Breaking through on the Big O

Pro winner Randall Tharp holds up part of his 23-pound, 2-ounce final-day stringer.

CLEWISTON, Fla. - In his brief time as a professional bass fisherman, Randall Tharp has achieved considerable success - numerous Triple-A wins, top-10 finishes and over a half million dollars in career earnings. But up until today, he'd never won the big one - falling just short last year at both Okeechobee and at the Forrest Wood Cup. This week he was able to accomplish two of his biggest goals simultaneously - winning a Walmart FLW Tour event and winning a major tournament on the Big O. Tharp has been performing at such a high level lately his victory is hardly a surprise. Even he knew it. Randall Tharp celebrates after learning he won the 2012 FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee.After finishing second to friend Brandon McMillan last year, Tharp prophetically said on stage, "I will get my win down here; there is no doubt I will." Tharp proved to be a man of his word. Coming in to this event, he had six consecutive top-10 finishes on Okeechobee spanning FLW and BASS competition. The EverStart pro and wife his Sara travel to the lake every winter to shoot television shows, enter a few tournaments and sample some of the best bass fishing southern Florida has to offer. It's become almost a second home. This year, they headed south on Nov. 15 and with his free time, Tharp learned as much as he could about every single mat on the lake. Then he went to work - catching giant stringers the first two days and then grinding it out as the blustery cold front arrived. He had several different areas, all located from the Monkey Box to Horse Island/Dyess Ditch - areas Tharp believes simply hold the biggest bass on the lake. Each day he concentrated on one technique - flipping, and the bait he used might surprise some people. Instead of the more popular brand-name baits, Tharp flipped a Bitter's Best Value BFM (Bigger, Fatter, Muskrat), a beaver-style bait in Black Blue Glitter color. The retail price on these BFMs? A whopping $5 for two packs of 10. Tharp would rig the bait on either a 1 1/2 or a 2-ounce black tungsten weight depending on the wind and how compact the mats were. He would tie the BFM to 70-pound Diawa She shows off for the camera. Samurai braid and flip with a 7-foot, 11-inch Halo Twilight Series rod. "I tried to make something else work in the three days of practice, but it never happened," said the EverStart pro. "So going into the tournament I knew I was going to flip the thickest, nastiest mats. But I didn't know what areas were going to be the real deal. The whole key to me winning was knowing when to go to the good places. Once the fish started biting, I'd run to those big-fish areas. Waiting to go to those key places was painful. But if I would have gone there earlier, I would have screwed them up." Tharp described the action in some of these better areas as a game of chess. "I know where all the best stretches of mat are. From there it was just determining what was and what wasn't getting fished and managing them accordingly. The key area I used today and on day two really had smaller, isolated mats. I made good moves for four days." To cement his dominating week, Tharp sacked 23 pounds, 2 ounces on a day when only four of the top 10 pros caught a limit. His total weight of 101 pounds, 12 ounces gave him back-to-back Okeechobee tournaments over the century mark and the new FLW Tour record for margin of victory (23-9). Tharp EverStart pro Randall Tharp gets his long-coveted win on Lake Okeechobee.earned $125,000. "I've been coming down here now for six years and I still can't get enough of it. My first bass I ever caught was on this lake. I've said many times if I could win one tournament in my career it would be here. So now I've got that out of the way and I can set my sights on other places. But this place has always been No. 1 for me." The only thing Tharp didn't do this week was break McMillan's total weight record. "I want to dedicate this win to Jimmy and the McMillan family," Tharp said. "They've been through a lot. Jimmy was probably the best fisherman to ever fish this lake and ever will fish it and his sons are following in his footsteps and he's proud of them. I guarantee it." Cox hangs on to second John Cox of Debary, Fla., never threatened Tharp Sunday with a small limit weighing only 8 pounds, 6 ounces. But he was able to tap into a unique postspawn pattern right outside the off-limits area, just past Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina. After takeoff the first day, Cox faked engine problems as the field drove past him so as not to tip off his location. Despite catching a small limit Sunday, John Cox retained his second-place position on the leaderboard, earning $35,000.Catching 25-pound-plus sacks the first two days, everything was going according to plan until the wind shifted to the north. "Today I decided to go north and flip mats in an area that was nice and calm," said Cox, who fished in the Taylor Creek area on day four. "It's an area I was saving. I check it every year when I come to Okeechobee. It always looks good, but it never produced in practice until this year." The mats really didn't produce much as Cox caught