UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

The Tennessee River grand finale begins

The Tennessee River System offers prime fishing locations for bass both shallow and deep.

By this time of the season, reality has set in on the Walmart FLW Tour. The 167 pros still in the chase know the score: Most of them will be fishing for checks at Pickwick this weekend and at Kentucky Lake June 26-29. Only a handful will be fishing for a ticket to the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray in August. Of this latter group, some already have a fairly good idea that their future travel plans include a summer trip to Columbia, S.C. Several more on the cusp will be disappointed, and a few will be happy. One of them might be the guy the confetti gets dumped on at the final weigh-in of the Forrest Wood Cup. A fitting finale It's fitting that the final two qualifying tournaments in the 2014 season are on Tennessee River impoundments. All things considered, that river system's TVA lakes have been the historic epicenter for game-changing events in bass fishing, and the proving grounds for so many great pros. Tennessee River impoundments collectively rank as the finest bass fishery in the nation, with ample supplies of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted subspecies. The abundance of bass suggests another Tennessee River trait that makes its lakes such popular tournament destinations: Every possible pattern, from flipping jigs into shoreline weed mats, or plumbing the offshore depths for schooling fish, comes into play - sometimes all at once during an early summer day. That's likely to be the case during the coming events, though nobody reasonably expects them to be much more than offshore duels among the Tour's best ledge fishermen. It's logical to assume that the "local guys" with their secret spots have the upper hand, but that's seldom the case. Fishing skill almost always trumps familiarity when an angler who knows what he's doing locates fish anywhere. Kellogg's Frosted Flakes pro Dave Lefebre of Pennsylvania, in 2012, and Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby of Minnesota, in 2011, proved that most recently at Kentucky Lake where they won Walmart FLW Tour summer events. The fish surges one last time. Pro winner Chad Grigsby holds up part of his 22-pound, 13-ounce final-day stringer. "Both Pickwick and Kentucky Lake were hit hard by the long cold winter and are fishing about two weeks behind at this point," notes Bill Taylor, FLW's director of tournament operations. "But both lakes are at full pool and in good shape. Catches in local tournaments are right up there where one would expect these two fine Tennessee River lakes to produce. I predict 75 pounds will win each Walmart FLW Tour event with a top-20 cut at 28 pounds." The early favorites Pickwick has been famous for its jumbo smallmouths for years, but when Lance Walker caught and subsequently released a largemouth that weighed more than 14 1/2 pounds there in early 2012, the fishing focus shifted a bit. Walker's catch put the lake on the map as a solid largemouth destination, and anglers accustomed to targeting Pickwick's smallmouths turned some of their attention to bigmouths. In the process, the lake was transformed into more of a multi-dimensional fishery. Pickwick's hydrilla should produce at least a few eye-popping big largemouths in the coming days. That's the observation of well-known local guide Roger Stegall, who notes that as hydrilla has proliferated in the lake during the past few years, the largemouth bass population seems to have profited. Last winter's cold weather knocked back the hydrilla, but scattered pockets hold enough grass to invite shallow-water presentations. "We've got a tremendous amount of 6- to 10-pound largemouths now, and a lot of those fish are coming out of the hydrilla," says Stegall. "So I wouldn't count out the guys who know how to fish the weed mats, especially if they have some ledge spots going for them too." Mark Rose also caught the big bass in the Pro Division weighing in at 7-9. It's doubtful that the eventual winner at Pickwick will spend a lot of time fishing grass, however. Ledge master Mark Rose, the Walmart pro, won at Pickwick in 2011, the last time the Tour visited there, by more than 5 pounds over runner-up Kevin Snider of Kentucky. The latter isn't fishing the Tour this season, but Randy Haynes is, and he's another west Tennessee ledge expert who's a wizard with electronics. Haynes joined the Walmart FLW Tour last year, and his win at Lake Eufaula provided strong evidence that he belonged in the top tier. A Strike King 10XD, Profound Outdoors Z-Boss 20 crankbait and a football jig were Randy Haynes If anyone needed additional proof of Haynes' ledge-fishing ability, it came at the Rayovac FLW Series Central Division tournament on Kentucky Lake last weekend, which Haynes won with a three-day stringer that topped 75 pounds. That event was considered a