August 16, 2014 by David A. Brown
COLUMBIA, S.C. – We watch professional fishing events for two main reasons: to glean tackle and tactical tips from seasoned competitors holding up those big catches, and for the drama. With a day remaining in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart and hosted by Capital City/Lake Murray Country, we have to wait a bit on the former, but thanks to day-three leader Brent Ehrler and his nine competitors, we’re literally awash with the latter.
Right off the bat, let’s note that the top-10 field includes three past Cup winners – Ehrler (2006), eighth-place pro Scott Martin (2011) and ninth-place pro Jacob Wheeler (2012). FLW has yet to see a two-time champion, so three solid contenders in this year’s final round have the statisticians abuzz.
Ehrler, from Redlands, Calif., continued his path of improvement, which has taken him from sixth place on day one to second yesterday and ultimately to the top of the field. His daily weights of 13-5, 12-7 and 13-5 tallied 39-1 – just 3 ounces ahead of Chevy pro Bryan Thrift.
Looking further into the standings, we find just 2 pounds, 10 ounces separating first and fifth places. Spanning the top-10 field, there’s only 8-12 between the top and bottom spots. Viewed against the backdrop of a fickle lake that has taken several competitors on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, this is just about anyone’s game. Certainly, those clustered at the top carry statistical advantages, but big fish have popped up throughout the standings, while no one has really whacked ’em on multiple days.
Notably, the day-one and day-two leaders, 2003 Forrest Wood Cup champ David Dudley and his nephew Philip Jarabeck, respectively, both missed the final-round cut. This point has not escaped Ehrler.
“I’m in a position to win, but I’m in a position to stumble, as well,” he says. “We’ve seen it a couple of times now where a guy jumps out to a big lead and stumbles the next day. I’ve been very consistent over the past three days, but it’s not like I have one spot where I’m going up and catching that weight. I’m running all day to get that weight.”
Ehrler says he split his time between shallow and deep spots and noted that today’s cloudy morning conditions proved beneficial. Nabbing a limit by about 8:30 a.m. allowed him to work on a measured approach to upgrading.
“One thing about catching a few fish early is it allows you to relax and actually think, have an open mind and run around after that,” Ehrler says. “That definitely did help today.”
Keeping his tackle details general, Ehrler says he’s catching fish shallow on reaction baits, a few schoolers on topwater and some out deep on bottom baits. Offshore, he’s fishing in 15 to 25 feet of water.
“Every day I’ve caught a few fish running, and I’ve caught a few fish on the bottom,” Ehrler says. “Today was kind of the same. I weighed in fish on three or four different baits. I definitely moved in and out, kind of back and forth, and had some random bites today that I tried the last two days and didn’t get. It was nice to do that, but they’re bites I can’t duplicate.”
With Lake Murray perplexing many competitors with the frustrating inconsistency common to late summer, Ehrler says he’s been keenly aware of the need to manage his areas. Yesterday, he pulled his fifth keeper off a late-day spot and immediately departed. Today, he practiced similar restraint, but tomorrow will be an all-out assault.
“It was strange. I ran some areas where I didn’t catch any in practice, and I was able to catch a few,” he says. “I laid off some of my stuff as early as I possibly could. I don’t know how many fish are in some of the areas I’m fishing, but I’m going to find out tomorrow. I’m going to run a lot of the stuff that I really believe has fish. Hopefully there will be enough there to have a good enough stringer and finish this out.
“I have a few spots that I kind of believe have fish on them, but I won’t really know until I get there tomorrow,” continues Ehrler. “The lake’s so big, you can’t really watch to see if guys are fishing through some of your areas.”
Ehrler is as even-keeled as they come, but he admits that entering the final round poised to make FLW history as the first-ever repeat champion – while certainly motivational – will present another layer of challenge to the last day.
“When I won back in ’06, it wasn’t even a goal to win. I was just happy to be there,” says Ehrler, who qualified for that championship via the Rayovac FLW Series. “I wasn’t even in the position to say, ‘I can win this tournament.’ But now, I feel like I can actually win, so that will add to the stress a little bit more.”
2nd Place – Bryan Thrift – 38 pounds, 14 ounces
Thrift has been knocking on the door all week. On day one, he tied for second, slipped back to third a day later and then regained the second spot today by sacking up one of the day’s better bags – a limit of 13 pounds, 14 ounces.
The Shelby, N.C., pro noted that the ball bounced his way a little more today. The past two days, he’s been relying on sacking up a lot of early weight on topwaters. The plan worked on day one, but not on day two. Day three saw the surface action resume.
“I did the same thing today. I just got my topwater bites to hook up today and got them all in the boat,” Thrift says. “Yesterday, I had the same number of bites, but yesterday they weren’t eating it. Today they were eating it.”
Thrift caught his fish on two topwater baits but hasn’t revealed their identities. He also has a secondary spot where he’s confident he can catch five fish but knows they won’t be the quality he needs to overtake Ehrler.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to go out and do the same thing,” he says. “The only chance I’ve got to win this tournament is to catch all five of my fish on top. If I have to go to my little limit spot, about the best I’m going to get from it is about 10 pounds. So I have to get five on that topwater.”
Thrift says he’s been fishing all over the lake but has found most of his weight in one particular area that’s holding a good number of fish. The key area has a mix of docks, rocks, laydowns and points.
With the leaderboard stacked as it is and Murray’s unpredictable nature, the final round is set for an exciting finish.