only a few keepers flipping. Most of his catch randomly came from throwing a small square-bill crankbait around the "V" in the lock area. Each of the past three days, Cox started his morning with a Rattle Head spinnerbait. Then he eventually switched to flipping a Rattle Head football-head jig tipped with a Reactions Innovations Beaver. Early in the week pitching the jig to pencil reeds and then shaking the rod proved especially effective. For finishing in second place with a total weight of 78 pounds, 3 ounces, he earned $35,000. "Randall really deserves this and I'm pretty darn happy with second. It was definitely worth it to go up north today - that kept me where I am. My other area was just trashed by the wind." York rises to third Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the windy weather during the final round was Monroe, Ga., pro Jeremy York, who caught a 13-pound, 5-ounce stringer Sunday from Uncle Joe's Cut. York, who took 12th last year on Okeechobee, finished this year's event third with a total weight of 74 pounds, 2 York misses one and re-rigs his bait while wondering if it was a big one.ounces, earning $30,000. "The fish down in southern Florida are just so much different," he said. "I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I understand what they're thinking and how they behave." York spent the entire week in Uncle Joe's, flipping a 4-inch Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog along a 5-mile stretch of canal. He made approximately a 1 1/2 passes per day, methodically picking apart gator grass in 2 or 3 feet of water. "They were just not eating it as good today," York said. "It was more of a reaction bite, so they wouldn't get it as deep or hold onto it as long. I lost a 3-pounder right away this morning and two 5-pounders in the last hour of the day." York said execution when fishing gator grass is extremely difficult. "That gator grass was tough stuff. It's not like hydrilla or hyacinth; this stuff was connected. There are times when I couldn't get a 12-incher out of there." Ferguson climbs to fourth Art Ferguson III caught the second-heaviest stringer of the day and climbed from ninth to finish the tournament in fourth place. His day-four stringer weighed 18 pounds, 4 ounces, pushing his total Fourth-place pro Art Ferguson III shows off his kicker bass from day four on Lake Okeechobee.weight to 71 pounds, 5 ounces - earning $25,000. During the early part of the week, Ferguson capitalized on a school of bass he found blowing up shiners in practice. They stayed put and the St. Clair Shores, Mich., triggered them by making long casts and slowly reeling in plastic baits such as 10-inch worms, lizards and Senkos. After day two, he realized he pretty much milked the schooling area for all it was worth. So he made conscious decision to fish conservatively on day three so he would make the top-10 cutoff. "Craig Powers told me a few years ago that sometimes you have to make business decisions out there," said Ferguson, who used to guide on the Big O. "So that's what I did. I picked up a Senko with a split shot and made sure I got my limit." After squeaking in with only 6 pounds, Ferguson set the bar higher the final day knowing he couldn't do any worse than 10th. "When the wind blows like it did today on Okeechobee, you only have a few choices - one of which is a rim canal. So I picked up a Strike King Series 5 crankbait and I had a limit by 8:50 this morning." Ferguson's schooling fish were located near the Indian Prairie Canal and his crankbait area was the main rim ditch near Uncle Joe's Cut. McMillan fifth Six weeks after the tragic murder of his father Jimmy, the 28-year-old McMillan was able to Brandon McMillan looking for a good bite. successfully focus on fishing for a few days. He started off the week strong - catching a giant 33-pound stringer. But then the bite got tougher and McMillan thinks he got too impatient. "I just wanted to come in and compete," said the 2011 Okeechobee champion. "It's been a challenge the last month or so to think about fishing. But it's been good. I'm happy with what I did this week. The wind and weather just really hurt me." If he couldn't repeat, he was hoping Tharp would claim his first win. "He works harder than anyone out here, so he deserves it. I gave it all I have, but he beat me fair and square. That Tharp, he's a tough one to shake." Like Tharp, McMillan flipped mats in the North Shore and Monkey Box areas. He too used a 1 1/2-ounce weight, although he preferred a Gambler creature bait called Why Not. The local Clewiston, Fla., resident caught two bass worth 3 pounds, 4 ounces Sunday - by far his lightest sack of the week. McMillan's four-day cumulative weight registered 64 pounds, 6 ounces, good enough for fifth place and $20,000. Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee: 6th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 61-12, $17,000 7th: Roland Martin of Naples, Fla., 59-6, $16,000 8th: Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., 56-3, $15,000 9th: Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., 55-8, $14,000 10th: Nick Gainey of Charleston, S.C., 54-5, $13,000 The next FLW Tour event is slated for Lake Hartwell in Anderson, S.C., March 8-11, the first of six Majors.