tune-up for both Pickwick and the last 2014 Tour stop on Kentucky Lake. Haynes, Jason Lambert (who finished second in the Rayovac competition with 73-7), Rose (third, 71-3), Barry Wilson (fourth, 70-2) and Brandon Hunter (fifth, 69-13) are all offshore journeyman and will be among the pre-tournament frontrunners at either event. Forrest Wood Cup implications A lot of things are going to get settled in June besides who gets the six-figure paychecks at the last weigh-ins. There's also the matter of the pros who are going to the Forrest Wood Cup. Pickwick will provide some good clues, and Kentucky Lake will settle all bets. Among the contenders to watch are Haynes, who's in 70th place heading into Pickwick; Lambert, in 63rd place; and Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi, currently in 44th place despite having missed the first Tour event of the season at Lake Okeechobee. Haynes and Lambert will have to put together two extraordinary finishes each to reach the championship - but it's possible. Anthony Gagliardi culls late in the day. Gagliardi, of Prosperity, S.C., will be one of the favorites to win the Cup if he can qualify for it. That would require a pair of solid performances. Just ahead of him, in 43rd place, is Andy Montgomery. Another South Carolina pro who seems to be flying under everyone's radar screen now, Montgomery will be tough to beat on Lake Murray ¬- providing Pickwick and Kentucky Lake are kind to him. AOY contenders Andy Morgan and Cody Meyer are the top contenders in the 2014 AOY race. It's purely coincidental, but the 2014 Angler of the Year race is shaping up as an East-West test of sorts that pits current leader and defending AOY Andy Morgan and Rose (currently fourth) against Californians Cody Meyer (second) and Brent Ehrler (fifth). Of course, Rayovac pro Jacob Wheeler (third), Shin Fukae (sixth) or Jason Christie (seventh) have something to say about it as well, but the nod has to go either to Morgan because of his consistency, Rose because of his mastery of the Tennessee Valley Authority's western impoundments, Ehrler because he's a proven winner on any body of water and Meyer because he's had a red-hot season with three top-10 finishes. So how does this quartet size up against the likely factors that will come into play at Pickwick and Kentucky Lake? Consider a couple of probabilities that will play big factors in both tournaments: • Likely patterns - It's summer on the Tennessee River, the water is hot and the shad schools are bunching up offshore. Sure, it's possible to pick up some kind of limit early inshore on topwaters or by flipping, but the big sacks at Pickwick and Kentucky Lake will be caught offshore. The ledges are going to get worked over with crankbaits, jigs, big soft plastics and jigging spoons. Among this group, Rose is the shoo-in on both lakes. • Hot weather and angler performance - In June, the average air temperature in Florence, Ala., is 88 degrees. By late June, the average air temperature in Aurora, Ky., is hitting 90 or so. Last year, nearby Paducah recorded a high of 94 on June 27. In 2012, the air temperature hit a record 108 degrees on June 29. Kentucky Lake, in particular, is going to be an endurance test. The advantage goes to Andy Morgan and Rose, who grew up spending sultry days on Southern lakes, rivers and oxbows. It gets hot in California, too, especially this year, but as the old saying goes, it's not the heat, but the humidity that gets you and affects your game. There's more at stake Rookie pro Shane Lehew holds up two Lake Okeechobee bass. Beyond the AOY, there are other issues at stake in the final two events. The Rookie of the Year race on the pro side is shaping up to be a neck-and-neck finish among current leader Shane Lehew (586 points and 31st overall) of North Carolina, Jeff Sprague (578 points, 35th) of Texas and Keith Amerson (558 points, 42nd) of Tennessee. The smart money is on Amerson, who lives in Selmer, Tenn., near Pickwick Lake and not so far from the southern end of Kentucky Lake. Five of his top-10 finishes in Walmart Bass Fishing League tournaments have come on Kentucky Lake. Co-angler Nick Loeffelman Jr. finished the Lake Okeechobee event in fifth place. Even the Co-Angler of the Year race is tight, in part because of the vagaries of the pro partner draw, but also because the fishermen at the top balance each other in talent. Missourian Nick Loeffelman Jr. is the current leader by 36 points over Ken Coats of Oklahoma, and he's 41 points ahead of Brian New of North Carolina. Loeffelman claimed the fifth spot at Okeechobee in the season-opener, followed by finishes of 19th, 11th and fifth at Lake Hartwell, Sam Rayburn and Beaver Lake, respectively. Looking at the stats, New has been the most consistent of the trio since a 68th-place trainwreck at Okeechobee. A traveling companion of Chevy pro and fellow Tarheel Bryan Thrift, New had finishes of third, seventh and third, respectively, in the last three tournaments.

