March 29, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
LUFKIN, Texas - Falling weights and high pressure - both the atmospheric kind and the psychological kind - told the story of day three of the Walmart FLW Tour event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Chevy. In the wake of a severe Friday-night thunderstorm that knocked out power and uprooted dozens of east Texas pines, pros took to "Old Man Sam" amid a high-pressure system and high, bluebird skies.
Walmart pro Mark Rose maintains his lead going into the fourth and final day, but for the second consecutive day, he failed to match his previous day's weight.
Rose opened the event with 23 pounds, 14 ounces on a blustery, overcast day that provided the perfect conditions to activate the bass on his primary offshore spot. On day two, bolstered by a 9-pound giant, Rose weighed 19 pounds, 2 ounces. Today, he fell off to 16 pounds, 1 ounce and leads by less than 3 pounds over Chevy pro Bryan Thrift.
The key all week for the West Memphis, Ark., pro has been the early morning period, which has produced all of his big bites.
"Every day I have caught one or two big ones," Rose told the weigh-in crowd at the Lufkin, Texas, Walmart. "It's hard to win a tournament based on a spot where I'm only getting one or two big bites. I've just been so blessed in the mornings to have enough wind and clouds to get those fish."
Sunny, calm conditions tend to push the fish deeper into Rayburn's grass, according to Rose, which makes them more difficult for him to catch. Today, Rose got the strong winds he wanted for most of the competition period, but the sunshine settled over Sam Rayburn by about 10 a.m., making it difficult for most of the top-20 pros.
Only one pro, Jayme Rampey of Liberty, S.C., caught a 20-pound limit, and surprisingly there was a lack of 5- to 7-pound kickers hauled in at a lake known for producing giant bass, at a time of year when fat female largemouths should be mobbing the bank.
Rose caught a 4- and 5-pounder on his best spot this morning then scrambled to fill his limit by running the same pattern on a few places closer to the Cassels-Boykin County Park launch site. He used the same bottom-dragging soft plastics, crankbait and Strike King Red Eye Shad he used on day two when he took over the lead, but today Rose also added a drop-shot to the mix.
The scary part for the two-time Walmart FLW Tour champion is that if his morning bite was to shut down on Sunday, he doesn't have a lot of confidence that his afternoon bite can keep him in contention. It'll also be a shorter morning for Rose. The top-10 anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, instead of 7 a.m., as they have the last three days, which could push Rose's morning window a little closer to being closed by the time he arrives. Pros will check in at 2:45.
"I feel like I'm wasting five hours," Rose said about the later hours of the tournament. "I need to sit down and do some thinking tonight because if that morning bite doesn't hold up, I might not catch them.
"I would love to have a lot of time to solve the problem," he added, "but we have a short day tomorrow."
Rose believes the fish in his area could be moving toward the bank, as most pros suggest is happening across the lake. But that's not a pattern Rose is confident in this week.
"I feel like I'm doing what everybody else is doing [when I fish shallow]," he said. "It's hard to beat the best shallow-water fishermen in the business. I've spent the last several years of my career learning the offshore game, and I'm not going to go back to fishing shallow against these guys."
If anyone on Tour can pull out an offshore win in a late-spring, spawning-season tournament, it's got to be Rose. He's as dangerous as they come when fishing cover and structure that can only be "seen" on a depth-finder. But if the trend from days one, two and three holds up, this one could be settled before lunch on Sunday.
The rest of the best
2nd place - Bryan Thrift - 56-03
Rumors swirling among the outdoor media covering the tournament this afternoon were that Chevy pro Bryan Thrift was probable to take over as day-three front man. Only he disagreed.
"It wasn't a great day," Thrift told reporters before he ever even pulled out the limit of Rayburn bass stowed calmly in his Ranger's livewell. "I went back there [to where I fished the first two days] today. I had a lot of bites today, but they were all small. I'm hoping it's just the males moving up and the big females are right behind them."
Thrift's area has seen a roller coaster of water temperature fluctuation, but it's on its way back up. When asked if he was hoping the warmer water would finally convince the bass to lock on beds for Sunday's competition, he smiled and replied, "That would be nice. I'm waiting on them."
Dense stands of backwater cover separate Thrift's water from the main lake and protect it from the wind and most of the wild weather that other pros have had to deal with this week. The toughest challenge for the former Angler of the Year has been avoiding the boredom that comes with the slow-fishing presentation he's used to catch almost all of his limit fish thus far.
Today, Thrift did wheel and deal with a Z-Man Original ChatterBait for about one and a half hours before reverting back to the slower presentations. The only other change in Thrift's program was a stop at a secondary area that he'd been saving, which produced a keeper for both he and his co-angler.
Tomorrow, Thrift has a 2-pound, 14-ounce deficit to overcome if he wants to sew up his first Tour victory since 2011 at Beaver Lake. But whatever happens tomorrow, this tournament has already been a win for the North Carolina pro.
