Last week, we were greeted by one of the biggest things to happen in pro fishing each year: the Forrest Wood Cup. Without question, this is one event in which the outcome changes a fisherman’s life forever.
In this event, one of three things is certain to happen: the winner will be a young kid who will never be the same, a tournament veteran solidifying his career or an old-school gun slinger able to finally place the FWC notch on the handle of his six-shooter. The 2013 Cup was no exception, with all three outcomes alive heading into day 4.
What we saw, of course, was a dominating performance at the moment of truth by one of the best tournament anglers of the last 5 years.
Randall Tharp was an intimidating figure the moment he stepped into professional fishing. A guy who boat flips 8-pounders just makes that impression. Even his name sounds tough. And, since the beginning of his career, Tharp has been fishing to win, and doing so nearly everywhere he went.
Tharp’s dominance hasn’t been limited to FLW, although that’s his bread and butter. He won back-to-back Bassmaster Opens in 2008, nearly won several others, and has tasted the intoxicating flavor of the Classic.
In his post-win interview he quickly pointed out that the Classic remains on his mind. It’s becoming more apparent that the big sticks of pro fishing are feeling the need to “fish both sides."
So Tharp beats Jacob Wheeler, who was trying to make fairytale history by going back to back at an age when most kids are debating their choices for late-night pizza. Bryan Thrift stays steady and strong, continuing to be viewed by his peers as one of the best, if not the best, to play at the FLW table. And then there’s the story of Larry Nixon.
To see Nixon win would have been epic; the biggest thing to ever happen in pro bass fishing. Nixon won the Bassmaster Classic in 1983. A championship title on the FLW Tour 30 years later would be, in my opinion, one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of professional sports. To think how much the sport has changed in those 30 years, and then realize that one man stood atop the mountain despite tens of thousands of others trying, is nothing short of mystical.
I loved Nixon’s take on hanging it all up: retirement hasn’t entered his mind. But I think you can see it in his eyes. I saw it when he beat me last year in Detroit. You hear it when he thanks all of his friends, family and sponsors for their support through his career. Watching the near miss left everyone a little teary-eyed, as fans wondered if this would be Nixon’s last chance.
But I’m sure Nixon will be back to challenge again, somewhere in one of bass fishing’s biggest arenas. A guy doesn’t just win four Mega-Bucks eventsby accident. He, like his veteran peers, seems to show up when there’s a bunch of money on the table. And FLW has never been afraid of giving out money.
We saw another young kid start out on a new life with the crowning of the co-angler champion. Theo Corcoran is an energetic BassFan whom I’ve shared a few conversations with. It will be interesting to see which direction he’ll take. If nothing else, the money earned this year should put him on a path to purse a career in fishing, if he so desires. He’s living proof that an unassuming, open mind is often the key to co-angler success.
Truthfully, I had forgotten FLW included co-anglers in their crowning event. At first, it seemed absurd. As I began to ponder the co-angler factor in a “World Championship," I kept envisioning Tharp turning the boat around to get his partner’s lure off a stump. It just seemed so out of place.
However when I considered the overall message FLW is promoting, things suddenly became clear. I think many, myself included, have been one-sided when discussing the direction that is best for professional fishing. Perhaps “rock star” status isn’t the best direction for the athletes after all. We’ll discuss the co-angler factor in pro bass in the very near future.
For now, we let Tharp bask in the glory, his wife confessing that Randall’s always been her rock star. His victory lap was comical, with no regard for the major delay he put on the weigh-in proceedings. He had won, and it was obvious he intended to bask in the glory, and rightfully so.
Forrest Wood, viewed by many as one of the most influential people in professional bass fishing history, was there to present his trophy. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, he and his namesake FLW organization changed another man's life, forever.
During the event, FLW announced it’s anticipated 2014 schedule. At the conclusion of next year, another champion will be crowned at Lake Murray. Whoever it is, their life will never be the same.
For now, I’ll get back to my quest to become a better heavy-cover fisherman. Just last week, a few days before the Cup kicked off, I had plowed into the thickest mats I could find, flipping and frogging up a few well-missed largemouth here in the land of bronzebacks. And the whole time, in the back of mind, I pretended to be Randall Tharp.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)