By BassFan Staff
The stare-down between Bryan Thrift and Randall Tharp will carry into a 4th day as the Forrest Wood Cup has turned the corner for the home stretch at the Red River. Tomorrow, somebody's going to blink.
On a day when things slowed considerably and only six of the Top 20 cracked the 10-pound mark, Thrift overtook Tharp for the lead as both Tour veterans continue to stalk their first Cup victory.
Thrift, who had one dead fish today, weighed in a 9-15 bag that gave him 39-06 heading into championship Sunday.
"It's awesome," Thrift said. "I've led the championship on the first day before, but I've never led it going into the last day. It's awesome. It's mine to lose right now. That's the way I look at it."
He'll be 4 ounces clear of Tharp, who led after days 1 and 2, but slipped today with a 9-07 stringer that gave him 39-02.
The door was open for Larry Nixon to capitalize, but he had the smallest limit of the Top 3, an 8-05 bag that kept him within striking distance, 3 1/2 pounds behind Thrift.
One guy who has a lot of people's attention right now is defending Cup champ Jacob Wheeler, who was 40th after day 1 with 7 pounds. He's caught nearly 28 pounds over the last 2 days to pull into 4th with 35-14. His 14-04 effort today was the lone bag over 12 pounds and bumped him up 14 more slots.
For the third straight day, Mark Rose is in 5th, exactly 5 pounds behind Thrift with 34-06.
Here are the 10 anglers who will fish tomorrow, with deficit margin from Thrift indicated by red numbers in parentheses:
1. Bryan Thrift: 39-06
2. Randall Tharp: 39-02 (00-04)
3. Larry Nixon: 35-14 (3-08)
4. Jacob Wheeler: 34-15 (4-07)
5. Mark Rose: 34-06 (5-00)
6. Robbie Dodson: 33-05 (6-01)
7. Kerry Milner: 32-13 (6-09)
8. Troy Morrow: 32-07 (6-15)
9. Tom Monsoor: 32-04 (7-02)
10. Michael Neal: 32-04 (7-02)
There's still a sense that another big bag in the 18-pound range like Thrift and Tharp caught on day 1 is out there, but it's going to take some luck and superb execution to pull it off, not to mention it'll have to come under some pressure-packed circumstances.
BFL All-American winner Kerry Milner caught a solid 11-10 today to move up 8 spots to 7th with 32-13. Troy Morrow overcame four dead fish to make the cut in 8th after starting the day in 14th. Michael Neal caught 10-04 to move up 3 spots into 10th, edging Adrian Avena by 1 ounce.
Ray Scheide had four fish for 6-08 and fell from 4th to 12th. Others who dropped out of the Top 10 were Justin Lucas (10th to 15th), John Cox (7th to 16th) and Mark Daniels, Jr. (7th to 17th).
It was another chamber of commerce weather day with bluebird skies, a slight north breeze and warm temperatures in the 80s. It was not, however, a dynamic day of fishing. Cox and Daniels headed to Pool 4 as did Thrift for a bit, but the rest of the field stayed in Pool 5, mixing main-river target fishing and backwater flipping and frogging.
The forecast for tomorrow calls for partly sunny skies with highs in the low 90s and a northeast wind of 6 to 10 mph. The mornings have been pretty cool to start, but some anglers remarked about how the mid to late-afternoon bite has really been key. With such a small margin separating the two leaders, this Cup might come down to who catches the late kicker with time winding down.
Thrift Not Changing Anything
> Day 3: 5, 9-15 (15, 39-06)
Thrift got fewer than 10 bites today, but was fortunate to catch a key upgrade late that gave him the lead.
"It was a struggle all day long," he said. "I caught my fifth one around 10, but my limit was only about 5 1/2 pounds. It was pitiful."
The upgrades started to come soon after. He caught a couple 1 1/2-pounders before locking down to Pool 4, where he caught a 2-pounder. He didn't cull again until the last 30 minutes when he went back to his big-fish area and caught his kicker that looked to be in the 2 3/4-pound range.
Randall Tharp thinks he's onto something strong entering the final day of competition.
He couldn't really put his finger on why the bite has been so tough other than to chalk it up to the time of year and fishing pressure.
"These fish have been pressured and it's August," he said. "There aren't that many fish up there and it's hard to get them to bite anyway and after you've fished all of your places for 3 days straight and spent that much time on them and caught the few fish that are on them, no more are coming. You're catching resident fish, so you have to find where more live."
Tomorrow, he'll revisit some places he's fished already this week and he'll make a run to Pool 4 at some point in the morning.
"I'll fish as hard and as fast as I can," he said. "I'm not going to slack off at all. I'm going to try to catch the five biggest fish in the river."
2nd: Tharp Tightens His Focus
> Day 3: 5, 9-07 (15, 39-02)
Tharp was around big fish again today, but couldn't get them in the boat. He knows if he can execute on one or more, his chances to win tomorrow will increase tenfold.
