March 3, 2010 by Brett Carlson
BRANSON, Mo. - Compared to last year's Table Rock qualifier, the fishing was noticeably more difficult on day one of the 2010 FLW Tour event. But a small group of anglers has learned to adjust to the clear, cold water. And what they've found are some fat, healthy largemouth bass.
To be sure, this isn't the same Table Rock Lake the FLW Tour saw last season. Burning down the bank and sorting through keepers is no longer the name of the game. Because of a full moon, the bass are feeding at night. That means every minute after takeoff is absolutely crucial as the bite deteriorates throughout the day. Furthermore, the cold weather has caused a shad kill - meaning there is readily available food everywhere.
At the top of the hill is pro Greg Pugh. Known more for his sight-fishing prowess and his ability on grass lakes, Pugh is on what looks to be a remarkable pattern. The pro leader had a flurry of big fish this morning. He caught two, one of which weighed over 6 pounds; his partner caught a 5-13; and then he lost another giant. Pugh finished the day with 18 pounds, 11 ounces.
The Cullman, Ala., pro was incredibly reticent after weigh-in, which is completely understandable. All he would say was that he was fishing in thick trees and that his water was significantly more stained than the main lake.
"This tournament is going to be so tough I've decided to be tight-lipped for a few days," Pugh explained. "I will say I'm targeting largemouths and that I've got a couple things that are working. A big component of my success is looking at my graph. This is a pattern that works back home on Smith Lake."
Pugh also said he's fishing a good distance from Table Rock State Park Marina, the tournament's takeoff location. In fact, it took him over an hour to reach his primary area this morning.
"I think the sunshine the next few days is just going to keep making it better. I've been here twice before, and this lake kind of kicked me a bit. I sure want some revenge."
In second place is Hot Springs, Ark., pro Mike Wurm, who caught 16 pounds, 14 ounces. Wurm has a track record of doing well in cold-weather events and, not surprisingly, caught most of his fish out deep.
"I had a really nice limit by about 10:30 this morning, and then I culled a couple times," he said. "The bite was much better early."
Wurm's limit consisted of four largemouths and one spotted bass. All of them came from one general area that has several stretches of bank, including points.
"I'm catching these fish in about 20 to 25 feet of water. And every one of them has been right on the bottom. I was expecting to catch about 12 to 14 pounds; they bit pretty well for me today."
In third place is Brent Ehrler, perhaps the hottest angler in the world not named Kevin Van Dam. Fresh off a victory at the FLW Series event on Lake Shasta, Ehrler is wasting no time getting back in position for another huge win. Despite a poor practice, the National Guard pro sacked an impressive 16-pound, 6-ounce limit Wednesday.
"My best day of practice was two (keeper fish)," said Ehrler, the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup champion. "This morning I ran a long ways up the river and got a limit early on reaction baits. I identified one good area, and then I spent the rest of the day looking for similar areas."
All of Ehrler's weigh fish were largemouths, and four of them came from his first spot. Last year he took sixth on Table Rock and basically ran out of steam the last two days. By looking for similar areas this year, he's hoping to find a pattern that will go the distance. But that is easier said than done.
"This year is a lot different than last year. I fished for hours during practice and even today without a bite."
With only four bass, Conover, N.C., pro Brian Travis sits in fourth place with 16 pounds, 4 ounces. Fishing fans may remember Travis was the 2009 TBF Living the Dream angler.
"With the water being cold, jerkbaits and football jigs are the deal," said Travis, who finished 15th on Table Rock last year. "I had only five bites in three days of practice. But I got five bites today and only lost one of them."
Three of those fish were largemouths, the other a chunky spot. His two biggest bass were largemouths and were caught on back-to-back casts.
"The ones I'm catching are at about the same depths as last year. I was actually pretty surprised by how shallow they were. Tomorrow and the next day it's liable to turn on."
Although Travis is fishing the same 10- to 20-foot range, he's trying new areas. Last year he was in the James River, and this year he's staying close and fishing the lower half of the lake.
"I'm afraid the places I caught them today won't replenish."
Joe Thomas, the host of the popular TV show Ultimate Match Fishing, is in fifth place with 15 pounds, 7 ounces. Thomas was thrilled with his opening-day performance, but knows staying consistent on Table Rock is extremely difficult.
"I was thinking 10 pounds a day for three days would be pretty good, so I was blessed," said Thomas. "I caught six keepers and three shorts. Four of the fish I weighed were largemouths, and the other was a spot."
Thomas, too, said he's working a typical prespawn pattern in the 10- to 20-foot range.
"I'm using a couple different baits, and you've got to cover a lot of water to get a bite. It's not like you can go to a specific area and be sure you're going to catch them. I'm looking forward to the next few days, but I'm not overly confident. I just know what this lake can do to you."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake after day one:
6th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., five bass, 14-13
7th: David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., five bass, 14-12
8th: Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., four bass, 14-10
9th: Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., five bass, 14-7
10th: Adam Wagner of Cookeville, Tenn., five bass, 12-10
Melton whacks 13-9 for co-angler lead
Up until today, Shane Melton had never led an FLW Outdoors bass tournament. That all changed when he drew Thrift, one of the most promising young pros in the game. Immediately after arriving at their primary area, the two were catching Table Rock bass hand over fist.
"It was definitely an early-morning bite," said Melton, the Greentown, Ind., native. "We were both able to get a limit within two and a half hours. Compared to the dock talk we heard, it was absolutely phenomenal. He stuck a big one right off the bat, and that seemed to ignite the whole school."
Melton's first three fish were spotted bass that measured just short of the 15-inch minimum length requirement. From there, he caught nothing but largemouths and finished the day with five keepers weighing 13 pounds, 9 ounces. Melton's limit was the only one recorded in the entire Co-angler Division. Most of those fish came from approximately 20 feet of water.
"This is my first time leading, and it's a little nerve-wracking."
Tomorrow Melton will be paired with pro Mark Rose and will likely be fishing deep again.
Co-angler Darrell Mitchell of Taneyville, Mo., caught four bass weighing 12 pounds, 10 ounces to assume second place after the first day of competition. All four of his keepers were largemouth bass.
"I went out Saturday to practice and didn't get a bite," said Mitchell. "But I knew the grub works in the cold water."
Mitchell used the grub as a trailer for a 3/8-ounce PJ's football-head jig.
"I think I just had the right bait."
Rest of the best
Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala., is in third place with three bass weighing 8 pounds, 14 ounces. Lee is one of the most accomplished co-anglers in the game.
Teddy Bradley of Mishawaka, Ind., is tied for fourth place with Sean Stepp of Stafford, Va. Each angler weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces. Bradley's weight came off four fish, while Stepp caught two nice ones.
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers at the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake after day one:
6th: Chad Parks of Olive Branch, Miss., four bass, 8-12
7th: Eugene Robinett of Springfield, Mo., three bass, 8-2
8th: Mike Jones of Lebanon, Mo., three bass, 7-7
8th: Mike Simonds of Watertown, Wis., two bass, 7-7
10th: Jerry Thompson of Peoria, Ariz., four bass, 7-5
Day two of the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake will begin Thursday at 7 a.m. at the Table Rock State Park Marina, located at 380 State Park Marina Road in Branson, Mo.