Tags: headline-story 

/news/2015-06-29-dobson-sticks-with-jerkbait-for-win

Dobson Sticks With Jerkbait for Win

Scott Dobson of Clarkston, Michigan, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 21 pounds, 6 ounces Saturday to win the first Walmart Bass Fishing League Michigan Division tournament of 2015 on Lake St. Clair. For his victory, Dobson earned $5,804. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-29-johnston-targets-beds-for-big-limit

Johnston Targets Beds for Big Limit

Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ontario, Canada, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 25 pounds, 13 ounces Saturday to win the second Walmart Bass Fishing League Northeast Division tournament of 2015 on 1000 Islands. For his victory, Johnston earned $5,632. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-29-football-jig-helps-bates-net-title

Football Jig Helps Bates Net Title

Matthew Bates of Greenville, Mississippi, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 20 pounds even Saturday to win the fourth Walmart Bass Fishing League Mississippi Division tournament of 2015 on Lake Ferguson. For his victory, Bates earned $3,963. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-29-hipsher-hops-ledges-for-victory

Hipsher Hops Ledges for Victory

Craig Hipsher of Benton, Kentucky, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 22 pounds, 8 ounces Saturday to win the fourth Walmart Bass Fishing League LBL Division tournament of 2015 on Kentucky and Barkley lakes. For his victory, Hipsher earned $4,385. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-29-lauer-wins-on-ohio-river

Lauer Wins on Ohio River

David Lauer of McConnelsville, Ohio, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 12 pounds, 5 ounces Saturday to win the second Walmart Bass Fishing League Buckeye Division tournament of 2015 on the Ohio River. For his victory, Lauer earned $6,289. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-29-creature-bait-does-it-for-berhorst

Creature Bait Does it for Berhorst

Dennis Berhorst of Holts Summit, Missouri, weighed a five-bass limit totaling 16 pounds, 12 ounces Saturday to win the fourth Walmart Bass Fishing League Ozark Division tournament of 2015 on Lake Truman. For his victory, Berhorst earned $5,963. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-28-wendlandt-back-at-the-top

Wendlandt Back at the Top

It’s been 14 seasons since Clark Wendlandt last stood on a Walmart FLW Tour stage and hoisted a tournament championship trophy. Since that time, the Texas pro has experienced ups and downs, including an Angler of the Year title (his third) in 2009 and a major medical issue that sidelined him for most of the 2014 season. All that’s in the past now, however, and Wendlandt is right back where he belongs in the world of bass fishing – in first place after the final day on the Potomac River in the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-28-top-10-patterns-from-the-potomac-river

Top 10 Patterns from the Potomac River

Clark Wendlandt didn’t pull off any secret techniques to win the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. He simply found an area with the right quality of bass to win and managed it perfectly despite facing a medley of Mother Nature’s toughest challenges. The rest of the top 10 stuck with the standard Potomac targets too, namely grass, docks and wood cover. The only underlying trend of the top 10 is that they found areas to themselves. Here’s how the rest of the top 10 got it done at the 2015 Tour finale. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-28-potomac-river-day-4-coverage

Potomac River Day 4 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on the Potomac River presented by Ranger Boats. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-27-wendlandt-receives-helping-hand

