By BassFan Staff
Randall Tharp was thirsty.
Seriously, he wanted something to drink. The cooler in his boat was empty, so he bummed a bottle of water from Larry Nixon, who was sitting in the boat next to his in the parking lot behind the CenturyLink Center on Sunday afternoon.
Tharp twisted the cap off, sat down for a moment and took a healthy swig. He knew his life was about to change.
Drink it in, Randall. You're the new Forrest Wood Cup champion.
After finishing 2nd to Scott Martin at the 2011 Cup at Lake Ouachita, this year's venue the snaggy and swampy and stubborn Red River squared up perfectly with Tharp's shallow-water skill set. He got everyone's attention Thursday by taking the lead with 18 1/2 pounds. Today, he erased a 4-ounce deficit and closed out the win with a 14-pound bag that gave him a 4-pound victory over runner-up and last year's winner Jacob Wheeler.
"At Ouachita, I fished what I thought was the most perfect tournament of my life and came up second, he said. If I said that one didnt sting a little bit, it would be a lie. Last year when the schedule came out and I saw that the Cup was going back to the Red River, I knew that it was going to be my time.
Tharp is renowned for his prowess during the springtime in Florida, ripping bass out of gnarly grass mats, particularly at Lake Okeechobee. The target-rich Red was right in his wheelhouse this week, even though it was the dead of summer. He had finished 4th in the Bassmaster Central Open at the Red in April and started to put the puzzle pieces together.
This week, things came more into focus for him as the tournament wore on. He had a place he leaned on for a limit each morning, then caught key upgrades each afternoon fishing a pocket full of lily pads next to the launch ramp. It turned out to be the winning formula.
Thrift, who also caught 18 pounds on day 1 and led after Saturday, caught a 6-11 limit today and finished 3rd for the second straight Cup with 46-01. Kerry Milner, the BFL All-American champion, acquitted himself nicely this week. He caught 11-10 for the second straight day and took 4th with 44-07. Larry Nixon, who'd been 3rd behind Tharp and Thrift the first 3 days, bagged 8-06 and slipped to 5th with 44-04.
Here's how the rest of the Top 10 looked after all the confetti finished falling:
6. Michael Neal: 44-02
7. Mark Rose: 43-07
8. Troy Morrow: 41-08
9. Tom Monsoor: 41-02
10. Robbie Dodson: 37-11
The Red lived up to its reputation as being a tough place to catch quality fish in the summer. Keeper-sized fish were plentiful, but the difference makers in the 3- and 4-pound class were at such a premium even with all the fertile backwater areas up and down the river. A pre-tournament cold snap also threw a wrench into things as it dropped water temperatures 8 to 10 degrees.
Several techniques dominated, including flipping shallow wood and reed lines as well as frogs in the backwater and cranking rock or the bars in the openings leading into the backwaters.
Frog Carried Tharp Today
> Day 4: 5, 14-00 (20, 53-02)
Tharp followed his instincts today and put a frog rod on his deck for the first time all week. It turned out to be a $500,000 decision.
He stuck to his plan and ran to a small lake in a subdivision north of the takeoff area this morning. He started down a rocky bank with a Lucky Craft RTO 1.5 silent square-bill crankbait and immediately caught a short and a drum. He moved to the other bank and caught his first keeper off a small rock pile.
He then picked up a white SPRO Bronzeye 65 frog he had been cleaning up in the lake with a swimjig, but a few missed fish yesterday prompted him to change and started skipping it back under overhangs. His first cast resulted in a solid 3 1/2-pounder.
Tharp caught this fish on a frog this morning where he'd been catching them on a swimjig all week.
"You sometimes get a gut feeling in these tournaments and that was a gut decision," he said. "I picked it up and caught a big one on my first cast. Everything happens for a reason. It was lying there and it looked right and the first cast I made, the fish went for it."
He worked the entire perimeter of the lake, chatting up curious homeowners who watched from their porches or docks.