“It’s so tight between six or seven guys, somebody’s going to have to catch a big bag,” Thrift says. “The way the lake’s fishing right now, really, the guy in 10th place can go out there and catch 18 pounds, and it’s not out of the question to think that all of the leaders could stumble. I mean, the lake’s fishing that tough right now.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he adds. “I’m glad it’s tight and nobody’s blowing it away because that makes it fun for everybody.”
3rd Place – Anthony Gagliardi – 37 pounds, 4 ounces
Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi has quite possibly the greatest story already told at this year’s Forrest Wood Cup. A disqualification at the Walmart FLW Tour opener on Lake Okeechobee made his qualification a statistical improbability. Nevertheless, heart and determination overcame the odds, and now the Prosperity, S.C., pro finds himself entering the final round in third place, just 1 pound, 13 ounces off the lead.
Gagliardi placed seventh on days one and two, but bagging his biggest limit thus far – 13-15 – pushed him up to the third-place spot today.
“I didn’t catch a ton of fish, but today played out like I had hoped when I put together my game plan,” he says.
Gagliardi started out targeting suspended fish on points and over brush piles at the lower end of the lake, but the area, which is where he caught fish on day two, failed to produce. Another area in the same vicinity churned out four decent fish today, including a couple that came up schooling, but Gagliardi knew that a big move to some shallow structure would likely lead to the kind of day he needed.
“I was pretty comfortable with the four, but I didn’t have any big ones,” he says. “I knew I was going to have a shot to catch a big one in my other area up on the other end of the lake. I left to go up there around lunchtime, and that gave me time to fish slowly. I got two good bites. I got a 5-pounder, and then I got another real good keeper.
“It’s not something that I feel confident about duplicating another day, but I’ll sit down tonight and look at the weights and try to formulate a plan for tomorrow,” Gagliardi continues. “I might go up there and stay all day, or I might not go up there, as crazy as that sounds. I caught two 5-pounders up there the last two days, but I’m not real sure that I can go up there again and do that.”
4th Place – Scott Canterbury – 37 pounds, 3 ounces
Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., lit up the arena with his best limit of the event – a 16-pound bag that was the biggest of day three and the third largest of the event. This big jump in productivity pushed him up from ninth place to fourth.
“It was great; it was a special day, and everything I did out there was right,” Canterbury says. “I caught fish and caught them on new water. I caught a big one late in the day. It was really fun.”
Noting that the morning cloud cover probably helped his bite, Canterbury says he caught fish on reaction baits and by flipping.
“Every day this week I’ve gotten a few key bites on a Dirty Jigs Flippin’ Jig with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk trailer, so I’m going to keep it handy tomorrow,” Canterbury adds.
Of his day-three success, Canterbury says the key was figuring out a particular element of fish location and timing. He’s fishing shallow and looking for a specific scenario.
“Every fish I caught today came in different places than I caught them yesterday,” says Canterbury, who finished second to Jacob Wheeler in the 2012 Cup. “I know what I’m looking for, and if I find it, I usually get bit, and I’m going to keep doing it.”
iON Video: Watch a video of Canterbury catching his fourth and fifth keepers on day three of the Forrest Wood Cup.
5th Place – Casey Ashley – 36 pounds, 7 ounces
Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., has been on a march to the top for three days. He placed 21st on day one, moved up to 12th on day two and increased his position to fifth place today by sacking up 15 pounds, 9 ounces. His three-day total is 36-7.
Ashley says that the early cloud cover made him optimistic about greater opportunity.
“I knew it was going to be a better day for everybody, and luckily I had a big bite on my third cast this morning,” he says. “The day went pretty good. I was able to run some new stuff. Later in the day, I caught another big one doing something different than I’ve done so far. Tomorrow I’m going to start off doing the same thing.”
Like Thrift, Ashley’s been staking a lot of his game on the surface bite. He’s confident that this strategy can deliver big weights, but he’s had to endure a lot of time between bites.
“It’s just as random as it can be,” says Ashley, who won the Lake Hartwell Walmart FLW Tour event back in March. “If he’s going to bite, he’s going to bite topwater. That’s how you’re going to catch a big fish.
“It’s just covering water and trying to find where he’s at,” he continues. “You’ll fish a whole pocket and maybe get one bite. It might come on a point in one pocket, and it might come in the very back in the next pocket. You just never know, so you have to fish the whole thing. You just have to cover a lot of water, and that’s why I’m fishing so fast.”
Rest of the Best
6th Place – Matt Herren – 33-1
7th Place – Michael Wooley – 32-13
8th Place – Scott Martin – 32-7
9th Place – Jacob Wheeler – 31-4
10th Place – Steve Kennedy – 30-5
For full results, click here.
Total fish caught: 68
Limits caught: 8
Total weight: 172-1
In the Forrest Wood Cup, 45 pros and co-anglers from the Walmart FLW Tour, Rayovac FLW Series, Walmart Bass Fishing League, FLW College Fishing and The Bass Federation 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, a co-angler champion is crowned and the pro field is pared to the top 20. After Saturday's weigh-in, the pro field is cut to the top 10. A pro champ is crowned on Sunday, with a $500,000 prize paid to the winner.
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 and ForrestWoodCup.com offer real-time updates from the water.
Forrest Wood Cup Event Information
Location: Dreher Island State Park, 3677 State Park Road, Prosperity, S.C.
Time: 6:30 a.m. Takeoff Show; 7 a.m. takeoff
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Colonial Life Arena, 801 Lincoln Street, Columbia, S.C.
Date: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 15-18
Location: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln Street, Columbia, S.C.
Time: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Check out all that FLW has in store at the FLW Expo, including a barbecue contest, free Rodney Atkins concert and a jam-packed tackle show at ForrestWoodCup.com.