By BassFan Staff
Randall Tharp has quickly progressed from blue-collar construction worker and local tournament ace to one of the most dominant professional anglers in the game. Today, he laid the foundation for a run at history.
The reigning Forrest Wood Cup champion caught a 27-08 sack on day 1 of the 44th Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville in Alabama. On the venue that served as the launching pad for his rapid rise within the game, he'll attempt to become the first angler to hold the trophy from both tour-level championship events simultaneously.
"That's why I'm here – I want to win that trophy," he said. "The best fishermen in the world are in this tournament and I want to beat them."
He holds an 11-ounce edge over Edwin Evers, arguably the most accomplished competitor on the Elite Series without a Classic or an Angler of the Year (AOY) title on his résumé. Evers frittered away last year's points title at the season's final event and a Classic crown would go a long way toward healing that wound.
In 3rd place, a little more than 2 1/2 pounds out of the lead, was steady veteran David Walker. He spoke afterward about how he feels he has the right amount of experience on the lake – enough to have a good idea of what to do, but not so much that he'll get sidetracked by his memory bank.
Casey Ashley and Fred Roumbanis shared 4th place with 23-02 stringers. In 6th was Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier Coby Carden with 22-04.
Here's how the initial Top 12 looks, with deficit margins from the leader indicated by red numbers in parentheses:
1. Randall Tharp: 27-08
2. Edwin Evers: 26-13 (0-11)
3. David Walker: 24-13 (2-11)
4 (tie). Casey Ashley: 23-02 (4-06)
4 (tie). Fred Roumbanis: 23-02 (4-06)
6. Coby Carden: 22-04 (5-04)
7. Jason Christie: 22-03 (5-05)
8. Dean Rojas: 20-14 (6-10)
9. Tommy Biffle: 20-13 (6-11)
10. Jonathon VanDam: 20-11 (6-13)
11. Ott DeFoe: 20-10 (6-14)
12 (tie). Keith Combs: 20-03 (7-05)
12 (tie). Randy Howell: 20-03 (7-05)
The weather system that moved through northern Alabama on Thursday night was a major factor as the roaring winds and 2-plus inches of rain rendered a lot of previously productive areas unfishable – or at least unproductive. Conditions stymied many of the pre-tournament favorites, relegating them to the middle or bottom of the pack.
Gary Klein, competing in his 30th Classic, weighed just a single fish, and ex-Classic champion and previous Guntersville Elite Series winner Skeet Reese had two as they took up residence near the bottom of the standings. Four-time Classic champ Kevin VanDam and four-time runner-up Aaron Martens were in 27th and 28th, respectively, following 16-pound-ish bags and Mike Iaconelli, who managed to scale 15 pounds despite weighing just four fish, was in 30th.
Edwin Evers predicts that the bite will improve with the continued sunshine in the weather forecast.
The prevailing opinion is that the bite will pick up over the weekend as the fish become accustomed to the new conditions wrought by the departed storm. Tomorrow's forecast calls for sunny skies, a high temperature of 67 degrees and a breeze out of the south/southeast topping out at 7 mph.
The field will be reduced to the Top 25 following the Day-2 weigh-in, with the winner determined Sunday based on highest cumulative weight.
History On Lake Helped Tharp
> Day 1: 5, 27-08
Tharp was among the first boats to pull up to the blast-off dock this morning and he seemed calm and focused for someone fishing a Classic on his former home lake.
He'd thought earlier in the week, with the water warming up, that much of his local knowledge would be negated, but Thursday night's storm seemed to put him a step ahead of everyone again.
"I just like the way the lake sets up," he said. "These guys are so good, I didn't think local knowledge would come into play, but the fish are in some places that I haven't seen them in 7 or 8 years. I think they've kind of been forgotten about and overlooked. For that reason, I didn't see very many competitors today where I was fishing.
"I just felt really settled when I left today. The first place I saw where I thought I could catch one, that's where I stopped. That's how I fish. I definitely have places where I had some good bites in practice and those were key areas for me today. One of those areas was pretty screwed up by the weather, but for the most part it went according to plan. You can't predict where you're going to get a big bite. I caught fish just about everywhere I stopped, so that's a positive."
He said he's targeting the 4- to 12-foot depth range with a variety of baits, but nothing out of the ordinary for this lake. He said he fished all over the middle and lower portions of the lake.