Wendlandt Receives Helping Hand

Not to discredit Clark Wendlandt’s skills as a bass fisherman, but if it wasn’t for an extreme act of kindness on the part of fellow competitor Shin Fukae, Wendlandt wouldn’t be where he is this evening – leading through three days of competition at the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-27-top-5-patterns-from-potomac-river-day-3

Top 5 Patterns from Potomac River Day 3

Pouring rain, gusting winds, a remarkable act of kindness, an Angler of the Year title on the line – day three of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River certainly was not boring. To say the top 20 anglers were waterlogged after Saturday would be any understatement, but as nasty as the weather was, it wasn’t the biggest story of the day. Shinichi Fukae generously helped Clark Wendlandt retain his lead, while Scott Martin sealed the deal on his first AOY title. Meanwhile, a number of other anglers scrambled to adjust with what the weather and the Potomac are throwing at them. Here’s how the rest of the top five caught their fish today. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-27-potomac-river-day-3-coverage

Potomac River Day 3 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on the Potomac River presented by Ranger Boats. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-26-wendlandt-in-familiar-territory

Wendlandt in Familiar Territory

A lot of flip-flopping took place on the second day of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. When the scale closed, it was three-time Tour Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt who found himself on top with a two-day total of 32 pounds, 10 ounces. Wendlandt caught 17-13 today – the day’s second-heaviest limit – and leads Potomac local Bryan Schmitt by 1-12 going into the weekend. Wendlandt missed part of last season after suffering a heart attack but has rebounded with good success this season. He has won three times on Tour but hasn’t finished in first place since Beaver Lake in 2001. Details to come on the patterns of the top five. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-26-potomac-river-day-2-coverage

Potomac River Day 2 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Chickamauga presented by Ranger Boats. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-25-jersey-boy-leads-the-pack

Jersey Boy Leads the Pack

Talk about a traffic jam. And, no, we’re not talking about the streets around the Washington, D.C. area. We’re talking about the standings at the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. Adrian “Jersey Boy” Avena leads the way with a 16-pound, 12-ounce limit, but a total of 41 pros weighed in at least 12 pounds. Many pros lamented the tough bite today, but the results say otherwise as 114 limits were brought to the scale on the pro side. Troy Morrow trails Avena by just 1-06, and 1 ounce behind Morrow is one of the most successful tidewater bass anglers of all time, Bryan Schmitt. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-25-top-5-patterns-from-potomac-river-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Potomac River Day 1

It might seem impossible for 405 miles of water to fish small, but space was hard to come by on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. The creeks near takeoff at Smallwood State Park have seen as much traffic as a Washington, D.C. highway at rush hour. On the flip side, anglers who were able to develop patterns that got them away from the crowds, such as day-one leader Adrian Avena, have been able to reap the benefits of what has been a stingy fishery. Here’s how the rest of the pros in the top five caught their fish today. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-25-aoy-shake-up-martin-makes-his-move

AOY Shake-Up: Martin Makes His Move

Scott Martin has been talking about winning the Angler of the Year title since before the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour season started. It’s on his mind and for good reason: Angler of the Year is the only major FLW title he hasn’t won in what Martin has built into one of the most decorated professional fishing careers in FLW Tour history. Today, on the first day of competition at the Tour finale on the Potomac River, Martin has unofficially moved into the lead in the AOY race for the first time all season. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-25-potomac-river-day-1-coverage

Potomac River Day 1 Coverage

Daily updates from the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Chickamauga presented by Ranger Boats. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-20-richardson-wins-all-american

Richardson Wins All-American

Curtis Richardson has a way of surprising people – even himself. The Ontario angler had all but written himself off in the championship round of the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American, thinking his limit of five bass wouldn’t hold up for long with the likes of Jeremy Lawyer and Bill Schroeder breathing down his neck. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-20-all-american-midday-update-day-3

All-American Midday Update Day 3

Big changes might be coming in the standings of the Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American on Kentucky Lake, as some of the top 10 leaders struggled this morning to catch limits. Canadian angler Curtis Richardson, who currently is leading, had only one 3-pound keeper by midmorning. And second-place boater Billy Schroeder, who had fished just below the Paris Landing Bridge for the first two days, finally bailed out from there after catching four keepers this morning. READ MORE »