By Todd Ceisner
Brent Ehrler is worried that boat traffic could have a negative impact on the way he's planning to fish early Sunday morning.
Bryan Thrift is concerned the fish he's been catching on topwaters right away won't be in a feeding mood.
Heck, even Anthony Gagliardi, the guy who lives here and learned everything he knows at Lake Murray, isn't sure how he's going to fish the final day of the Forrest Wood Cup.
After 3 days of competition, the Cup is truly anybody's for the taking, especially with the top 5 separated by a mere 2-10 after yet another day of shuffling.
Will it be Ehrler, the 2006 Cup winner who caught 13-05 today to move into the lead with 39-01? If he's able to close it out, he'll become the first two-time Cup champion in the 19-year history of the event.
Can the immensely-talented Thrift, who trails Ehrler by 3 ounces, finally get over the hump and capture the trophy that's eluded him the last 2 years?
What will Gagliardi, armed with a wealth of local knowledge, have up his sleeve for the final day of what could turn out to be a massive hometown celebration to cap off a trying season?
Then there's Scott Canterbury, who stormed up to 4th behind a 16-pound sack today and seems to be gaining confidence. Can he break through with another big bag and walk away a Cup winner?
Don't sleep on Casey Ashley in 5th. He's quietly jumped up the leaderboard each day (he caught 15-09 today) fishing his strengths. Can he keep the momentum going and seize the Cup in his home state?
There just are no definitive answers when it comes to understanding how this tournament will ultimately play out. It has been an almost pattern-less event that has left some of the best anglers scratching their heads and gritting their teeth. With bites still at a premium, execution and decision-making will be paramount on the final day, when the winner will walk away with $500,000.
Here's a look at the 10 anglers who advanced to the final day, with deficit margin from Ehrler indicated by red numbers in parentheses:
1. Brent Ehrler: 39-01
2. Bryan Thrift: 38-14 (00-03)
3. Anthony Gagliardi: 37-04 (1-13)
4. Scott Canterbury: 37-03 (1-14)
5. Casey Ashley: 36-07 (2-10)
6. Matt Herren: 33-01 (6-00)
7. Michael Wooley: 32-13 (6-04)
8. Scott Martin: 32-07 (6-10)
9. Jacob Wheeler: 31-04 (7-13)
10. Steve Kennedy: 30-05 (8-12)
Day-2 leader Philip Jarabeck caught two for 4-00 today and fell to 11th, missing the final cut by 1 ounce. Two-time defending Angler of the Year Andy Morgan bagged two as well and slipped from 8th to 14th while day-1 leader David Dudley weighed one and dropped from 6th to 15th.
Opinions remain split as to where the best potential for a big fish lies. Some believe they're more apt to occur in shallow water around visible targets or shallow cover while others contend the offshore schools that are chasing bait to the surface contain the specimens needed to win this derby. Some of the finalists are married to one or the other and some will continue to mix and match in an effort to maximize their chances of catching a big one.
The conditions at takeoff were overcast with no wind and a little bit of fog hanging over the lower end of the lake. Some of the finalists felt the low-light conditions helped extend the window during which bites could be had on a topwater bait.
> Day 3: 5, 13-15 (15, 39-01)
Ehrler spent his morning running back and forth between places on the lower end of the lake. After two days of not having a limit before 1 p.m., he had five in his liveweill by 9 a.m. today.
He has held off on fishing a few areas during the tournament in hopes he'd need them tomorrow. He'll hit a few if need be.
"I don't really know because I haven't hit two or three areas and I have a few that I kind of believe have fish there but I won't really know until I get there tomorrow," he said. "The lake's too big to be able to watch things to see if guys are filtering through some of the areas. Hopefully, no one has fished them and they're relaxed and I can pull up and catch some."
Ehrler has five tour-level wins to his credit, including the 2006 Cup. He said he'll have butterflies at the dock Sunday morning, knowing he has a target on his back.
"I'm in the position right now to win," he said. "I'm in the position to stumble as well. We've seen it happen a couple times now where a guy jumps out to a big lead and they stumble the next day. I've been fairly consistent over the last three days, but again it's not like I have one spot where I'm going to catch that weight. I'm running all day to get that weight.
"When I won back in '06, it wasn't even a goal to win the tournament. It was something where I was just happy to be there. I wasn't even in the position to say, 'I can win this or I really want to win this tournament.' Right now, I've done it and I feel like I can actually win so that will add to the stress a little more because I really feel like there is an opportunity here."
