July 15, 2006 by Jeff Schroeder
ONALASKA, Wis. - After a steamy-hot final weigh-in with temperatures soaring over a hundred degrees in Onalaska, pro Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., emerged from the pressure-cooker of a tie competition and won the Stren Series Midwest Division event on the Mississippi River.
The veteran from Paducah, Ky., notched the fifth pro-level tournament victory of his FLW Outdoors career, including his third Stren Series win, and took home $10,000 plus a new Ranger boat yet again.
But he had to work for it. Not only did temperatures reach near-record highs on the river Saturday, Morehead had to endure the agony of dealing with a tie - yes, a tie - when all the fish had been counted and weighed. Morehead's winning two-day weight was 29 pounds, 10 ounces. Friday's leader, Stacey King, who weighed in last on Saturday, tallied up exactly the same amount.
Morehead, however, won the tiebreaker, which is decided by heaviest opening-round weight. Morehead had 29 pounds, 15 ounces the first two days and King had 27-15.
"Can you believe that?" Morehead said. "A win's a win's a win, you know?"
The pro winner - who also helped his co-angler partner Saturday, Mark Myers, win his second Stren event in less than a year - changed his strategy in the final round to land his winning five-bass limits, which weighed in at 15 pounds Friday and 14-10 Saturday.
"I had been going down to Pool 9 and throwing a heavy Mann's frog, but that didn't really work out today," Morehead said. "Today, I was just flipping a 4-inch black-and-red-flake tube on Pool 8, and we just had a great day. I culled so many times today that my hands are so sore and raw that I'd actually like a couple of days off to rest."
Morehead eschewed any notion of catching smallmouth bass, instead focusing exclusively on largemouths in shallow water. He had been mining the productive waters downriver in Pool 9 the first three days but found a new hot spot when he locked back up to Pool 8 Friday afternoon.
"My (Friday) partner, (Bob Bott), caught like four nice fish there in seconds, and I'm like, `I'm starting here tomorrow,'" Morehead said. "It's just a place where fish are coming out of a backwater area. They're just postspawn, staging fish where there's a current with a lot of rock, wood and structure."
At one point, fishing the tube, Morehead said he pulled four good fish off the same laydown. He estimated that he caught about 40 largemouth bass on the final day.
After all was weighed and checks handed out, Morehead's pal and fellow pro finalist from Paducah, Terry Bolton, came up and started calling him "50-50" - a reference to Morehead's track record in tournament ties. Unbelievably, this was not Morehead's first tie at the top to end a Stren tournament. In 2004, he lost a tiebreaker to Scott Rook in Central Division competition at Louisiana's Red River and finished second - an agonizing outcome considering the circumstances.
"When I lost that tiebreaker at the Red River, I went back to my boat and saw that I had three shad laying in my livewell," he explained, noting how they would have easily put him over the top if his fish hadn't spit them up. "I've never gotten over it, either, but this certainly helps ease the pain."
King just happy to be here
King, who led Morehead by 7 ounces Friday, obviously caught 7 ounces fewer than Morehead Saturday - a limit worth 14-3 - and finished second, collecting $10,000.
"I fished hard and enjoyed every minute of it. I was just fortunate to come in here and make a top 10 at a place I've never fished before," the veteran out of Reeds Spring, Mo., said. "Second's not too bad; I'm not unhappy with that at all."
Troy Eakins of Nixa, Mo., caught 13 pounds, 9 ounces, tallied a final weight of 27-14 and finished third for the pros. He earned $9,000.
"I caught them on a black Eakins jig," he said. "Most of my fish came out of laydowns."
Local Heilman breaks down, still takes fourth
Robert Heilman, a local pro from across the river at Dakota, Minn., endured a boat breakdown and subsequently short day of fishing but still managed to catch a 13-pound, 4-ounce limit Saturday. He finished in fourth place with a final weight of 27-1 and collected $8,000.
"We got about a three-hour late start," Heilman said. "We borrowed a boat for the second half of the day."
Pro Chris Cox, who finished third here last year, posted more good numbers and closed out this week's tournament on the river in fifth place. He caught a limit weighing 12 pounds, 3 ounces Saturday, totaled 25-14 for the finals and collected $7,500.
"What I did mostly was fish the deeper sloughs and offshore wood with a blue Strike King tube," he said.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers at the Mississippi River:
6th: John Bomkamp of Muscoda, Wis., 25-13, $6,500
7th: Douglas Stanton of Winona, Minn., 25-4, $5,500
8th: William Davis of Russellville, Ala., 24-12, $5,000
9th: Jim Jones of Big Bend, Wis., 24-9, $4,500
10th: Rick Byrnes of Tamaroa, Ill., 24-9, $4,000
Each of the pro finalists caught limits both days of the opening round.
The next Stren Series event is a Northeast Division contest at Lake Erie near Cleveland July 19-22.
The next Midwest Division event is scheduled for the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, Iowa, Aug. 9-12.