Kentucky Lake: The pressure is palpable

Barry Wilson hooks up with a good one.

PARIS LANDING, Tenn. – If the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Evinrude needed a theme song, David Bowie’s rendition of  “Under Pressure” would be as good as it gets. The entire field will be under more pressure than usual as the four-day competition opens this morning. There’s the pressure to win or at least take advantage of a final opportunity to take home a good check this season, the pressure to pull out all the stops and make up ground in the Angler of the Year standings and gain entry into the Forrest Wood Cup, the pressure to not take chances and lose a shot at the Cup – and so it goes.

A lot is riding on this, the last qualifying event on the 2014 Tour, and the contestants couldn’t ask for a better playing field. Kentucky Lake is home to plenty of bass, and it accommodates practically all fishing styles and presentations. The question is not whether the fishing will be good, but how good it will be for the favored few who’ll contend for the $100,000 first-place prize and perhaps a ticket to Lake Murray at Columbia, S.C., in August for the Forrest Wood Cup.

Anglers saluting the flag for the national anthem.

FLW Director of Tournament Operations Bill Taylor isn’t wondering if many fish will be caught this week during the event – just how big they need to be to contend.

“Based on what I’ve seen and heard about being caught in local tournaments, I predict there will be at least 35 stringers that weigh 20 pounds or better,” says Taylor. “As was the case at Pickwick, it appears we’re hitting Kentucky Lake just right this year. A lot of fish are still moving to the ledges, and they haven’t been pressured too much yet. There are still plenty of fish in closer to the banks, too, though it’s debatable whether anybody can find the size there they need to win. There’s a ton of 3-pound fish on the ledges, but to win an angler needs to find that better average size of 4 to 6 pounds.”

Perhaps of some concern to the competitors is the weather that awaits them, and how wind affects the vast expanse of Kentucky Lake. Summer thunderstorms are always a possibility, and travelling by boat on the wide-open impoundment can be no fun when windswept water starts moving in one direction or another. Longtime Kellogg’s pro Jim Tutt recalls only one tournament in which heavy seas forced him to phone for a trailer and tow vehicle to come and get him, and that was at Kentucky Lake.

As recently as 2011, during the same time frame in June, Tour anglers were treated to a roller-coaster ride. High waves might have cost local pro Ramie Colson the title, as he led the tournament at the second day with fish he caught at the end of a long run to Lake Barkley. Rough weather the third and fourth days curtailed his fishing time, however, and he ended up in fourth. Chad Grigsby, the winner, was chased off his best ledge spots by 4-foot whitecaps, but he had enough shallow fish in the coves to make up the difference.  

Local ace Brandon Hunter putting his life vest on prior to getting in the water.

Colson, Randy Haynes, Michael Wooley, Mark Rose, Jason Lambert, Michael Neal – there are almost too many favorites to name in this event. Local favorites such as Dan Morehead, Terry Bolton, Brandon Hunter and the Hollowell brothers – Todd and Troy – can’t be counted out either, nor can such veterans as Andy Morgan, Brent Ehrler, David Dudley and Randall Tharp.

“I feel as good or better about this tournament as I did about Pickwick,” says Neal, who was runner-up to Greg Hackney at Pickwick. “I don’t know if I can catch the quality of fish here that I caught at Pickwick, but I don’t know that anybody else can either.”

Michael Neal, who has been one of the most confident anglers leading into this event, has an iON camera rigged to capture the action.

Colson is one of those who doesn’t plan to take any chances with his high placement in the AOY standings. Lake Barkley can wait for another time, as he’s staying in Kentucky Lake where he knows he can catch limits every day. As is the case with Neal, the quality of the fish Colson located in practice is in question.

“I did more looking than fishing in practice and marked a lot of spots,” says Colson. “I don’t know how good the fish are. I’ll find out today. I want to win this tournament, but I’m playing the safer game and staying with my closer spots. My head tells me to fish my home lake (Barkley) where I know what’s waiting, but I’m also looking at making the Cup, so …

“The critical part for me is going to be boat draw [Colson is the second boat in the second flight, or the 20th boat leaving Paris Landing Marina]. My best fishing has come early, and that’s when I might be able to do some damage. Once the sun gets up overhead, the fish move; I don’t know where they go to or what they’re doing after that.”