"I got a really clear picture of what I need to be doing today," he said. "I didn't catch a giant bag today, but I had the right bites to have a big bag today. I had three big bites this afternoon. One of them didn't get it and I lost two. They were all fish in the 5-pound class.
"I don't know where I'm getting these bites or what my landing percentage is. It's not very good. If I get lucky and get one of those in the boat tomorrow, that's all I need."
At the same time, he's aware of Thrift's strong track record in tough-bite events.
"Bryan can pull a rabbit out of you know where," he said. "If anybody in that Top 10 can catch a big bag tomorrow, I think Wheeler can do it. I think Nixon can do it, but Bryan Thrift is, in my opinion, one of the best anglers in the world and probably the best angler in the Top 10."
As for his game plan tomorrow, he has a spot 10 miles north of the launch ramp in a cut off the river that's produced for him multiple times dating back to the Bassmaster Central Open here in April. If he catches a limit there fairly early, he has big-fish spots that will draw his attention the rest of the day.
"It's nothing fast and furious, but I've hit a little stretch the last couple of days that I can catch one about every other cast," he said. "Today, they were 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-pound fish. It was a start. I lost a couple decent ones in there yesterday. We'll see how it goes."
3rd: Nixon's Options Running Thin
> Day 3: 5, 8-05 (15, 35-14)
Nixon's morning big-fish area in White House Lake muddied up today and he fears it won't be fishable tomorrow. His flipping pattern in the main river got tougher today due to boat traffic that muddied up the water near the bank. He's running out of options with 1 day to go.
"I might not catch (crap) tomorrow, but I have to fish to win," he said. "It might be my last one. I've checked every Hail Mary I've got. I'm just going fishing."
Jacob Wheeler is in contention to win his second straight Cup.
He's not sure where he's going to start fishing tomorrow, but it likely won't be White House, which he's been sharing with Matt Arey, who finished 18th today.
"I might pull out there on the rocks (near the launch) and catch me a quick limit and then go," he said. "I don't think it's going to be fishable in there in the morning. It got so dirty with that north wind coming under that hydrilla. I think it screwed it all up and I don't think it'll clear up tonight.
"The only pattern I'm flipping is some flat bank where all of a sudden you'll get a section of undercut bank. If I can find the undercut and the right weeds, I might catch one. Other than that, it's hitting every dang laydown I can find. Everything from the bank out to 15 feet got dirty and I couldn't get a bite. After 2 o'clock when I've normally been wrecking them I didn't catch any."
4th: Wheeler Picking Up Steam
> Day 3: 5, 14-04 (15, 34-15)
Wheeler started the day in a backwater, but punted pretty quickly after he sensed the fish weren't active.
"I made a good adjustment and moved to the main river and caught a decent one," he said. "I caught a couple more on the main river and made some adjustments throughout the day, switching between the main river and backwaters based on whatever I felt was going on."
He fished his gut the rest of the way and is the only angler remaining whose weights have increased each day.
"It was minute by minute making decisions and it worked well," he said. "The last 2 days, that's how it's been. I'm just following my instincts."
He's fishing a topwater bait and a frog in the backwaters as well as flipping a Trigger X Goo Bug, the bait that carried him to the Cup win a year ago.
He said his bag was split between backwater fish and river specimens.
"I got few bites overall, but I felt like I was throwing my baits where the big ones live and that's where I was focusing," he added.
5th: Changes In Store For Rose
> Day 3: 5, 9-09 (15, 34-06)
Rose is going for broke tomorrow, hoping that something he's been stashing away comes together on the final day.
"I still have a lot of anticipation," he said. "I'm still thinking I'm not out of it. At the start of this, I felt like 12 pounds a day would win it. Today, I fell behind my goal by 3 pounds so I need 15 tomorrow and that's doable. I'm going to change things up.
"I have something special I was waiting for the conditions to change and it's happening now. I'm catching them, but they're small."
Mark Rose is hoping a pattern he's been saving really shines tomorrow.
He didn't want to elaborate much because two other finalists are fishing a similar pattern.
His morning limit spot just outside the mouth of Port Lake by the launch ramp is "just about done," he said. "I'm going to fish tomorrow way different than I have the first few days."
7th: Milner Thrilled
> Day 3: 5, 11-10 (15, 32-13)
If Milner thought winning the BFL All-American was a "pinch-me" moment, tomorrow might top it. He's steadily climbed the leaderboard through 3 days fishing the river and backwaters in Pool 5. He couldn't be happier to be where he's at.
"It's just amazing," he said. "I'm just a little country boy from Arkansas who's liked to fish all of his life. I never thought I'd be in a place like this. There's no way to explain it. Even after winning the All-American I'd told myself there's no way I can compete with this group of people. Then to come in and do it, I'm really looking forward to possibly making a move tomorrow."
