March 29, 2014 by Kyle Wood
LUFKIN, Texas - If you are 24 years old and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte there are endless options for what you could be doing. But for Eric Self, you would be fishing as a co-angler in the Walmart FLW Tour on Sam Rayburn taking home a cool $20,000 for capturing the top prize - not a bad graduation present.
Self - who is coming off a top-10 finish at the last event on Lake Hartwell - came out swinging to start the week after cracking 18 pounds, 4 ounces on day one to sit tied atop the leaderboard. He slid to his lowest position of the week on day two when he dropped to second with just three bass that weighed 8 pounds even. He managed a limit today that tipped the scales at just 7-7 yet it gave him the victory by just three ounces with a three-day total of 33-11.
"I'm pretty excited," said an overwhelmed Self. "I have to say that I never would be here without FLW College Fishing. I fished the very first FLW College event and never looked back. I wasn't that into fishing until I got to college and joined the club at the University of North Carolina - Charlotte. From that point on I couldn't get enough and now I'm doing this (fishing as co-angler on the FLW Tour) and own a boat so it is pretty awesome."
You would never have guessed that Self is a relative new-comer to bass fishing with his five years of collegiate fishing being his primary source of knowledge. Considering that in that time he captured seven top-10 finishes, two of which were wins in the 2013 Southeastern Division events on Wheeler Lake and Lake Guntersville. Self recently turned down his chance to fish in the FLW College Fishing National Championship in order to compete on Lake Hartwell for the Tour event just a few weeks ago.
The Lawndale, N .C., co-angler had little experience with fishing grass until he began fishing at the college level. It was that experience that helped him on Rayburn this week.
"The first two days of the tournament I fished up shallow around the grass," explained Self who majored in criminal justice. "I threw traps and vibrating jigs and would rip them through the vegetation when I got hung. I liked throwing moving baits to get the bigger bites."
For the first two days of competition Self used a 5/8-ounce XCalibur Rattle Bait in Rayburn Red on 14-pound line. His main weapon was a hand-tied vibrating jig - bluegill colored - thrown on 20-pound test. It wasn't until today that he made the switch to an ER Lures football jig and shaky head. The football jig was Jason's Magic Craw colored with a Big Bite Bait's flipping plastic - due to the fact he didn't bring any jig trailers. He threw a Zoom Magnum Finesse worm (green pumpkin) on the ER Lures shaky head.
With a tournament win under his belt so early it in his career it provides some relief with thoughts of qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup but also financially as well.
"I have been dating my girlfriend Chelsea for 6 years now and I promised her that if I won an event I would buy her a ring. But it won't all towards the ring, I still need to buy a bunch of fishing tackle."
For the second week in a row Kerry Barnett of Waldron, Ark., has found himself within the top five in FLW competition. His three-day total of 33 pounds, 8 ounces earned him the second spot in the FLW Tour on Same Rayburn just one week after taking fourth as a co-angler in the Rayovac FLW Series event on Toledo Bend.
"This has been a blessed two weeks," said Barnett of his back-to-back top 10 appearances. "I just have had a lot of confidence in what I was doing on the water and I think that helped a lot."
His main bait of choice was a perch-colored Z-Man ChatterBait with a Big Hammer swimbait on the back on day one. After that he switched to swimming a Yamamoto Senko on 20-pound line. The fish were active enough that he could steadily reel it through the grass on day two and when a fish would come up to eat it he would pause the Senko allowing the fish to eat it. Today he had to slow the presentation down to more of a pump and pause type of approach where he would lift the bait and let it fall.
Day one found Barnett with four fish that weighed 10 pounds, 12 ounces. He caught a limit on day two that hit the scales at 11-15. While he only caught two fish on the final day they were the right ones considering they weighed 10-13.
"I caught my big one on my second cast and the other fish shortly after that," said Barnett. "It was just a great day and I couldn't be happier."
Considering he overcame a case of pneumonia just months ago, Barnett is taking life in stride. Sadly, he lost his brother Emmet to pneumonia back in December of 2013.
"Emmet and I used to fish a lot together. We fished club tournaments and eventually started to fish team tournaments and Emmet started what we called `Team Barnett'. He got shirts made and we just loved spending time together. I know he is in a better place and is watching over me."
For his efforts, Barnett took home a check for $7,500.
After grabbing the lead on day two, Stephen Crawley of Bush, La., slipped from the lead by just 7 ounces with a three-day total of 33-5.
Crawley got things rolling with a 15-pound, 4-ounce limit on Thursday. He backed that up with another limit weighing 11-15 on day two. Today, his four fish weighed 6-15 putting him just ounces from victrory.
The Louisiana co-angler is another former FLW College angler who has embarked on his first season on the FLW Tour. He actually decided to fish the Tour this year because of the reality series "Circuit Breaker" that FLW started in 2013.
"I wish I had just one more fish today but what can you do," said Crawley. "I fished clean all week so I'm happy about that."
Crawley used a variety of baits this week including an XCalibur Rattle Bait, Spro frog, D&M Custom Baits vibrating jig and some assorted soft plastics. A 735c Dobyns was his main rod of choice for the tournament with a Shimano Curado. He used 12- to 17-pound Seaguar InvisX depending on the bait.
He works on his parents horse farm when not fishing and will be heading home with an extra $5,000 for his efforts.
Billeaud, Kavros round out top five
Billy Billeaud of Lafayette, La., hauled a total of 32 pounds, 10 ounces of bass from Sam Rayburn this week despite catching just two fish on the final day to land in fourth place. He was awarded $4,000 for his catch.
Chuck Kavros has made it to the top 10 once this season already back on Lake Okeechobee and he kept the momentum rolling this week with a fifth-place finish. His 30-15 three-day total earned him a check worth $3,000.
For complete co-angler results click here.