As far as the out-of-towners are concerned, Rayovac pro Jacob Wheeler still might have enough steam churning after claiming the title at BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga a couple of weekends ago. The Hoosier angler knocked off some of the best sticks of the B.A.S.S. crew in winning by almost 6 pounds. Wheeler’s performance graph thus far reveals top-25 finishes in three qualifiers, but he stumbled at Pickwick with a 96th-place showing. Maybe BASSfest, which followed Pickwick, was his grudge match.

Scott Canterbury with his 21-pound-plus stringer that was disqualified for late arrival because of boat issues.

If anybody has a grudge to settle at Kentucky Lake, it’s Scott Canterbury. The Straight Talk Wireless pro was in 14th place heading into the Pickwick tournament a couple of weeks ago. Then he had engine trouble on the second day, and his 21-pound-plus stringer was disqualified for late arrival back at the boat ramp. Canterbury finished the tournament in 144th place. Worse yet, he dropped to 41st in the Angler of the Year standings, and his performance at Kentucky Lake will decide if he’s going to the Forrest Wood Cup in August.

Don’t cry for Canterbury yet, though; it might not be such a nail-biter for him. In the Rayovac FLW Series tournament out of Kenlake State Resort Park on Kentucky Lake prior to Pickwick, he placed sixth behind some of the lake’s biggest heavy hitters, including Haynes, Lambert, Rose, Hunter and Barry Wilson, and just ahead of Wooley and Todd Hollowell.

Greg 'Hack Attack' Hackney is sitting pretty coming off his win at the FLW Tour event on Pickwick Lake.

Although Kentucky Lake is expected to be a ledge-fishing extravaganza, you can bet that competitors will investigate any slicks seen floating on the water – shallow or deep. Greg Hackney taught them that lesson at Pickwick, where he discovered a gizzard shad spawn that was attended by hungry, apparently unpressured bass. Hackney won that event with almost 100 pounds of fish caught from a 5-foot-deep spot where the concentration of fish was so great that the oil from their bodies caused a slick on the surface.

We might dismiss Hackney’s gold mine as being – in the clipped parlance of anglers who can’t explain the inexplicable – “one of those deals.” Chances are it won’t be repeated on this, the big kahuna of the Tennessee River chain, but you never know. Kentucky Lake is full of gizzard shad.

Thursday’s conditions

Sunrise: 5:33 a.m.

Temperature at takeoff: 69 degrees

Expected high temperature: 89 degrees

Water temperature: high 70s to low 80s

Wind: SSW up to 10 to 15 mph

Day’s outlook: Sunny in the morning with 50 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Southwest winds 5 to 10 mph or higher in thunderstorms

Extended forecast: Highs in the mid- to upper 80s with partly cloudy skies and chance of evening thunderstorms through Friday; hotter with diminishing chance of showers on Saturday; partly cloudy Sunday with a high in the low 90s

Moon phase: waning crescent moon

Competition format

In Walmart 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

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 offers real-time updates from the water. Simply click on the tournament ID within the “On the Water” banner at the top of the FLW or Walmart FLW Tour home pages.

Walmart FLW Tour event information

Takeoff

Location: Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Highway 79 North, Buchanan, Tenn.

Time: 6:30 a.m.

Weigh-in

Thursday and Friday location: Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Highway 79 North, Buchanan, Tenn.

Time: 2:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Saturday and Sunday location: Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn.

Time: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

FLW Expo

Date: Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29

Location: Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn.

Time: noon to 4 p.m.

Admission: FREE

Free Concert: See country star Michael Ray live in concert Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free.

Activities: Fans are welcome to join FLW for the FLW Expo at the Walmart, 1210 Mineral Wells Avenue, Paris, Tenn. Come meet Walmart FLW Tour pros, who’ll be on site signing autographs. Families can enjoy interactive games, explore the Walmart Kids Zone, receive free samples, drive a Ranger Boat simulator and have a chance to win a $250 Walmart gift card.

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