Bryan Thrift and his son show off some his catch from Saturday.
2nd: Topwater Still Key For Thrift
> Day 3: 5, 13-14 (15, 38-14)
Thrift spelled out the scenario that needs to play out in order for him to win Sunday pretty plainly after moving into 2nd.
"The only chance I have to win this tournament is I have to catch all five of my fish on a topwater," he said. "If I have to go to my little limit spot the best I can do on it is about 10 pounds. I have to get five on that topwater."
He struggled with hookups on Friday, but his execution improved today.
"I did the same thing today," he said. "I got my topwater bites to hook up and got them all in the boat. Yesterday, they were eating the bait funny. Today, they ate it good and I had a couple more big ones follow it that never tried to bite it. I'm going to try the same thing tomorrow."
He said he's caught the majority of his weight out of one general area of the lake and he'll devote most of Sunday to those spots.
"It's so tight and someone will have to catch a big bag and the way the lake is fishing right now, the guy in 10th could catch 18 pounds and it's not out of the question to think all of the leaders could stumble," he said. "The lake is fishing that tough. I'm glad it's tight and nobody's blowing it out because that makes it fun for everybody."
3rd: Gagliardi Sticking To The Plan
> Day 3: 5, 13-15 (15, 37-04)
Gagliardi said he didn't catch a ton of fish today, but the day went about as he expected.
"When I put together the plan for today I started out on the lower end where I'd been starting and I had an idea that it would fizzle out and it did," he said. "I didn't catch anything where I'd been catching them in the mornings. I ran some new water down there and managed to catch four by 9:30.
"I was pretty comfortable with the four. I knew I'd have a shot to catch a big one in my other area on the other end of the lake like I did yesterday. I left to go up there around lunch time and it gave me time to fish slow up there and I got two good bites."
One of those bites was a 5-pounder that anchored his stringer.
"It's not something I feel confident about duplicating another day, but I'll sit down tonight and look at the weights and formulate a plan for tomorrow," he added. "I may go up there and stay all day or I may not go up there as crazy as that sounds after catching two 5-pounders the last 2 days. I'm not real sure I can go up there and do that again. It seemed like on the lower end there may have been some fish starting to come up and feed and eat a little like they hadn't been so it's possible you could catch a big bag down there fishing like I started this event."
He said he'll have a lot of emotions running through him on the water tomorrow, knowing Murray is his home lake.
"There's something about knowing it's the last tournament of the year and to be able prolong it and stay in it until the last day, it just makes you feel good," he said. "You build a lot of momentum for next year so there are a lot of positives to take away from making the cut. Then the fact that it's on my home lake, that's just a whole other animal and another set of emotions involved there."
4th: Good Day For Canterbury
> Day 3: 5, 16-00 (14, 37-03)
Canterbury thrust himself into contention for the win with a stout bag today. He said he started to figure something out Friday and expanded on it today.
"The first 2 days, I had been running down the lake into the clear water fishing for those fish over the herring," he said. "At 10 a.m. yesterday, I didn't have a fish and I figured them out a little bit and today I ran with it early and it was a little better early than it was later. It's mainly a location thing. Timing has a little to do with it.
"Every fish I weighed today came off different places from where I caught them before. It's just a pattern now. I caught a couple of my fish in a place I'd never been to before today."
He's hopeful he can continue the momentum through the final day.
"I hope I have a good one tomorrow," he said. "It was a great day. Everything I did was right this morning. Every move I made I caught fish and I caught them on new water. It was really fun. I caught a big one this afternoon on the way in. It was just a good day. I learned a little bit more and I'll try to put it together for 4 days."
Anthony Gagliardi has one more day to help his case for the Cup.
5th: Ashley Junking It Up
> Day 3: 5, 15-09 (15, 36-07)
Ashley has already won in his home state this year (Lake Hartwell FLW Tour) but he'd sure like to cap off the season with a Cup victory in front of many of his friends and family.
"It'd be big. Winning, period, no matter where it's at would be big, but winning in my home state would be special," he said "Any time you can win in front of your hometown, I don't care if it's a Tour-level event, a Rayovac, an Open, whatever it is, it's even more special."
To capture the Cup, it's likely he'll need another day similar to today weigh wise.