"I said on stage what the four lures are that dominate here," he said. "I'm using all four of them."
His best bites today came on a jerkbait.
"I started doing that around noon and caught a 5-pounder," he added. "I went an hour without a bite and went back to some grass and dedicated the last hour to that and culled twice."
As far as tomorrow, he knows the conditions will continue to change, so he's already anticipating adjusting his game plan.
"My biggest concern was the amount of current and the water being high," he said. "I'm real confident in the areas I'm fishing, that they'll keep replenishing. With those conditions, who knows what's going to happen. My starting area, I did catch some keepers there, but I didn't weigh any of those fish in. I did lose a big fish on that place, but I'm not going to start there tomorrow."
2nd: Evers Feels Fortunate
> Day 1: 5, 26-13
Today didn't go like the practice days for Evers in terms of numbers of fish caught. Quantity was replaced by quality and he knows he'll need to continually adjust the rest of the way if he's to maintain the pace he's set.
"It looks great on paper that I caught 26-13, but I really didn't catch that many fish," he said. "I just had the right ones. I'm just fortunate to be where I'm at. I didn't think I had that much weight. I was kind of shocked."
"In practice, it was more numbers for me, but I was trying to fish stuff where I thought they were coming to because I recognized (the water) was warming fast. I wanted to find areas where I thought fish could be spawning in a couple days if they're not already."
He's convinced that with the prolonged sunny periods that are expected for the weekend, the weights are going to improve.
"The sun will help all of us," he added. "It'll warm the water up because there's a lot of water going through the lake. It'll help clear it up and bags are going to get bigger as the days go on."
His big fish today was a 7-04, but he was reluctant to say what bait it fell for.
"There were definitely flurries," he added. "I caught two fish on back-to-back casts, then made the third cast and lost a great big one. Then I went hours without a bite. You just come across little pods and keep bopping around until you find them."
David Walker just kept moving around until he located water that was sufficiently clear to produce quality bites.
3rd: Walker Adapted Nicely
> Day 1: 5, 24-13
Walker caught a fish that weighed more than 7 1/2 pounds in the opening hour, and that set the tone for a strong day.
"I was really charged up when I got that one because I know those are the kind of fish you have to catch every day," he said. "I knew I was in a good position to try to win this tournament. If you go a day without one like that, then the next day you have to catch two or three to make up for it and you start piling up work that you may not be able to accomplish."
Many locales he'd hoped to try were inundated with chocolate-brown water, so he kept moving until he found some that was less muddy. He went through 12 or 13 keepers on the day, but opted not to disclose the baits he enticed them with.
"If you can catch a dozen fish here at this time of year, you've got a good chance of coming up with a big one. Tomorrow I'll start in the same places – I'd be crazy not too – but you can't get too hung up on one spot because there are too many (potentially) winning spots.
"As far as baits, I don't have any silver bullets that nobody's ever heard of, but I'm smart enough not to give these guys any bullets to shoot me with. This was just the first part of this thing and I still have a lot of work to do."
He emphasized that keeping an open mind on day 2 will be critical.
"(The situation) is just too dynamic at this time of year to say that there's only one way of catching fish. You might be on one pattern that's the winning pattern, but you still have to be reluctant to give up everything else. There's just too much that can change."
4th (tie): Ashley Cautiously Optimistic
> Day 1: 5, 23-02
Ashley came into today with a good bit of confidence. He found reason to feel otherwise early on day 1.
"I expected to catch them better than I did," he said. "When I got there this morning, I was a little scared. I don't know if the storm last night had them all messed up or something, but the cooler weather had them biting short and slapping at the bait. They just weren't eating it good."
His first limit weighed about 12 pounds, but around noon he had a flurry that saw him cull everything he had in the next 30 minutes. He's mainly targeting isolated grass and humps and catching fish out of water as shallow as 2 feet.
"The area I'm fishing has a lot of fish in it," he said. "Fishing pressure is going to hurt it, I'm afraid. There are only two of our guys in there, but the locals really love to come in there and fish. I watched a lot of them come in and work on the outskirts and then come (inside).
"Who knows, but (the fish are) just there. They're coming and it's where they want to be. There will be a lot more fish coming in there, so I'm excited."
4th (tie): Giant Helped Roumbanis
> Day 1: 5, 23-02
Roumbanis' day didn't start as he had hoped. Areas he had built some confidence in during practice were chocolate milk today, but a flurry of bites between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. carried him into the Top 5.
