(laughing). Our second date, about two weeks later, we went to Milano’s and then we went to the movie theatre to see Iron Man II. He had fished a tournament that day and he actually fell asleep before the movie even started (laughing)!
Barry: Yep, that’s right…
April: …anyway, a few minutes after we sat down I all of a sudden feel this weight on my shoulder and it’s Barry…and he’s OUT! I was like, is this really happening, is he asleep? I’m like, ‘oh my God, I’ve bored this man to death‘ [laughing with Barry]. So I slowly reach into my purse and slowly pull my phone out and text my friend (who introduced us) and I said ‘you are not gonna believe this but he is asleep on my shoulder and I cannot move‘! And she’s like, ‘do you want me to come get you, do you want to just sneak out of there?’. But I said ‘no, I’ll stay‘. So I sat during that whole movie until the closing credits rolled and then I just sort of nudged him and he was like ‘oh my God, did I sleep during the whole movie?’, and I said ‘yeah, you did‘!
GBS: Well, that says something about the relationship right there, in the beginning, that you (Barry) were comfortable enough just to doze off during a movie and April that you let him sleep the entire movie without waking him up. There are some relationships that wouldn’t have made it beyond the opening credits, let alone the final credits!
April: Yes, you’re right. And he apologized all the way back to Covington, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry.’ I’m like ‘okay‘. Then he said ‘I’d like to see you again.’ (laughter) And I’m like, ‘right, you just fell asleep on me in the movie theatre.’ But we still never talked about fishing. But on the third date, I was going to take the boys to the laser show at Stone Mountain and told Barry he was more than welcome to come, and you were going to the lake to try out your new depth-finder.
Barry: That’s right.
April: Then you drove all the way to the lake and called your buddy and he said ‘you fool, if I had a girl who wanted me to go the laser show I sure (as heck) wouldn’t be at the lake!’.
Barry: So I realized then, I was like, I can always go fishing and I can play with it another day. I said what the heck, I’m going to take a chance.
Barry & April Stokes are both from Covington, but they didn’t meet until 3 years ago. Both love animals, and they both had goats growing up. Now the goats are at a family farm, but they’ve been replaced as pets with Susie Q., whom you’ll read more about below.
April: And I think that same weekend you sort of asked me ‘do you know how to fish‘? And I said yeah, we have a lake on our property that backs up to the rock quarry. It’s just pond fishing but we used to dig up worms in our potato patch to go fishing with our grandparents and we would get our cane poles and take the yarn, the orange string from the hay bales, and that was our fishing line. We’d tie a hook to that and catch bream all day long and put them into a five gallon bucket and then dump them back into the lake when we were through. And then Barry said, ‘do you fish with a Zebco‘ and I said ‘what is that?’. Then you took me outside and you put a chair in the driveway and you said ‘I want you to cast out to that chair’ and I said ‘Well, first of all, I can’t cast with your rod, because I’m left-handed and you’re right-handed.’ And he said ‘Lord, you mean you fish left-handed? I can’t believe it!’
Barry: Dave, I knew right there she already had an advantage!
April: So you took the reel off and made it left-handed for me and asked me if I knew how to work it?
Barry: I remember I tied a frog on the end of that line…
April: Yeah, you tied a frog on. But we only fished with spinners, not worms or frogs. So you told me to cast to that chair and I hit that chair with that frog and he said ‘we’re going fishing!’ (more laughter) I think that was on a Friday…
Barry: I remember it was really hot, late summer…
April: …and I remember I had that Friday off and we took the boys to school and loaded up the truck and the boat and went to Lake Oconee. I remember thinking I don’t know what to do out here on this big lake. There are no stumps to throw at. You said ‘you’ll be fine‘. But I did catch a bass that day! Then about 3:30 I had to go get the boys from school but I don’t want to leave. He said ‘are you serious, you’ve been standing up all day and you don’t want to leave?’.
Barry: It was almost a hundred degrees out there.
GBS: Barry, you must have known right there that you had hooked up with a die-hard fishing fanatic.
April: Then he said ‘we’re going to fish a tournament!’ And I think the first tournament we fished was at Lake Jackson. You were a little nervous and I think I was, too, because we neither one knew what to expect fishing with the other. I think we caught like two fish that day.
Barry: Yeah, I lost every fish I hooked that day. We should have gotten second but I was really nervous. We fished right up to the last-minute but we didn’t even bother to weigh the two fish we caught.
