By BassFan Staff
John Cox fished at a frenetic pace for the first 3 days of the Lake Hartwell FLW Tour, which assured yet another high finish for the 31-year-old Floridian. On the final day, he slowed down considerably and won the tournament.
Cox caught a 16-02 bag on Sunday to overtake three-time Angler of the Year (AOY) Clark Wendlandt and achieve his second Tour victory. With a 67-06 total for 4 days, he edged out Wendlandt by just under half a pound.
"We knew it was going to be close," Cox said in describing the conclusion of the final-day weigh-in. "I could tell by the look on Clark's face that he wasn't sure he had enough.
"Winning hasn't really set in yet, but I know I felt the same today as when I won on the Red River (in 2011). I just felt like I was going to win."
He abandoned his feverish search for visible spawning fish on a cold, gray and windy day 4 and focused his attention on a single dirty-water area in a creek arm far up the Seneca River. He worked around it several times in much the same way he'd dissect a farm pond.
It's a place that had given him quality fish on a previous visit to Hartwell and he'd been saving it until he needed it.
"I pretty much knew I'd go there when sight-fishing wasn't going to happen for me because of wind or rain or whatever," he said. "It just so happened that that was today."
Wendlandt boxed 14-06 on day 4 for a runner-up total of 66-15. Jamie Horton, the former Bassmaster Elite Series pro who's in his first year on the circuit, jumped from 10th to 3rd with a day-best 17-12 haul that gave him a 62-09 aggregate.
Canadian Jeff Gustafson was 4th with 59-14 after catching 14-11 on Sunday. The suddenly hot Bryan Thrift completed the Top 5 with 59-08 (13-04 on day 4).
Here's a look at how the bottom half of the Top 10 finished up:
6. Darrel Robertson: 59-03
7. Larry Nixon: 57-14
8. Cory Johnston: 56-05
9. Peter Thliveros: 55-00
10. Powell Kemp: 54-10
Cox, who finished 2nd to Scott Martin in last year's points race, now sits atop that list. He has a 2-point edge over Canadian rookie Chris Johnston (Cory's brother), with Horton another 6 points back in 3rd.
Cox's bag was topped by a 5-pounder – he's sure it was the same fish that had straightened his hook and gotten away earlier in the day.
The Tour now takes 3 weeks off before resuming with the annual stop at Arkansas' Beaver Lake (April 14-17).
Right Move by Cox
> Day 4: 5, 16-02 (20, 67-06)
Cox's day got off to a tough start, but that situation was eventually rectified.
"I got in there and I hadn't been fishing for more than 5 minutes when I threw up into 5 inches of water and big one bit," he said. "That fish straightened the hook and came off halfway to the boat.
"Then later on I came back to that exact same spot and made the exact same cast, and I caught that same fish. From then on all my casts were perfect and I just kept grinding on them."
It took him until about noon to complete a limit and that 5-pounder was the biggest fish in the bag. The other four came from a laydown, a ditch where a creek entered the pocket, a floating dock in the middle of the pocket and a stretch of riprap.
Clark Wendlandt came up less than half a pound short of his second FLW Tour victory in the span of a year.
He alternated between a jig and a ChatterBait throughout the final day.
"It was just like pond-fishing," he said. "I'd just go around and around and throw at the same stuff."
Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published later this week.
2nd: Wendlandt Okay with It
> Day 4: 5, 14-06 (20, 66-15)
Wendlandt felt like he had a pretty good day considering the gloomy weather conditions.
"I just didn't catch quite enough," he said. "Doing what I was doing, which was going through pockets and a lot of main-lake stuff and more or less sight-fishing or throwing at stuff that the fish bed around, the cloud and the winds made it harder.
"I fished pretty clean today. I made good decisions and fished almost new water, which is what I thought it was going to take to win. I took some risks – I didn't just sit back and go to the same places.
He went through about a dozen keepers, the biggest of which was a 3 3/4-pounder.