His bag was anchored by the big fish of the day – a 9-03 Guntersville goliath.
Fred Roumbanis' sack was topped by a 9-03 bruiser.
"Today was a grind," he said. "I had to start over from practice and adjust to the conditions. That storm really turned the lake over. I got on a little deal and I hope to be able to expand on it tomorrow."
6th: Mud Aided Carden
> Day 1: 5, 22-04
Carden was forced to seek other water when he discovered that several of his best places had been blown out, and he thinks that was actually a blessing.
"I probably wouldn't have done as well (if everything had gone according to plan)," he said. "I was getting a few good bites in practice, but I think I lucked my way into figuring out something.
"When I first set down the mud line was 60 or 70 yards away from where my fish were and I caught three really quick. Then the mud got on them and I had to leave, and my next three or four places were muddied up as well. That's basically when I went practicing again."
He lives just 50 miles from Guntersville in Shelby, Ala., but this was his first competition day on the lake since 2009. He saved his best for last as his final fish of the day was a 7-plus pounder.
"I think I know a few things that are working, but I've still got to decide what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'll figure out my game plan tonight or in the morning.
"I don't mind fishing muddy water, but these fish need a little time to adjust to it. By tomorrow afternoon, they won't mind."
7th: Christie Stayed Put
> Day 1: 5, 22-03
For the second straight year, Jason Christie finds himself among the Top 10 after day 1 of the Classic. He'd like to stay there or advance tomorrow and have a shot at the win on Sunday.
"The thing on this lake is on the first day, I wanted to be in contention and the same thing after the second," he said. "The third day, at Guntersville if you're within 5 pounds, you have a chance to win. All you can ask for in the Classic is a chance to win."
Officially, he's 5-05 behind Tharp, but considering he was ready to abandon his area after much of it was too muddy even by his standards, he's thrilled to be where he's at.
"I didn't really have a very good practice and I always seem to do better in tournaments whenever I pick an area and stay in it," he said. "I don't mean a cove or a bay, but a general area – a 5-mile stretch – and I was just about to abandon that stretch early and said, 'No, this is where I want to fish at,' and it's what I ended up doing.
"I ended up catching one or two where I thought I would and I thought I had a place where I could really catch them and it just didn't happen. I had to move around and really felt like I went fishing just to catch something and I ran into a few good ones. I didn't know what else to do."
It's a mix-and-match pattern for him depending on what type of cover he comes across.
"I'm fishing a lot of moving baits, but I'm having to fish a lot of different stuff because it's one area. I'm not running the lake looking for rock or grass. I'm fishing the area and fishing what it's giving me. Today, it gave me mud, but it also gave me 22 pounds."
9th: Biffle Pleasantly Surprised
> Day 1: 5, 20-13
Biffle had a lackluster practice, so he was more than pleased with his weight.
"It was way better than I thought it was going to be," he said. "My first 3 days (last weekend) were terrible, then on that last day I found a little something. I caught a lot of them today just fishing, too."
He revealed that his primary bait was a River2Sea jig. He said the color of the jig was critical and he opted not to reveal it.
He boated approximately a dozen keepers and his best fish went a little over 5 pounds. He didn't lose any that would've helped him but said he had a big one boil up on his bait and miss it.
"I caught them all day and they weren't very deep – in less than 3 or 4 feet of water. I didn't hardly see anybody all day.
"If that doesn't work tomorrow, I'll go run some places that've been productive in the past. I'm kind of excited because I've had times when a bad practice has turned into a good tournament, and it looks like this might be one of those."
12th: Howell Scrambled Up 20
> Day 1: 5, 20-03
Randy Howell struggled through the early part of the day, but rallied to compile a 20-pound stringer.
“I had a bad start today and had to scramble almost from the beginning,” he said. “Just like for everybody else, my water got real muddy and I had to move around and junk-fish. You never want to have to do that, especially in the Classic.
“Late in the day, though, I got blessed and caught a couple good fish, a 4-pounder and a 6-07. That really saves your day when you catch (a couple) like that.”
He said it was about 1:30 p.m. when the biggest one hit.
“I’m fishing a pattern, but today most of the 15 fish I caught were small, and that’s just not Guntersville. The fish are moving. The water warmed up to 51 to 59 degrees where I was. That should keep the fish moving like they’ve been doing since practice.”