Tags: pre-tournament  colin-moore 


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Pink Power Takes the Stage

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River Showdown Looms

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Who's the Best in the West?

They say it’ll be a tough one, by Clear Lake standards anyway, which should make for a fantastic season-finale showdown. But that’s not all that’s at stake Thursday when the Rayovac FLW Series Western Division finale kicks off in California. Someone is going to walk away with a Strike King Angler of the Year prize package, plus the top 40 pros and co-anglers in the season-long standings will earn a place in the 2015 Rayovac FLW Series Championship, which is being held on the Ohio River in Paducah, Ky., at month’s end. With the addition of the Western Division contingent, the Championship field will be complete at 200 pros and 200 co-anglers. READ MORE »


Inaugural FLW Canada Tournament

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McDonald Family Battles Breast Cancer

Candy and Billy, the Walmart FLW Tour pro, found out Candy had breast cancer in July, between the final Tour event on the Potomac and the day they left for the ICAST fishing tackle show in Orlando. READ MORE »


Southeastern Conference Championship set for Pickwick

“I know that Pickwick is traditionally known as a ledge fishery, but that is just not the case right now,” says Walmart FLW Tour pro Jason Lambert. “There is so much grass and hydrilla in this lake right now – the most that I have ever seen. The grass bite is going to be very strong in this tournament." READ MORE »


First B.A.S.S. TD Passes

Tournament fishing pioneer Harold Sharp is dead at the age of 88. Sharp died peacefully Thursday morning, surrounded by his family at home in Hixson, Tenn., near Chattanooga. READ MORE »


3 Keys To The Next Cup

It’s almost always too early to preview a fishing tournament. Even this year at the Forrest Wood Cup, Brad Knight probably wouldn’t have told you that he knew the winning spot on Lake Ouachita once practice was over. Fishing is just too hard to predict. READ MORE »


Strader and Smith Win NoogaStrong

Even Lake Chickamauga seemed to be in a giving Saturday as it served up its late-summer best for anglers in the NoogaStrong Memorial Bass Tournament out of Dayton. Though fishing on the Tennessee River chain typically enters the doldrums in early September, the winning stringer of 21 pounds, 1 ounce brought in by Walmart FLW Tour pro Wesley Strader and his partner, Cary Smith, proved it’s not set in stone. READ MORE »


Knight Breaks Foot, But Plans To Fish

The Tennessee pro broke his right foot Thursday evening as he was preparing to fix a flat tire on his boat trailer in preparation for practicing on the lake Friday morning. The rear tire of the tandem rig was flat, and Knight was holding a chunk of wood in place ahead of the front tire when the accident happened. His wife Becky was driving his truck with trailer attached and Knight asked her to pull up so that the front tire would climb the chunk and the flat rear tied would be suspended. The front tire fell off the chunk, however, and onto Knight’s foot. READ MORE »


Smallmouth Slugfest on Tap at Erie

Florida pro Glenn Browne leads the race with 492 points, largely due to his win at the previous divisional event on Lake Champlain. Following well within striking distance are Canadian pro Cory Johnston (484 points) and Louisianan Gerald Spohrer (483), who found his way into the Northern Division quite incidentally. READ MORE »


2015 Forrest Wood Cup Off and Running

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Boat Tour of Lake Ouachita

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Scouting with Stetson

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Peter T is Back on Track

Quick, who was the first Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year? If you answered Peter Thliveros, give yourself a pat on the back. Peter T, as he’s more commonly known, led the pack in 1996, the year FLW burst onto the national bass tournament stage. Three years later, Thliveros had another stellar season and finished fourth in the annual standings. In fact, the Florida pro qualified for six consecutive Forrest Wood Cup championships between 1996 and 2001 (the year of 9/11, when there was no Cup) and was one of the Tour’s shining stars in its formative years. It seemed Thliveros could do no wrong when he set out on the tournament path, but then came a lot of ups and downs in what became a rocky road for him. He finished 117th, 135th and 146th in 2002, 2003 and 2005, respectively, and disappeared from the Tour scene between 2006 until his return in 2012. READ MORE »


Practice with Zack Birge

Zack Birge qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup twice – first by winning the Rayovac FLW Series Championship in the fall of 2014 and subsequently by crushing it in his rookie season on the Walmart FLW Tour. Regardless of how he got here, Birge figures to be a threat on Lake Ouachita. READ MORE »


Cup Practice Begins

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Mr. Consistency

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Central Division AOY Race Concludes on Dardanelle

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