April: It was a two-day ABA Couples event, with the second day held at Sinclair. Everyone was giving Barry a real hard time because he finally had a girl in the boat and he fished the Couples tour and that we threw our fish back. Later that night, you asked me if I wanted to fish the second day of the tournament. I remember that my sister-in-law Shannon was having a baby shower and I was like, “ah, I can just send her a card, we don’t have to go the baby shower!” (laughter). And then we just kept fishing.
Barry: Yes, we threw our fish back but it was in our third tournament that we finally began to get our chemistry together in the boat. I said when we get our chemistry together in the boat like we already had off the water, we’re going to be tough. By the fourth tournament, we got there.
GBS: Sometimes chemistry takes a long time to build–but you guys obviously had it.
April: One time we had just taken off from Sinclair and we heard something pop and he said ‘did you hear that’? He’s like ‘it’s the spark plug’! I said ‘okay, I know you’ve got extra spark plugs in the boat cause you’ve got extra everything in the boat’. You were raising hell and I said ‘it’s okay, we just blasted off, it’s not like we’re 40 minutes down the lake and have 20 pounds of fish and the spark plug goes and we can’t get back to the weigh-in’!
GBS: Sounds like you were a calming influence.
April: Well, we got the spark plug changed out and ended up winning the tournament that day!
GBS: So how old are your boys, April?
April: They are 6 and 7. One of them has the patience to fish, the other one wants to drive the boat around until it runs out of gas!
April, Barry and the boys: Leland (age 7) and Ryland (age 6). They take their tournament winnings and use it for trips to Panama City Beach.
Barry: That’s right.
GBS: At least they both like being on the water.
April: That’s right. They enjoy it a lot. They enjoy coming to the weigh-ins when Barry fishes the bigger tournaments and they get to go up on stage and they feel like little celebrities.
Leland & Ryland are at home around the water–just like April and Barry!
GBS: So, Barry, did you grow up in the Covington area, too?
Barry: I’ve been here all my life.
GBS: Did ya’ll know each other before you got together?
April: No, there are thirteen years difference between me and Barry. We just never ran in the same circles but we have a lot of mutual friends. We often said it’s a wonder that we didn’t meet sooner. As a matter of fact, my good friend is a cousin of Kip’s [Georgia Big Stick Kip Carter] and we were at a Christmas party and it turns out Barry was there. And I said ‘well I know you weren’t looking at me because I was probably jail bait at the time’.
Barry: Yes, you were young! I was with Kip, and I went with him to his little family get-together. We were at the same place at the same time but never knew it.
April: I was only about 16 at the time, because Kip was about a year older than I was.
Barry: I met Kip fresh out of high school. He was working at Piedmont Outdoors and they were a customer of my floor cleaning business. Later, we got to be good friends.
GBS: Who would’ve imagined you guys were at that party together? Fate played a role in you finally getting together.
April: Now we look back and think ‘why didn’t we meet sooner’. But good things happen for a reason. I remember when I asked my Dad if Barry could propose to me and he said “...well, all he is good for is fishing, are you okay with that?” And I go, ‘yeah, I’m okay with that’!
GBS: Tell me about your tournament fishing experiences?
April: We fish ABA and every now and then we’d fish HD Cup, although we have never fished Lake Lanier.
April fishing with Leland and Ryland. Here she’s given the oldest a lesson on how to hold a bass for a photo (something she’s had plenty of experience with).
GBS: Tell me about your last tournament, the one you won on Lake Jackson?
Barry: Well, Roger White got the big fish with 4.50 and April got big fish on the ladies side with a 4.53 largemouth! We were down to the last twenty minutes of the tournament and we hadn’t gotten a bite under a dock all day. We had 15 minutes left and needed to make a 7 minute run. I asked April, did you have fun today, honey? She said, ‘yes, yes I did have fun.’ and about that time she caught the only fish that bit under the dock. It was literally the last cast.
April: As soon as I threw that worm under that dock, he barely had time to suck it in and he just had it. I was shaking and my heart was just beating fast. He was heading toward the back of the boat and it was great.
Barry: It was so awesome! One other time we ended our first season together at Lake Oconee and we had a 2 1/2 pounder and the rest of our fish were really big. I told April if we cull this 2 1/2 we’ll do great. We called it the Kelly Green fish (her brother is named Kelly and we caught it off a green marker). Well, we pulled into this spot that we called ‘Grandma’s Cove’ [no reason given for that name] and April catches this 4 1/2 to 5 pounder and we culled that Kelly Green fish and we came in with a 22 pound sack!