He thinks the fish will adjust to the influx of muddy water and the action will get better over the next 2 days.
“As long as it stays stable or clears up some, they ought to bite. I’m going back to the same area and work it thoroughly tomorrow. I just hope it doesn’t get too beat up by the locals. There were several boats in there and I’m sure they probably stayed and fished there until dark.”
> Day 1 stats – 55 anglers, 40 limits, 6 fours, 3 threes, 4 twos, 2 ones.
> Tharp and Walker both mentioned that they got little sleep the previous night as the storm pounded their RVs, which were parked near the lake.
> A rumor that circulated through the Classic Outdoor Expo on Friday that Kevin VanDam would incur a 2-pound penalty for having six fish in his livewell at one point during the day proved to be entirely unfounded.
> Sat., Feb. 22 – Sunny - 67°/42°
- Wind: From the SSE at 7 mph
> Sun., Feb. 23 – Partly Cloudy - 69°/37°
- Wind: From the SSW at 9 mph
Day 1 Standings
1. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, FL -- 5, 27-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 27-08
2. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 5, 26-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 26-13
3. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 5, 24-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 24-13
4. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 5, 23-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 23-02
4. Fred Roumbanis -- Bixby, OK -- 5, 23-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 23-02
6. Coby Carden -- Shelby, AL -- 5, 22-04 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 22-04
7. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 5, 22-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 22-03
8. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 5, 20-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-14
9. Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, OK -- 5, 20-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-13
10. Jonathon VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 20-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-11
11. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 20-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-10
12. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 5, 20-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-03
12. Randy Howell -- Springville, AL -- 5, 20-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-03
14. Chad Morgenthaler -- Coulterville, IL -- 5, 19-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 19-05
15. David Kilgore -- Jasper, AL -- 5, 18-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-15
16. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 4, 18-10 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 18-10
17. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 5, 18-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-08
18. Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 5, 17-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-11
19. Yusuke Miyazaki -- Forney, TX -- 5, 17-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-05
20. Rich Howes -- Oviedo, FL -- 5, 17-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-00
21. Terry Scroggins -- San Mateo, FL -- 5, 16-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-15
22. Greg Vinson -- Wetumpka, AL -- 5, 16-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-13
23. Morizo Shimizu -- Osaka, Japan -- 5, 16-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-11
24. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 5, 16-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-11
25. Chris Jones -- Bokoshe, OK -- 5, 16-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-10
26. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 5, 16-06 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-06
27. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 16-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-02
28. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 5, 15-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-10
29. Hank Cherry Jr -- Maiden, NC -- 5, 15-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-09
30. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 4, 15-09 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 15-09
31. Patrick Bone -- Cleveland, GA -- 5, 15-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-07
31. Alton Jones -- Lorena, TX -- 5, 15-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-07
31. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 15-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-07
34. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 5, 15-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-05
35. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 4, 15-04 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 15-04
36. Chris Lane -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 15-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-01
37. Adam Wagner -- Cookeville, TN -- 5, 14-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-14
38. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 5, 14-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-12
39. John Murray -- Phoenix, AZ -- 5, 13-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-11
40. Jordan Lee -- Vinemont, AL -- 4, 13-07 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 13-07
41. Bobby Lane -- Lakeland, FL -- 5, 12-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-15
42. Josh Bertrand -- Gilbert, AZ -- 5, 12-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-13
43. Mark Dove -- North Vernon, IN -- 5, 12-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-08
44. Doug Thompson -- Mabelvale, AR -- 4, 12-07 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 12-07
45. Jeff Lugar -- Mcgaheysville, VA -- 3, 11-10 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 11-10
46. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 4, 10-00 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 10-00
47. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 3, 09-10 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 09-10
47. Chris Zaldain -- San Jose, CA -- 3, 09-10 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 09-10
49. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 2, 07-12 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 07-12
50. Timothy Johnston -- Kalispell , MT -- 2, 07-10 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 07-10
51. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 2, 07-05 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 07-05
52. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 2, 07-04 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 07-04
53. Gary Klein -- Weatherford, TX -- 1, 04-06 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 04-06
54. Stephen Browning -- Hot Springs, AR -- 1, 03-12 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 03-12
55. Gerald Swindle -- Warrior, AL -- 1, 02-01 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 02-01