He started today in an area he'd practiced, but hadn't fished during the tournament yet and caught a couple fish to start his day on a frog. From there, he worked on some bigger fish around a ditch, but couldn't get any takers.
"They weren't committing. There wasn't anything I could do," he said. "They just weren't interested. I ended up going around and catching a couple 3-pounders after that. That got my attention off of just staying 30 minutes so I stayed until 11, but I left with a limit."
After that, he pushed his way into a backwater, but couldn't upgrade anything.
"I'm not going to say I feel like I made a mistake because it's a grind here," he added. "I just didn't get that last bite that I needed."
14th: Strader Skipped Trip to 3
> Day 3: 5, 10-03 (15, 30-07)
Wesley Strader admits he "chickened out" on running all the way to Pool 3. Instead, he did his damage in Pool 4 today and moved up five spots and earned another $5,000 in the process.
He picked up a quick 7-pound limit in the river shortly after locking through into Pool 4 and worked his way back into Loggy Bayou where he'd lost a good fish on Thursday.
"I thought I could get four or five good bites in there if I was lucky," he said. "The water was real muddy in there Thursday. Today, I went back in there and it had cleared up and I caught two real good ones."
His baits of choice were a topwater frog and a Zoom Z Hog when flipping.
"It wasn't really that tough to catch fish," he said. "It was tough to catch the better fish. That's the way I like it. I like a grind. I don't like a slugfest."
> Day 3 stats – 20 anglers, 18 limits, 2 fours.
> Co-anglers served as in-boat observers today for the 20 pros.
> Sun., Aug. 26 – Mostly sunny – 92°/68°
- Wind: From the NE at 5 to 9 mph
Day 3 Standings
1. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 18-7 (5) -- 11-0 (5) -- 29-7 (10) -- 9-15 (5) -- 39-06 (15)
2. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, Fl -- 18-8 (5) -- 11-3 (5) -- 29-11 (10) -- 9-07 (5) -- 39-02 (15)
3. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 13-4 (5) -- 14-5 (5) -- 27-9 (10) -- 8-05 (5) -- 35-14 (15)
4. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 7-4 (5) -- 13-7 (5) -- 20-11 (10) -- 14-04 (5) -- 34-15 (15)
5. Mark Rose -- West Memphis, Ar -- 12-15 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 24-13 (10) -- 9-09 (5) -- 34-06 (15)
6. Robbie Dodson -- Harrison, Ar -- 10-15 (5) -- 12-8 (5) -- 23-7 (10) -- 9-14 (5) -- 33-05 (15)
7. Kerry Milner -- Bono, Ar -- 8-15 (5) -- 12-4 (5) -- 21-3 (10) -- 11-10 (5) -- 32-13 (15)
8. Troy Morrow -- Eastanollee, Ga -- 10-15 (5) -- 10-10 (5) -- 21-9 (10) -- 10-14 (5) -- 32-07 (15)
9. Tom Monsoor -- La Crosse, Wi -- 11-8 (5) -- 13-3 (5) -- 24-11 (10) -- 7-09 (5) -- 32-04 (15)
10. Michael Neal -- Dayton, Tn -- 11-5 (5) -- 10-11 (5) -- 22-0 (10) -- 10-04 (5) -- 32-04 (15)
The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.
11. Adrian Avena -- Vineland, NJ -- 13-2 (5) -- 8-14 (5) -- 22-0 (10) -- 10-03 (5) -- 32-03 (15) -- $20,000
12. Ray Scheide -- Dover, Ar -- 12-7 (5) -- 12-12 (5) -- 25-3 (10) -- 6-08 (4) -- 31-11 (14) -- $20,000
13. JT Kenney -- Palm Bay, Fl -- 11-2 (5) -- 11-0 (5) -- 22-2 (10) -- 8-09 (5) -- 30-11 (15) -- $20,000
14. Wesley Strader -- Spring City, Tn -- 9-7 (5) -- 10-13 (5) -- 20-4 (10) -- 10-03 (5) -- 30-07 (15) -- $20,000
15. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, Al -- 10-3 (5) -- 12-13 (5) -- 23-0 (10) -- 7-06 (5) -- 30-06 (15) -- $20,000
16. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 10-10 (5) -- 13-5 (5) -- 23-15 (10) -- 5-11 (5) -- 29-10 (15) -- $15,000
17. Mark Daniels Jr -- Fairfield, Ca -- 11-12 (5) -- 11-6 (5) -- 23-2 (10) -- 6-08 (4) -- 29-10 (14) -- $15,000
18. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 11-6 (5) -- 9-10 (5) -- 21-0 (10) -- 7-11 (5) -- 28-11 (15) -- $15,000
19. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 11-2 (5) -- 8-11 (5) -- 19-13 (10) -- 8-02 (5) -- 27-15 (15) -- $15,000
20. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, Ca -- 8-12 (5) -- 12-0 (5) -- 20-12 (10) -- 6-11 (5) -- 27-07 (15) -- $15,000