April: We had fished Grandma’s Cove early that morning and we had caught a really good one and we said we’d hit it again and sure enough, we caught that one, too!
GBS: That’s an incredible sack for any tournament!
Barry: Yes, and Tony (Couch) had a big tournament down there that day and 15 pounds won his tournament, so we really had a great day. And second place in our tournament was about 14-15 pounds.
April & Barry with another good tournament limit. These two started winning tournaments within six months of meeting each other. A true partnership: on and off the water. They have won consecutive titles on the ABA Couples Trail. When they’re not fishing, they love to go to concerts, the beach, comedy shows and new restaurants.
GBS: Not to start a marital argument here, but who makes the decisions on the water?
April: I let Barry run the show, because he’s up front. But if we hit a dead area, I’m ready to go!
GBS: Let’s talk about something besides fish. Pigs, for example. I’ve seen photos of Barry and the pig–so how did that happen?
April: Well, two weeks after were engaged I found a guy who had a baby “miniature” pot belly pig. I gave Barry the ‘sad eyes’ and off we went to north Georgia to see this baby pig and Barry was still very hesitant when we got there. But when I held that baby pig I knew already she was coming home with us and Barry was asking questions about how big she would get and the guy said she would stay very small–and her mom weighed only 30 pounds and that they make great inside pets. Well, I never thought about a pig as an inside pet. Well, it’s now been about a year and Susie Q is topping the scales about 85-90 pounds and she sleeps in her crate inside and is litter box trained and is very low maintenance.
GBS: What does Susie Q. eat?
April: She loves grapes and bananas and popcorn and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies but she won’t eat carrots. But she mostly gets pig chow and cracked corn meal. She’s a very messy eater and she ‘roots’ her food but she’s a love and loves to snuggle on the floor. Barry loves to lay on the floor with Susie with his head on her belly!
GBS: What are your favorite lakes?
April: Mine would be Sinclair.
Barry: Man, I don’t know. I have so many memories on different ones. Jackson probably has the most memories for me because that’s where I cut my teeth and learned how to fish big lakes. I like them all and they all have their times.
GBS: If you had to pick a good December lake, would Jackson be your choice?
Barry: Yes, no doubt.
GBS: Do you guys prefer July heat or freezing temps in January?
April: I love fishing in the summer. But I like the winter too. I can take the cold, but I hate those really cold, rainy days in the winter. I also love those early spring days when they’re coming in on the bed.
GBS: What is your favorite rig?
April: I like that slow methodical rhythm of the shakey head. I have two poles in the boat and very rarely do I pick up that second pole. The only time I do is when I don’t have time to re-tie.
GBS: How are you two different on the water?
Barry: I think I take it so seriously and I sleep on it.
April: Like on that other tournament when the fish had taken us up under a block.
Barry: It was about three weeks ago and it was on Sinclair. I had one foot on the deck of the boat and I could see that fish down there, Dave, and I think it was a seven or eight pounder. We spent about 20 minutes trying to get that fish to come out of the brush.
GBS: That’s brutal to lose one like that in a tournament.
Barry: It was. But, honestly, if April hadn’t suggested we go back to that clear water, I would never have had the chance to catch that fish. She gets the credit for putting us back in that area. I spent another 15 minutes and then we went to it. We just couldn’t get it in the boat.
April: But you used to not listen to me at all! You used to just brush me off like ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
GBS: Uh oh. I think I hear my other line ringing.
Barry: (laughter) I’ve been doing this a long time, now.
April: I tell you something now and if you don’t do it you’re going to get a dirty look!
Barry: I don’t know if you remember this April, but we were at a couples tournament two falls ago at Lake Oconee and we had a pretty good bag. I think we had four fish for 11-12 pounds and we were running around trying to find number five. The water was very muddy that day. I pulled up to a place where we hung a big fish and it came off at the net and we were down to like 30 minutes before check-in. April got real down about it since we’d gone so long without a bite. I said ‘don’t worry’, we’ve still got time to get number five. On that day, April made a suggestion and I didn’t even think twice about it and we went to a place and popped a 2 1/2 pounder and won the tournament!
GBS: That’s a great story.
