August 15, 2013 by Brett Carlson
SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. - Coming in to day one of the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, the big debate was whether a big bag in the upper teens could be caught from the stingy Red River in the middle of August. Each of the last two Cup champions rode big opening-day bags and then solidified the title with average, but consistent stringers. This year, two eye-opening bags were caught on day one as Randall Tharp and Bryan Thrift weighed nearly identical 18-8 and 18-7 stringers.
Tharp's day got off to a slow start - an extremely slow start. At 10:30 a.m. he was fishless and had a front-row seat for the Adrian Avena show as the Jersey boy was catching keepers hand over fist. Frustrated and disappointed, Tharp eventually left the area and refocused.
"I caught a limit from about 10:30 to 11:30 this morning," said the second-place finisher at the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup. "From 12 to 1 p.m. I caught all the big ones. I was able to fish this one little area, and was able to put the smack down on some good ones."
While Thrift had a kicker in the 7 1/2-pound range, Tharp's biggest was just over 5 pounds. But the smallest fish he weighed went nearly 3 pounds.
"I had 15 or 20 different places that I had planned on rotating through during this tournament," Tharp added. "The first couple places I went had boats all over them. Later this afternoon I finally got into a groove, into a good rotation. I started running some new water, then went back and visited those places. They had rested, and the fish had repositioned where I could catch them. The fish are just grouped in real small areas."
Known as the honey badger, Tharp is one of the premier flippers on the Walmart FLW Tour and while he used several different baits, all were fished on his Halo flipping sticks. As he does down in Okeechobee, Tharp fished some of the thickest cover he could find - including wood, lily pads, hydrilla and milfolil.
"I tried some offshore stuff, but everything I weighed came from 3 feet or less. Nobody else is doing what I'm doing. I feel real comfortable fishing here. I had a top-five finish here in a tournament earlier this year, and tomorrow I plan on fishing an area that I fished during that tournament. I was able to get a limit there pretty easily in practice, and I feel like if I can catch another limit tomorrow it should be good enough to get me fishing on day three.
"It's all about timing. My big fish didn't bite until later in the afternoon today, so I'll be in those areas at the right time tomorrow. If I can put some fish in the boat early, it will settle me down."
While he didn't expect to catch 18-8, Tharp knew big bags were possible.
"I was catching 40 or 50 keepers a day in practice, so I don't think the bite is bad at all. Getting the quality bites is tough, but you've still got to fish for big fish. It's a good start, but I can never be comfortable when I'm fishing against these guys, especially when Bryan Thrift is right behind me."
Thrift's recent Forrest Wood Cup resume is impeccable, with top-10 finishes in four of the past six Cups. Heading into the event, he made no qualms about the venue and repeatedly stated that he hates rivers. Today, the Red was good to the Chevy pro.
"This morning I felt like there was going to be a big bag or two," said the two-time FLW Tour champion. "But I didn't think it was going to come from me."
Thrift's co-angler, Alan Woodford, caught a 5-pounder at about 9:30 this morning. Thrift made the exact same cast and caught his 7 1/2-pound kicker, which bit a shaky head and a 6 1/2-inch Damiki Finesse Miki. Right then, Thrift recognized he caught a game-changing fish.
"I knew that fish was going to make the day. I had no idea that kind of quality was there. You can't explain a day like this, especially on the Red River in August. It's really hard to catch anything over 2 or 2 1/2 pounds. I could go out there tomorrow and catch 7 pounds."
Thrift said he spent most of his day throwing a "hodgepodge" of baits in Pool 5. His second-biggest fish, a 3-plus pounder, came from entirely new water.
"I have one little other deal that seems to be working pretty good. If I can get a couple bites on it, I think I have a shot to catch a couple 2 1/2-pounders."
In total, Thrift boated 13 or 14 keepers Thursday.
"I'm happy. When we were here two years ago in May my biggest bag was 9 pounds."
The one title that has eluded Larry Nixon is the Forrest Wood Cup. He thought he was going to win in 2010 on Lake Lanier and he thought he was going to win back in 2000 on this very same Red River. In fact, he led going in to the final day only to watch fellow Chevy pro Dion Hibdon take home the title.
After catching a 13-pound, 4-ounce stringer Thursday, Nixon is right back in the thick of things in third place.
"I took me a little while, but I found the right cast and caught four in a row," said Nixon, who caught 10 keepers on the day. "Then a little later I fished around and caught a 4-pounder. And I finished the day with a new pattern, which allowed me to cull three times. I was excited about that."
Nixon said he's fishing slow with smaller finesse-style plastics, "pretty much the way I want." He said he sampled only one pool and stayed relatively shallow. He intended to fish several other areas, but knew the north wind would put too much stain into the water.
While the mid-morning bite was fast and furious for Avena, he managed only one additional upgrade in the afternoon - finishing the day with a limit worth 13 pounds, 2 ounces.
"I caught them on four different types of crankbaits, some squarebills, some deep divers," said the Vineland, N.J., pro, who boated well over 40 keepers on the day. "That one late cull came on a frog and I spent some time flipping too."
Avena stayed exclusively in Pool 5 - starting in Port Lake before immediately running to another area downriver. He stayed there until almost 1 p.m. as the action was nearly nonstop.
"It's an area where there's some current, some rock and some bait. I'm boat No. 1 tomorrow so I'll start on it and I think it's possible to catch a limit and maybe scrounge out a big one or two."
Avena found the spot in prepractice and has four others that are similar in nature. Interestingly, he sounded unconcerned with the boat traffic in the area as it may have actually helped him today.
"I think all those other boats moving through helped, almost as though they were aiding the current."
Avena currently sits in fourth, just over 5 pounds back of the leaders.
"I might be behind, but it's a four quarter deal."
Mark Rose is now considered the ledgemaster, but he cut his teeth fishing shallow rivers. He took second the last time the FLW Tour visited the Red and he's currently fifth after catching a 12-pound, 15-ounce opening-day limit.
"It's a good start," said the Walmart pro. "I'm going to treat this like a marathon. I wasn't fast out of the gate, but I am catching a good number of fish. I had a pretty good practice, but I actually think the water clearing up right now is going to help the shallow bite more. I know I'm around big fish, but today was sort of a backwards day for the fish. I'd like to start in the same place tomorrow but go somewhere different in the afternoon."
Rose said he's throwing a new Strike King bait that he'll reveal later in the week.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the Forrest Wood Cup after day one:
6th: Spencer Shuffield of Bismarck, Ark., five bass, 12-8
7th: Ray Scheide of Dover, Ark., five bass, 12-7
8th: Mark Daniels Jr. of Fairfield, Calif., five bass, 11-12
9th: Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis., five bass, 11-8
10th: Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., five bass, 11-6
10th: David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., five bass, 11-6
Tomorrow's takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. Central time from Red River South Marina located at 250 Red River South Marina Road in Bossier City, La.
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