"It was slick, calm and hot this morning and that's what you need," he said. "We had that extended morning with that cloud cover. We didn't have that the first day with all of that high pressure. I knew today was going to be better for everybody. Luckily, I had a big bite on my third cast this morning and the rest of the day went pretty good. I was able to run some new stuff. I had some more big bites today, but just didn't get them."
He said he caught a key upgrade late in the day doing something he hadn't been doing.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to start doing the same thing and after that quits, I'm going to run some new things," he said. "I'm fishing new water every day and I don't know if I can catch a fish tomorrow to be honest with you. I had three big bites today that didn't get the bait and I'm going to start there in the morning. That's the only place I know that I'm going to. The rest of it will be new water."
6th: Herren Needs Better Morning
> Day 3: 5, 11-15 (33-01)
Since practice, Matt Herren has said he's not "on 'em," which is anglerspeak for, "I don't have anything figured out."
Yet, here he is making the Top-10 cut at the Cup with an outside shot at the win. If he's to gain ground on Ehrler, he says he needs to catch a couple big fish early. The only problem there is he says he's been unable to figure out much of a morning pattern.
"That's when the weights get caught," he said. "Without a kicker fish you're not going to get it done. I've got to push the envelope in the morning for a couple hours and try to get a bigger bite.
"I'm starting to figure it out, but we'll have to see in the morning. It's been real random. You see Casey Ashley struggle all week and he has a 15-pound day. Scott Canterbury catches 9 or 10 pounds and then catches 16. It can happen real fast. You're only talking about two or three 3- or 4-pound fish and you're in the game. It ain't over."
7th: Boat Traffic Hurt Wooley
> Day 3: 3, 8-09 (13, 32-13)
After coming in two fish shy of a limit, Michael Wooley was concerned he'd missed the final cut at his first Cup. Instead, he'll be fishing Sunday and have an outside shot at the win.
"I think it was the boat traffic that hurt me," he said. "Philip (Jarabeck) and I were doing the same exact thing, fishing deep, and he didn't catch them."
He said missing the cut was weighing on his mind most of the day.
"It feels pretty good right now," he said. "I was worried about it all day. It was a slow day. I didn't think I had enough even with the three I had."
He tried to capitalize on the cloud cover this morning, but had three fish blow up on his topwater bait, but none of them ate it.
"Tomorrow I might just go spend an hour or two shallow just to try it. I think the boat traffic really hurt the deep bite today. There were a ton of boats out there running around today and they're running all over the tops of spots. There's nothing you can do about it. I'll be definitely fishing deep though. "
Casey Ashley has come from 21st place to 5th in 2 days.
8th: Martin May Have Found Something
> Day 3: 5, 11-09 (15, 32-07)
After mixing it up for a good portion of the day, Scott Martin said he "opened a new door" this afternoon that offered him a chance to catch bigger fish.
"I caught three on the lower end this morning and then went shallow in the afternoon a caught a couple more keepers," he said. "It's just been a crazy tournament as far as how you have to keep changing it up. Yesterday, I wanted to try to figure out something new. I hadn't opened up a new door and I did that today with a new way of fishing. I'll be able to focus on that quite a bit tomorrow."
He said he lost of a pair of 3-pounders today that would've helped him cull out smaller fish.
"I was happy to have what I had because you just never know when it's going to happen," he added. "You just have to get your instincts flowing and start making some adjustments on the water. That's what it makes it so much fun for me. That's what I love about it. It's those tough days when you figure something out and get in a groove that make you feel good."
9th: Wheeler Hoping For Big Bites
> Day 3: 3, 7-02 (13, 31-04)
Even with three fish today, Wheeler still clinched his third straight Top-10 Cup finish, but he's still not conceding the win to anyone.
"I'm going to have to catch the biggest bag of the tournament, simple as that," he said. "Today, I pulled into one pocket and had three bites and caught a 4-pounder, had another 4-pounder bite and caught a 3 1/2. If you can go find two pockets like that and get five of those, you could have 20 pounds."
He intends to run all new water tomorrow.
"You just have to hopefully find a couple little stretches that nobody has hit in the tournament," he added. "It's such a big lake with so many pockets and so many places to fish you have to hope you find a couple of those places."
10th: Kennedy Missed a Couple
> Day 3: 5, 10-09 (15, 30-05)
Steve Kennedy finally cracked the 10-pound mark and it was enough to earn him another day on Lake Murray.