"I'm not worried about it because this is the first top 10 I've made all year, and I'm thrilled to be here," he said. "This is the first event I've fished with a shred of confidence, and I'm just going to go have fun."
3rd place - Steve Kennedy - 55-08
Auburn, Ala., pro Steve Kennedy backed up an impressive 21-pound, 12-ounce day-two limit today with 14 pounds, 14 ounces for what he called a "fair day" considering the conditions.
"It was post-frontal with bluebird skies," Kennedy said. "That's the worst conditions. I wasn't expecting a whole lot this morning. I thought they might bite a little early, but at 9:30 I had none."
Kennedy reverted back to part of his day-one program and stashed the moving baits in favor of weighted soft plastics. His best move was to fish and re-fish a couple of key clusters of cypress trees - his "money trees." On his first two spots this morning, the trees failed to produce any keepers on the first pass, but the second time around they combined to give up three keepers.
"The wind was blowing so hard that it was hard to do what I'm doing," Kennedy said. "These fronts have killed me in three events this year. To actually catch them today feels good."
Kennedy hinted that it might be time to find some new water if he wants to make a final-day charge at Rose. He's been hoping for a stronger push of spawners to the banks, but it just hasn't happened.
"I'm really surprised," he said. "We've been here three or four days, and we haven't had another group come up. The water temperature is in the 60s, and they should be shallow. I haven't seen one on bed since we've been here.
"It's hard to catch fish you already caught," Kennedy added, indicating that he's not sure how well his areas can continue to replenish. "I need to get away from it. I really do. I found a new area yesterday, and fishing those cypress trees, I've got a pretty good pattern. Today I went practicing and found a spot where I caught five or six keepers in 15 minutes. I need to get on something like Google Earth and see if I can find similar stuff. That was a cool area."
4th place - Greg Hackney - 53-04
Former Forrest Wood Cup champion Greg Hackney moved a couple of spots up the standings today with a strong 16-pound, 9-ounce limit.
"I thought it was a lot tougher today," Hackney said. "I'm really satisfied."
Like Thrift, Hackney is working a shallow-water area by thoroughly fishing any cover available, but his pattern has been with moving presentations.
"I'm trying to target one specific type of vegetation, but occasionally I'll make a cast out away from it and they'll come off nothing. I just think they're everywhere. The water's coming up, but a lot of those fish that were already up didn't come with it."
Hackney believes the bass have nearly finished their spawn in Rayburn. He visited the lake prior to the off-limits period that precedes official practice and witnessed bass on beds up and down the banks. Most of his bass this week have been a few remaining spawners or postspawn fish.
"I've just got to keep finding the right ones," he added. "I have three different areas, but I've not fished the same thing any day."
5th place - Jayme Rampey - 53-01
Walmart FLW Tour rookie Jayme Rampey made the biggest move today with a 20-pound limit that vaulted him from 12th place to fifth. He's only 3 pounds, 2 ounces off Rose's pace.
According to Rampey, his program is based entirely on speed and covering water.
"I haven't fished the same spot twice," said Rampey, who's averaging seven to 10 bites a day. "I'm just `running it.'"
A single "moving bait" has produced for Rampey this week, and he promised to identify it on stage at the final weigh-in Sunday. He's using it to fish 10 to 15 spots each day within a 10-mile-long area.
Tomorrow, he plans to re-fish one key spot where he caught some fish today, though he'll likely spend most of the day running and gunning for both prespawn and postspawn transitioning fish in shallow, "off-the-bank" areas.
"They're going both ways, and I'm catching them going both ways," Rampey said. "I might catch them; I might not."
For the complete results visit Results.
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.
For more coverage
On-the-water video from each finalist's boat will not be available during this event due to a lack of cellular data coverage on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Tune in to Tour Insider for hourly live updates starting at noon daily and FLW Live during weigh-ins starting at 4 p.m. daily. On-the-water video will return for the FLW Tour Razorback Rumble on Beaver Lake April 10-13.
Walmart FLW Tour event information
Location: Cassels-Boykin County Park, FM Road 3123 (off State Hwy 147), Zavalla, Texas
Time: 7 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; 7:30 a.m. Sunday
Days 1 and 2: 3 p.m.; Cassels-Boykin County Park, FM Road 3123 (off State Hwy 147), Zavalla, Texas
Days 3 and 4: 4 p.m.; Lufkin Walmart, 2500 Daniel McCall Drive, Lufkin, Texas
Date: Saturday, March 29 and Sunday, March 30
Location: Lufkin Walmart, 2500 Daniel McCall Drive, Lufkin, Texas
Time: noon-4 p.m.
Free Concert: See Michael Ray perform live Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m.
Activities: Fans are welcome to join FLW for the FLW Expo at the Lufkin Walmart. Come meet Walmart FLW Tour pros, who'll be on hand signing autographs. Families can enjoy interactive games, receive free samples, drive a Ranger Boat simulator and have a chance to win a $250 Walmart gift card.