3rd: Horton Happy
> Day 4: 5, 17-12 (20, 62-09)
Horton's finish was his best yet at the tour level, surpassing the 4th he logged at the Mississippi River on the 2012 Elite Series.
"I knew anything could happen, but I was trying to be realistic and I felt like if I could finish 3rd, I'd have won the tournament for today," he said. "That was my goal and I had a really good day."
Jamie Horton moved up from 10th to 3rd with his day-best stringer.
He handled six keepers, including four that he pulled off of beds. His biggest fish, which weighed at least 6 1/2 pounds, came off a dock at about noon.
"I'd said I was only going to sight-fish today, but when I went by that dock I told myself it didn't make any sense not to skip up under there. When I did, that big one hit."
4th: Gustafson Feels Good
> Day 4: 5, 14-11 (20, 59-14)
Gustafson had no inclination that he'd end up posting a Top-5 finish, which was his best as a tour pro.
"It feels pretty good," he said. "This one kind of caught me by surprise. I fished a different way every day and I certainly wasn't expecting this. I had a decent practice, but you just never know what's going to transpire."
He caught about 30 keepers on the day and his bag contained four spotted bass and a largemouth. His biggest fish was a 3 1/2-pounder.
"I had a limit really quick and after I had 14 1/2 pounds, I still had most of the day to hunt down a big fish, but I just ended up culling a couple of times for ounces. That was kind of disappointing, but at the end of the day and I'd have to say I did about as well as I could without having a miracle fish in there."
5th: Thrift Confident Again
> Day 4: 5, 13-04 (20, 59-08)
After his victory at the Santee Cooper Southeastern Series derby the week before and this single-digit showing, Thrift's confidence has been restored.
"Yeah, I feel good about it," he said. "Now I feel like I can go out and catch one again."
He boated more than a dozen keepers on the final day and his bag was topped by a 3 3/4-pounder. He didn't lose anything.
"I caught three off the beds, but I just couldn't find any more good ones. I had a limit by 10 o'clock or so and I spent most of the rest of the day looking. I probably saw 30 fish, but only three were worthy of catching."
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 10 limits.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 16-12 (5) -- 20-5 (5) -- 14-3 (5) -- 16-2 (5) -- 67-6 (20) -- $100,000
2. Clark Wendlandt -- Leander, Tx -- 17-9 (5) -- 15-7 (5) -- 19-9 (5) -- 14-6 (5) -- 66-15 (20) -- $30,000
3. Jamie Horton -- Centerville, Al -- 19-12 (5) -- 11-8 (5) -- 13-9 (5) -- 17-12 (5) -- 62-9 (20) -- $25,000
4. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin, On -- 16-9 (5) -- 12-14 (5) -- 15-12 (5) -- 14-11 (5) -- 59-14 (20) -- $20,500
5. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 18-3 (5) -- 12-15 (5) -- 15-2 (5) -- 13-4 (5) -- 59-8 (20) -- $19,000
6. Darrel Robertson -- Jay, Ok -- 20-6 (5) -- 14-7 (5) -- 12-4 (5) -- 12-2 (5) -- 59-3 (20) -- $18,000
7. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 19-4 (5) -- 14-9 (5) -- 12-10 (5) -- 11-7 (5) -- 57-14 (20) -- $17,000
8. Cory Johnston -- Cavan, On -- 13-4 (5) -- 16-15 (5) -- 15-2 (5) -- 11-0 (5) -- 56-5 (20) -- $16,000
9. Peter Thliveros -- Saint Augustine, Fl -- 15-5 (5) -- 16-13 (5) -- 12-12 (5) -- 10-2 (5) -- 55-0 (20) -- $15,000
10. Powell Kemp -- Scotland Neck, NC -- 14-0 (5) -- 15-8 (5) -- 15-13 (5) -- 9-5 (5) -- 54-10 (20) -- $14,000