March 5, 2010 by Brett Carlson
BRANSON, Mo. - Despite being only 33, Brent Ehrler is wise beyond his years. This week at the FLW Tour opener on Table Rock Lake, Ehrler has located a prespawn staging area that has winning potential. And he knows it too. So he's carefully managed it all week to ensure he heads back to California with yet another six-figure payday.
So far the plan has worked brilliantly. After catching 16-6 and 22-2 on days one and two, Ehrler calmly corralled his third limit of the tournament - this one going 14-6. He started the day with an 8-pound lead and ended it with a 14-pound lead. If he wanted to, Ehrler could sleep the whole day tomorrow and possibly still take home the title.
The amazing thing is that the National Guard pro's best day of practice consisted of only two keepers. And only one of them came from this magic area up the White River.
"I didn't really know what I had until I fished it hard the first day," Ehrler explained.
Although this spot has been unbelievable, the pro leader has actually culled one fish from a different area each day. That trend ended today however. As for tomorrow, Ehrler is looking for a strong start that will essentially seal the deal.
"I've never been in this situation before. I tell you what I'm still nervous though. If I could just catch a couple early that would help take the pressure off."
With only five boats fishing tomorrow, Ehrler was willing to provide details about this classic prespawn area.
"It's a point that has a soft ledge and below it there is some timber. Usually, I'm not casting into the timber; I cast above it on the ledge. I think the fish come up there in the morning to feed."
Today Ehrler had his limit at 9 a.m. But he didn't get another bite until noon. He's beginning to believe that after the first few hours of daylight, the fish retreat back into the timber. That's where he caught his only upgrade fish.
"I think they're staging in there and that's all there is to it. In another two weeks, they will be up on the bank."
Rising to second place was Bismarck, Ark., pro Ron Shuffield. Shuffield is about the only pro who has found success in the James River, a popular creek arm in 2009. Today, he managed a 14-pound, 4-ounce limit to push his total to 38 pounds, 15 ounces.
Shuffield actually began his tournament fishing in water 35 to 45 feet deep. He caught three right away Wednesday morning and then never got another bite. Yesterday he started deep and then retreated to the mid-depths of the James. He upgraded there and then today decided to fish it exclusively today.
"I'm fishing just about every piece of structure I can find in 15 to 35 feet," he said. "I really thought they would be shallower today but it didn't happen. Clearly, the fish have pulled off and suspended and where I'm at it's a mix of largemouths, smallmouths and spots."
Shuffield said he caught every one of his fish on a jerkbait.
"The issue is not brand or color. I've used a Spro, a Lucky Craft and a Megabass. The issue is being around a fish that wants to bite."
With that in mind, Shuffield is doing more running than most of the four other finalists.
"I'm fishing everything from chunk-rock banks to bluff banks to cedar trees to brush. Just not points."
Rising one place to third was Shelby, N.C., pro Bryan Thrift. After sacking 14-13 and 14-3, Thrift managed four keepers today from the same area that weighed 9 pounds, 14 ounces. He had a fifth keeper hooked up but lost it in the trees. His total weight is now 38-14 with one day remaining.
"I'm fishing a deep (14 to 25 feet) point with timber," said Thrift, who is also up the White River. "But on this lake there's so much timber. The good ones that I've found have a sharp drop and a rock vein that runs through it. The vein is almost like a strip of rock."
Thrift also revealed the specific baits he's using.
"I'm using a 3/8-ounce Damiki Mamba jig with a craw trailer. If the wind blows I'll upgrade to a 1/2-ounce jig, but I'd rather use the 3/8-ounce."
However, his fourth and final keeper came on a Damiki DC200 crankbait.
Thrift has entertained the idea of leaving his best area. He thinks it's basically depleted, but he doesn't know where else to go.
"I don't think I can bring myself to leave because everywhere else I haven't caught squat."
Six ounces behind Thrift is day-one leader Greg Pugh. Similar to yesterday, Pugh managed four bass that weighed 9 pounds, 14 ounces - bringing his total weight to 38 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I'm still having difficulty turning them out of the trees," said the Cullman, Ala., native. "And I'm using 20-pound fluorocarbon and a big 7-11 Fenwick flipping stick."
Whereas most of the other pros acquired their weight early in the day, Pugh had better luck late.
"The sun broke through at noon and the bite improved. The sun brings them into the trees in my area."
Instead of fishing cedar trees, Pugh is targeting oak trees. His best spot is actually four overlapping oaks that have intertwined limbs. In those trees, Pugh is working a 5/8-ounce Lunker Lures jig and Zoom Black Super Chunk Junior trailer.
"If I lose this tournament, it's not because I didn't find the fish."
Wurm falls to fifth
After demonstrating remarkable consistency each of the first two days, pro Mike Wurm fell back a bit today and caught only three bass for 7 pounds, 9 ounces. With one day remaining, his total weight stands at 37 pounds, 12 ounces.
"I only had three keeper bites today," said Wurm, who also caught five short fish. "I think they started moving - probably up the creek. I could have depleted the area too."
Wurm is dragging a small Eakins' jig with a Zoom Critter Craw on the bottom of the White River in a painfully slow fashion. His area is large and within it he has four different points and banks he focuses on. One of his keys this week has been using 10-pound braid with a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. It has helped him pull fish out of the timber and has improved his hook-set ratio.
Day four of the FLW Tour event on Table Rock Lake will begin Saturday at 7 a.m. at the Table Rock State Park Marina, located at 380 State Park Marina Road in Branson, Mo.