He finished off his limit before 10 a.m., then stopped briefly on a jetty in the river prior to running back to a pocket off Port Lake where the launch area is located. He wiggled through some extremely shallow water and a thick band of lily pads to access a good sized pond that harbors some quality fish. He fished it for 5 hours today and caught two big upgrades.
"I'm a pretty patient guy and I had a very good strategy today," he said. "I had two areas where I was going to spend my whole day. I was going to stay in the first place until I caught a limit. I caught a big one in there, which was a bonus. Then I went to an area where I'd caught most of the big fish in the tournament and caught two more and that was enough.
"It was harder to stay on my second spot because I stayed for 5 hours hardly moving the boat. I knew if I got a couple of bites out of there, I could win this thing."
This is the 5th year fishing has been Tharp's main source of income. He and wife, Sara, recently sold their home in Alabama and bought a house on the Florida panhandle and are in the process of remodeling it. There's currently a pre-fab swimming pool sitting in the driveway, waiting to be installed. After they get home in a couple days, they'll have to live out of their motor home for a bit as the work continues inside the house.
"For 3 weeks, we've been brushing out teeth in our bathtubs because we tore all the vanities and the kitchen out," Tharp said. "It was actually nice to come here because we have a pretty nice fifth-wheel trailer and I had a sink to shave."
Tharp said the $500K is fantastic and relieves a bit of the financial stress that comes with fishing for a living. Still, he'd like to branch out and possibly pursue a two-tour career now.
"It's something I've always wanted," he said, referencing his win today. "I desperately want to go back to the Classic now and win it. I've only fished one. I've qualified for the Elites three times. I would like to do what Jason Christie's doing. I love FLW and love their tournaments and everybody here, but ultimately for a guy trying to make a living fishing, I need to be fishing as many big-money tournaments as I can. They've got eight and we've got six. That would be the perfect number of events for the year."
Details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other Top-5 finishers, will be published soon.
Jacob Wheeler figured out the timing of the frog bite and caught a second straight 14-pound bag.
2nd: Wheeler Did All He Could
> Day 4: 5, 14-03 (20, 49-02)
Despite catching the heaviest bag for the second straight day, Wheeler was still haunted by his 7-pound effort on day 1.
"It was pretty crazy. It was a good tournament," he said. "You never want to be satisfied, but the thing is I did everything that I could do after day 1."
He hadn't planned to go frogging right away, but after a warm night Saturday, he decided it might be prime time to try it.
"I had some deep timber I was going to fish and I had some main-river stuff that I was going to fish," he said. "If it was cold again, they would bite on that stuff when they wouldn't bite in those backwaters. I woke up this morning and went outside and went, 'Change of plans, we're going to the backwaters first thing.' It was warm this morning."
He got eight bites today and caught three on a Trigger X Flutter Worm and the rest on a SPRO Bronzeye 65 frog.
3rd: Slow Day For Thrift
> Day 4: 5, 6-11 (20, 46-01)
Thrift made his daily run to Pool 4, but he's thinking Pool 3 might've been the right play on the final day. Feeling that his areas in Pool 5 were pretty much fished out, he thought hard about running to 3, but ultimately opted not to.
He's not sure he could've brought back the winning fish anyway after seeing the strong day Tharp had.
"I don't know that it slipped away," he said. "After seeing the bag Randall caught, I feel as though it was never mine to start with. I knew what I was doing was going away. I'd caught pretty much everything out of those areas and my backup plan was down in Pool 3. I'm pretty sure I could've caught enough to finish 2nd down there and there was a very small chance I could've caught enough to win."
He said he's not going to regret not making the long run south.
"It's not going to bother me," he said. "If Randall had come in with 10 pounds, yeah, it would've bothered me bad. There's nothing I could've done today. He caught a giant bag on the last day of the tournament and that's what it takes to win these types of tournaments. You have to catch a big bag that last day. It seems like that's what always wins."
His best-producing bait this week was the 6.5-inch Damiki Finesse Miki worm rigged on a 1/8-ounce Evercast Lures shaky-head.