April: I think a lot of it has to do with our karma. We have good karma. I remember once that a shad was flapping in grass against a wall and I remember saying we’ve got to save that shad he’s just flapping on the grass and he’ll die. And you kind of gave me that look that ‘I’m not going to stop fishing to go over there and save that shad’. And I said ‘look at him, he can’t breathe, he’s just flopping in the grass.’ I can’t believe you went over there and got him and flipped him in the water and you said ‘you know he’s going to get eaten now’ and I said ‘yes, but at least he has a fighting chance (laughter)’!
Barry: I can’t believe I did that! I had never done anything like that in my life.
GBS: Barry, fishing with April has made you a better man (laughter)! That’s a sign of true love. Most old tournament fishermen wouldn’t have thought twice about that shad!
Barry: I know. But, the end of that story is that we went on and found one of the best shad spawns we had ever seen. I remember it was the day after a big Berry’s tournament. We caught a great sack and won that tournament as well.
April: I told you, it’s that great karma!
GBS: When does that next tournament start?
April: It won’t begin until next March. They know these women are not going to sit out there in freezing cold weather! But I will fish some Berry’s tournaments before that just to get out. Sometimes Barry will take off work and get out there during the week and send me pictures and I’m like, ‘don’t send me those pictures when I’m stuck at work or you’re about to get cut’!
Barry: I can’t even send her photos of these fish I catch. I’m literally throwing back these big fish just to show proof that I’m catching ’em. I never would have dreamed to have someone who could support me with what I love to do. Even April coming to a weigh-in means so much to me and she’s been very, very good about that.
April: I’ve been sick as a dog come tournament day and I’ve still gone out. I at least get in the boat and make a few casts.
GBS: That’s true love and true commitment. Which of you two is more competitive?
April: I think that I am.
Barry: I knock it down a gear when I’m with April.
April: Yeah, but you also start fishing a little dirty! (both laughing) If I get a fish and it’s a decent one he’ll swing that front end of the boat around so I can’t get back in there.
GBS: Barry, you can get by with front-ending a co-angler but when it’s your wife, you’d better be careful!
April: I just think, okay I’ll remember that. When he yells ‘get the net’, and I just kind of take my time and say ‘oh, you mean this net‘.
Barry: It’s crazy, man, because I’ve done this so long by myself or with a partner. I think that’s another reason that April and I catch so many good fish–because we kind of keep it light-hearted. I mean when I fish a BFL or an ABA, I go at it pretty hard. You’ve been in the boat with me, Dave, so you know how I get.
Barry Stokes with a couple of nice ones from a tournament on Lake Sinclair.
April: I have to lighten him up a little bit. I’ll start talking about some crazy little thing.
GBS: I think it helps to lighten things up a little during a tournament–it can get pretty tense with a tough bite.
April: I remember we netted number four and number five on the same cast one year.
Barry: Hers was 5.4 pounds and mine was a small one.
April: So I’m like saying, okay Barry, what’s it gonna be, ‘the gas grill or the charcoal grill‘? So now my big fish is on the wall and his is down!
GBS: What’s next for you guys?
Barry: Well, we hope to some day go the ABA National tournament. We’ve actually led the national couples tour in points three years running but each year their national tournament seems to conflict with something else, usually’s Barry’s ABA finals (where the payback is better) so we’ve never gone to it.
GBS: What about vacations? Do you go to the beach?
Barry: Well, the money we’ve earned has allowed us to go on vacations we might not have gone on.
April: Yeah, I think last year alone we went to the beach like four times, and we didn’t have to dip into our checking account, it was just winnings from fishing.
GBS: That’s terrific!
April: We also had a grease fire just before the wedding. And thank goodness for the fishing winnings as we had to have some major remodeling done in our kitchen! We had new cabinets and counter-tops. We didn’t have to file insurance on it. It’s not about the money, it’s just something we do because we enjoy it. Even if we have a bad day, we don’t sit there with a bunch of woulda, shoulda, coulda’s–we put it behind us very quickly and say we’ll get ’em next time. Our rule is, once we trailer the boat, we are not going to hash it out.
GBS: Any superstitions?
April: Barry, you are superstitious. I know you have your favorite underwear. I remember you asking me about it before a tournament in Alabama. ‘Where’s my favorite underwear’? And I said, ‘it’s in the dirty clothes’ (laughing).
GBS: That’s probably a good place to wrap this up! April & Barry, thanks so much for your time. It’s been fun!
Both: We enjoyed it.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM GEORGIABIGSTICKS.COM–AND SUSIE Q
(All photos courtesy of Barry & April Stokes)