March 10, 2012 by Gary Mortenson
ANDERSON, S.C. - Throughout the entire tournament, Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wisc., was happy to keep flying under the radar. After today, however, that is no longer possible. Using a whopping day-three catch of 21 pounds, 10 ounces - by far the largest sack recorded in the tournament to date - Monsoor now finds himself with the overall lead and a bull's-eye squarely on his back with only one day of competition remaining.
Monsoor, who entered Saturday's competition in eighth place overall and exactly 4 pounds out of the lead, shot up the leaderboard in dramatic fashion after posting his three-day catch of 54 pounds, 9 ounces.
But while Monsoor was happy with his performance in today's competition, he said he was far from confident heading into Sunday's finals.
"I had an unbelievable day," said Monsoor. "But honestly, I'm just fishing. It's really a crapshoot for me out there. My strategy is just to go out there and look for one fish at a time. Today I just got lucky. I really don't have any pattern. I'm just looking, looking, looking ... hoping to get bit. And that's a sad way to fish. It really is."
After Monsoor dumped his mammoth sack onto the scales, there were plenty of other competitors who were probably saddened as well. Not to mention the fish ...
"I was just fishing banks, looking for stones," said Monsoor. "So far, the fish are really liking my jig."
One of the best anglers in the upper Midwest, Monsoor is famous for his refined technique of "swimming a jig." And, not surprisingly, that's what he used today as his entire catch came on his namesake prototype - the Tom Monsoor Swimming Jig.
"That's what I pretty much used all day," he said. "Like I said, I got lucky. I caught three 4-pounders and a nice kicker on that bait. I still can't believe it. But I don't have a pattern like (second-place finalist) Brent Ehrler. He has been pretty consistent all week and he'll be tough to beat. Tomorrow I'm just going to go out there, do the same thing and hopefully get lucky again. But I'm having a good time so far."
Ehrler maintains runner-up status
For the second day in a row, Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., finds himself in second place overall. And that's just the way he likes it. While Ehrler has often stated that he hates being in first place until the final day of competition, he's now in a perfect position to prove whether his rope-a-dope strategy will pay dividends. Leaving plenty of his best spots either untouched or lightly fished heading into the finals, Ehrler is hopeful that he can blow the doors off the event on the last day of competition.
Although Ehrler was only 9 ounces off the overall lead after day two, he now finds himself a mere 1 ounce off the lead with a total catch of 54 pounds, 8 ounces. In short, Ehrler should be plenty dangerous come tomorrow.
"I have a couple of spots that are really good right now and I laid off of them pretty early today," said Ehrler. "And I have one really good spot I haven't even hit yet. So, the potential is definitely there for a big bag tomorrow. But at this point, it's really up to the fish. I know where they are and if I put the hurt on them, I should be okay."
Ehrler said that he's been targeting bass holding to deep points and flats with standing timber. He's been throwing a fairly versatile bait selection as well, including a Picasso rig, soft plastics and a variety of other reaction baits.
Stone makes his comeback
After taking a two-year hiatus from the professional fishing tour, it's readily apparent that veteran fishing legend Marty Stone is back in full swing. But while the current resident of Fayetteville, N.C., has made it look easy so far - recording a third-place qualifying finish heading into Sunday's finals with a total catch of 50 pounds, 13 ounces - he will assure you it's been anything but.
"It's really been a struggle for me," said Stone. "Not just today, or this tournament, but just getting back into tournament fishing in general. People think it's easy but it's really not. The mental side of this sport is really tough. During my first tournament (on the comeback trail) at Lake Okeechobee I finished in 117th place. And I realized how far I really had to go and how much work I really had to do to get back in it.
"During the first day of competition on Lake Hartwell, I didn't have one fish in the boat at 11 a.m.," Stone continued. "And that was pretty tough mentally. It's really hard on your confidence. But I've worked really hard to get back in fishing shape. So it's nice to get into the top 10 here. This has exceeded my expectations by far."
Stone said that he's been targeting stained water, honing in on shallow laydowns, docks and stumps.
"But like I said it's been a struggle," he said. "I only have these little windows - like 45 minutes - where I'm catching them. And with the shorter day tomorrow, I'll have one less window to fish. But really the pressure is off me right now. I'm just going to go out there tomorrow and have fun."
Morehead falls to fourth
After battling a significant illness in practice, Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., seemingly defied the odds en route to claiming the top spot on the leaderboard on days one and two. But today, Morehead couldn't quite muster the catch to keep his lead. After recording a 13-pound, 10-ounce sack in today's competition, Morehead dropped to fourth place overall with a total catch of 50 pounds, 9 ounces.
"I really can't complain," said Morehead. "I didn't lose any fish today. My problem was that my big fish never showed up."
Morehead, who has been throwing a combination of Alabama Rigs and soft plastics, has been targeting bass attempting to ambush blueback herring in narrow cuts.
But today's performance has him rethinking his strategy.
"I think I'm going to change things up tomorrow," he said. "I'm still going to throw the same baits but I'm probably going to fish a little different water."
Auten scores top-five qualifying finish
Bolstered by a total catch of 50 pounds, 9 ounces, Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., found himself in fifth place overall heading into tomorrow's finals.
"I'll tell you what, it was an exciting day today," he said. "I caught some good fish early and I thought I was really going to have a great day but things toughened up later on. I only caught five fish today, but at least I got the right bites early."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro finalists:
6th: Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., 49-13
7th: Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., 48-10
8th: Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., 48-0
9th: Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., 46-14
10th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., 45-10
For a complete list of the day's results, click here.
Bass-fishing fans take note
FLW Tour action continues during Sunday's final takeoff, scheduled to take place at 7:30 a.m. at Portman Shoals Marina, located at 1629 Marina Road in Anderson, S.C.
Daily on-the-water coverage will also be available online at FLWOutdoors.com beginning at takeoff. To see up-to-the-minute tournament updates, click here.
In addition to takeoff and weigh-in action, fans in the Greenville, S.C., area will be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the TD Convention Center on Sunday from noon - 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public. On Sunday the first 300 children 14 and under who are accompanied by an adult will receive a free rod and reel combo courtesy of The Greenville News. Also on Sunday one lucky fishing fan will win a Can-Am ATV courtesy of WESC 92.5. The ATV giveaway is free to enter but the winner must be present at the conclusion of Sunday's final weigh-in to win.
Want to watch the weigh in live but can't make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 4 p.m. Eastern Time to watch live streaming video and audio of Saturday's weigh in.
Coverage of the Lake Hartwell tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when "FLW" airs April 15 from 1 - 2 p.m. ET. "FLW" is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide.
To see the latest photos from final takeoff, click here.