Larry Nixon threw frog all day trying to lure big bites in the backwaters
4th: Milner Ecstatic
> Day 4: 5, 11-10 (20, 44-07)
Kerry Milner set a modest, yet realistic goal for himself this week: Make the Top 20 cut. He did that with relative ease. The rest was icing on the cake for the Arkansas angler, who vaulted all the way to 4th behind another 11 1/2-pound bag.
"For it being my first time fishing a Tour event and walk out 4th in the Forrest Wood Cup, I'm tickled," he said. "I'm really at a loss for words right now. I didn't even expect to make it that far. I had hope that I could do it and really felt like I could for years. Proving it to myself will probably catapult me and I'm going to take off and run with it.
"I wasn't really that nervous. I was comfortable and relaxed. I was just going fishing. I wasn't going to run over the whole river and go nuts. I just went fishing and didn't start my big motor until after noon."
He threw a SPRO frog primarily and also flipped a Zoom brush hawg in pads in Pool 5.
5th: Nixon Chased Big Ones Today
> Day 4: 5, 8-06 (20, 44-04)
Facing the deficit he did this morning, Nixon opted to go after big fish today, thinking that if he lucked into a couple good ones and Tharp and Thrift flinched he could seize his first Cup win.
"The wind dirtied the water up pretty bad on three of my spots," he said. "I could've caught 9 pounds out flipping the river bank but I knew that wouldn't win. The only way I had a chance to win was to go back in the backwater and throw a frog and try to catch a big stringer. That's what I did all day."
On stage, he thanked the fans for supporting him throughout his career. It was, by no means, a hint that he's planning on retiring any time soon.
"Noooo," he said. "It's hard to qualify. I'm not going to say this will be my last Cup because I'm going to bust my butt to make it again.
> Day 3 stats 10 anglers, 9 limits, 1 four.
> Troy Morrow, who finished 8th, thanked Adrian Avena for his assistance on Saturday after Morrow had a mechanical failure while coming back to the ramp. Avena stopped and picked up Morrow and his fish so he wasn't late to check-in. Morrow made the Top-10 despite having four dead fish because of a livewell mishap. Avena missed it by 1 ounce, meaning if Avena had not stopped, Morrow would've likely been late and the penalty would've dropped him below Avena in the standings.
1. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, Fl -- 18-08 (5) -- 11-03 (5) -- 29-11 (10) -- 9-07 (5) -- 14-00 (5) -- 53-02 (20) -- $501,000
2. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 7-04 (5) -- 13-07 (5) -- 20-11 (10) -- 14-04 (5) -- 14-03 (5) -- 49-02 (20) -- $75,000
3. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 18-07 (5) -- 11-00 (5) -- 29-07 (10) -- 9-15 (5) -- 6-11 (5) -- 46-01 (20) -- $60,000
4. Kerry Milner -- Bono, Ar -- 8-15 (5) -- 12-4 (5) -- 21-03 (10) -- 11-10 (5) -- 11-10 (5) -- 44-07 (20) -- $55,000
5. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 13-04 (5) -- 14-05 (5) -- 27-09 (10) -- 8-05 (5) -- 8-06 (5) -- 44-04 (20) -- $50,000
6. Michael Neal -- Dayton, Tn -- 11-05 (5) -- 10-11 (5) -- 22-00 (10) -- 10-04 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 44-02 (20) -- $45,000
7. Mark Rose -- West Memphis, Ar -- 12-15 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 24-13 (10) -- 9-09 (5) -- 9-01 (5) -- 43-07 (20) -- $40,000
8. Troy Morrow -- Eastanollee, Ga -- 10-15 (5) -- 10-10 (5) -- 21-09 (10) -- 10-14 (5) -- 9-01 (5) -- 41-08 (20) -- $35,000
9. Tom Monsoor -- La Crosse, Wi -- 11-08 (5) -- 13-03 (5) -- 24-11 (10) -- 7-09 (5) -- 8-14 (5) -- 41-02 (20) -- $30,000
10. Robbie Dodson -- Harrison, Ar -- 10-15 (5) -- 12-08 (5) -- 23-07 (10) -- 9-14 (5) -- 4-06 (4) -- 37-11 (20) -- $25,000