"I had three pretty good fish today and two dinks," he said. "I missed a couple big fish. I had one and all I saw was mouth that was 5-plus. I probably just jerked it out before he even closed it. I had another one on the back side of a log that was probably 3 1/2 or 4 and I hit it hard after I watched him eat it once it hit the water."
He'd said he knew he was around some bigger fish, but didn't have any opportunities to catch them over the first 2 days. Today, they showed themselves and he's hoping he can execute on a couple Sunday.
"I hadn't had a big bite in the first 2 days. I knew there were some around," he added. "There was a mayfly hatch when we got here in practice and they were set up just perfect for catching a big one on the frog and that's totally gone away. The water's dropping like crazy where I'm at and I just feel fortunate to catch a limit all 3 days. That's what has me still in it."
> Day 3 stats 20 anglers, 8 limits, 6 threes, 3 twos, 2 ones.
> Sun., Aug. 17 Mostly Sunny - 95°/74°
- Wind: From the SW at 9 mph
Day 3 Standings
1. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, Ca -- 13-05 (5) -- 12-07 (5) -- 25-12 (10) -- 13-05 (5) -- 39-01 (15)
2. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 14-09 (5) -- 10-07 (5) -- 25-00 (10) -- 13-14 (5) -- 38-14 (15)
3. Anthony Gagliardi -- Prosperity, SC -- 13-02 (5) -- 10-03 (4) -- 23-05 (9) -- 13-15 (5) -- 37-04 (15)
4. Scott Canterbury -- Springville, Al -- 10-00 (4) -- 11-03 (5) -- 21-03 (9) -- 16-00 (5) -- 37-03 (14)
5. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 9-00 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 20-14 (10) -- 15-09 (5) -- 36-07 (15)
6. Matt Herren -- Ashville, Al -- 10-04 (5) -- 10-14 (5) -- 21-02 (10) -- 11-15 (5) -- 33-01 (15)
7. Michael Wooley -- Collierville, Tn -- 9-08 (4) -- 14-12 (5) -- 24-04 (9) -- 8-09 (3) -- 32-13 (13)
8. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 13-06 (5) -- 7-08 (5) -- 20-14 (10) -- 11-09 (5) -- 32-07 (15)
9. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 12-05 (5) -- 11-13 (4) -- 24-02 (9) -- 7-02 (3) -- 31-04 (13)
10. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, Al -- 9-13 (5) -- 9-15 (5) -- 19-12 (10) -- 10-09 (5) -- 30-05 (15)
The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.
11. Philip Jarabeck -- Lynchburg, Va -- 9-04 (3) -- 17-00 (5) -- 26-04 (8) -- 4-00 (2) -- 30-04 (10) -- $15,000
12. Mark Rose -- West Memphis, Ar -- 9-07 (5) -- 10-08 (5) -- 19-15 (10) -- 8-14 (3) -- 28-13 (13) -- $15,000
13. Matthew Stefan -- Junction City, Wi -- 10-04 (5) -- 9-02 (4) -- 19-06 (9) -- 8-08 (3) -- 27-14 (12) -- $15,000
14. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 12-10 (5) -- 10-04 (5) -- 22-14 (10) -- 3-12 (2) -- 26-10 (12) -- $15,000
15. David Dudley -- Lynchburg, Va -- 17-14 (5) -- 6-01 (3) -- 23-15 (8) -- 1-06 (1) -- 25-05 (9) -- $15,000
16. Matt Arey -- Shelby, SC -- 10-09 (4) -- 8-00 (4) -- 18-09 (8) -- 4-14 (2) -- 23-07 (10) -- $15,000
17. James Biggs -- Euless, Tx -- 5-07 (2) -- 12-08 (5) -- 17-15 (7) -- 5-04 (3) -- 23-03 (10) -- $15,000
18. Ramie Colson Jr -- Cadiz, Ky -- 8-00 (3) -- 10-05 (4) -- 18-05 (7) -- 4-03 (2) -- 22-08 (9) -- $15,000
19. Dan Morehead -- Paducah, Ky -- 9-03 (4) -- 6-10 (4) -- 15-13 (8) -- 6-09 (3) -- 22-06 (11) -- $15,000
20. Brad Knight -- Wartburg, Tn -- 13-07 (5) -- 5-13 (3) -- 19-04 (8) -- 2-04 (1) -- 21-08 (9) -- $15,000