Two titles on the line at red-hot Chickamauga

Veteran pro Andy Morgan is seeking to win his first Angler of the Year award on his home lake.

DAYTON, Tenn. - The sixth and final qualifier of the 2013 Walmart FLW Tour season commenced Thursday morning on Lake Chickamauga, a rising Tennessee River impoundment that has produced record stringers all year long. By Sunday afternoon, one of the most coveted titles in bass fishing will be determined as the Angler of the Year champion is crowned. Leading the points race with one tournament left is hometown hero Andy Morgan of Dayton. One of the most decorated anglers in the sport, Morgan has been in position to clinch AOY several times, but has never quite sealed the deal. This year, instead of closing the season on a northern smallmouth fishery such as Champlain or Erie, he'll target largemouths from familiar deep river channels and grass. "I've said it a thousand times, I ain't got a thing for smallmouths," Morgan reiterated. "But the best part about this week has been sleeping in my own bed every night. This is my home water, but the fish are biting; everyone is going to catch `em today. I'm just going to fish to make the cut and after that, let the chips fall where they may. Points are something you look at after the fact. I'm just trying to make the cut and I figure 17 pounds or more today would be a pretty good start." FLW Tour anglers blast off after their boat numbers are called Thursday morning.Nine points behind Morgan is a sizzling Bryan Thrift, who has finished second at each of the last two qualifiers. Thrift won AOY in 2010 at nearby Lake Guntersville and has joined the offshore movement in recent years. Behind the Chevy pro are Jacob Powroznik and Brent Ehrler, two outstanding fishermen also hunting their first AOY titles. While AOY promises to be another number-crunching nail biter, there's much more at stake this week at Chickamauga - namely Forrest Wood Cup qualification. Officially, the top 35 pros from the FLW Tour punch their ticket to Shreveport, La., for the most lucrative tournament in bass fishing. But four pros near the top of the standings have prequalified for the Cup, meaning the make-or-break line unofficially sits at 39. To win AOY and earn the necessary points to reach the Red River, most pros expect they'll have to catch them good this week. And to catch them good, the consensus is that you'll have to fish deep. "It's possible to bust a big bag or maybe two shallow, but to win shallow is almost impossible," said Walmart pro Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn. "You're definitely going to have to mix it up. The problem with the shallow bite is that the high water and the current have really knocked the grass back. There's grass, but it's real shallow. The problem with the deep bite is that the pressure is just unreal. There are probably 15 or 20 good offshore places, but each one will have six or seven boats on it. Other than that, you're basically fishing isolated brush piles." Strader expects standard offshore lures such as deep-diving crankbaits, football jigs, swimbaits, spoons and big worms to shine this week. Wesley Strader plans to fish Chickamauga Thursday, despite nearby Watts Bar being his home lake. "I'm going to start with a 3/4-ounce Pure Poison football jig with a Zoom Fat Albert twin tail on the back," added Strader. Offshore stick JT Kenney said the key to winning this week is locating a few smaller offshore spots away from the crowds. That's easier said than done, but the Straight Talk pro said he may have found a few. He won't know their true potential until he sets the hook on everything that bites today. "There's a couple giant schools with great big ones, but they're such obvious places everyone will find them," said Kenney, who is directly on the Forrest Wood Cup bubble in 38th. "I'm more interested in these real small patches of shell bottom I've found. "Twenty pounds is the goal today," added Kenney. "For me, these two next days are big; I've got $30,000 riding on it. I figure if I get a $10,000 check, I'll make the Cup, which guarantees at least another $10,000 and I've got another $10,000 in sponsor incentives if I make the Cup, so that's $30,000." While the tournament launches each morning in Dayton on Chickamauga, the field is allowed to venture north and fish all waters of Watts Bar, Strader's home lake. "I told myself I was going to practice on Chickamauga for three days and if I didn't find anything I was just going to go fishing on Watts Bar as a backup," Strader said. "I didn't have a great practice, but I'm not going to Watts Bar. And if I had to guess, I would say only 10 boats will go there today." Strader elaborated on the bite, describing it as OK and saying the lack of freedom will restrict anglers more than anything. "Even if you get on something good you can't leave or someone else will take it; it's just too crowded. "We're on the backside of a full moon. Typically when it's going away they don't bite as good as when it's coming. But I still think you'll see 10 or 12 bags over 20 pounds today. My guess is that it will take 16 1/2 pounds to make the top-20 cut and 78 to 81 pounds to win." Logistics Anglers will take off from the Dayton Boat Dock located at 175 Lakeshore Drive in Dayton at 6:30 a.m. Muggy air and partly cloudy skies greeted FLW Tour anglers Thursday morning. each morning. Thursday and Friday's weigh-ins will be held at the Dayton Boat Dock beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday's final weigh-ins will be held at the Walmart located at 3034 Rhea County Highway in Dayton beginning at 4 p.m. Fans will also be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 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. Also on Sunday, country music artist Dylan Scott will perform a free live concert on the Walmart weigh-in stage at 3 p.m. In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday's weigh-in and the top-10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days. On the Web For those who can't catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio. In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com is offering real-time updates from the water throughout each day of the Lake Chickamauga event. Simply click on the "On the Water Coverage" banner from either the FLW or FLW Tour home pages. Thursday's conditions Sunrise: 6:26 a.m. Temperature at takeoff: 76 degrees Expected high temperature: 88 degrees Water temperature: 74-78 degrees Wind: WSW at 10 mph Maximum humidity: 72 percent Day's outlook: isolated thunderstorms

Tags: morning-story 

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