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It’s prime time on Pickwick

It’s prime time on Pickwick
The final FLW Tour Major of the 2011 season is about to commence at Pickwick Lake.

FLORENCE, Ala. - Heading into the sixth and final FLW Tour Major of the 2011 season on Pickwick Lake, one thing is certain: This week's contest will have no shortage of compelling storylines.

For starters, the 123 pros and as many co-anglers who comprise the field will be searching for a tournament title on Pickwick Lake, which offers upwards of $125,000 in the Pro Division and $25,000 in the Co-angler Division. Then there is the small matter of the 2011 FLW Tour Angler of the Year race, which will be decided this week as well. In addition, the conclusion of the 2011 FLW Tour Rookie of the Year race will transpire over the next few days. And finally, the full field will be angling for one of the 30 coveted berths still up for grabs for the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup - the sport's most prestigious and lucrative championship.

Pickwick strategy

As the field departed McFarland Park marina with light winds, smoldering temperatures and clear skies shortly after 6 a.m., the jockeying had already begun in an attempt to grab a piece of bass-fishing history. However, with myriad prizes, titles and tournament berths on the line during this week's contest, not to mention some tough fishing conditions, it's clear that anglers are really going to have their work cut out for them if they are to capitalize on the treasure trove of bounty that is there for the taking.

With sweltering temperatures and a midsummer bite dominating the landscape, anglers most likely will find themselves stacked up against one another, maneuvering for a front-row seat at a select few prime fishing locations. As the bass congregate on a finite group of deep ledges and humps, it will be imperative for anglers to get to their spots early enough to fend off the crowds.

"There are definitely some fish shallow, but the big money is going to be out deep," said Castrol pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., who currently holds the top spot in the 2011 FLW Tour Angler of the Year race. "Some guys will try to fish shallow, but there is maybe a 10-percent chance that's what I'll wind up doing. I'm pretty sure this tournament is going to be won out in deeper water."

National Guard pro Brent Ehrler echoed Dudley's sentiments.

"I really find it hard to believe that you can find anything consistent fishing shallow," said Ehrler, who is ranked No. 2 overall in this year's FLW Tour Angler of the Year contest. "This time of year, with the water temperature at 90 degrees, most of the big fish are going to be deep."

However, knowing where to fish and actually being able to fish your spots aren't necessarily compatible outcomes on Pickwick Lake in mid-July.

A parade of FLW Tour boaters await the start of takeoff on Pickwick Lake."This time of year the fish are all bunched up, so the lake really fishes pretty small," said Dudley. "There are only so many good areas. If we were here at a different time of the year, I would say that there would be a lot more good areas to fish. The anglers would be more spread out. But this week, it's going to be difficult to have any good spots all to yourself. Because of that, this tournament is going to be really difficult."

Given those parameters, what baits and weights are going to be good enough to propel anglers past Friday's top-20 cut?

"I think the usual baits for deep ledge fishing will play out: crankbaits, jigs and large worms," said Dudley. "Overall, I think it's going to take about 14 1/2 pounds to make the top 20."

Like Dudley, Ehrler said that the real key this week will be avoiding boating congestion and doing as much as possible to not get squeezed out of his prime practice areas.

"If I could fish all of the spots I found in practice, I know I'd really whack them," said Ehrler. "But I might only be able to fish one or two of them (as a result of boat traffic congestion). Because I have (a boat draw) of 77, a lot of guys are going to head out before me. So I could either do well or really struggle. Most of the big fish are going to be caught out deep on ledges. But there just aren't a lot of ledges here.

"I do know if I had one of the earlier boat draws, I could probably catch a limit in five minutes," Ehrler continued. "But now it's going to be a lot tougher. I'm just going to head out, and if I see that one of my areas is free, I'm just going to pull up and fish it. If that spot is taken, I'm going to keep on going until I find some places I can fish."

Angler of the Year race heats up

Castrol pro David Dudley is currenlty ranked No. 1 overall in the 2011 FLW Tour Angler of the Year race.Like past seasons, the 2011 Angler of the Year contest is largely up for grabs with only one event remaining. However, unlike past seasons, this year's race features something that previous contests haven't offered - namely a top prize of $100,000, a full $75,000 more than last year's award. So, in addition to the pressure for fishing for a Pickwick title, a select few anglers will be trying to stake their claims as the best angler of the year, a title even more prestigious than the Pickwick crown itself.

Currently, there appears to be six pros who have a realistic shot at the AOY crown: David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va. (912 points); Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif. (896); Tom Monsoor of Lacrosse, Wis. (881); Mark Rose of Marion, Ark. (879); Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla. (878); and Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Mo. (870).

Although there is a lot of pressure heading into the event ranked No. 1, Dudley said that he doesn't plan to fish Pickwick Lake any differently than if had he been ranked 150th.

"As far as the Angler of the Year race goes, I love it," he said. "I think there are about six people who, if the cards fall right, have a chance to win. The way I'm looking at it is that I'm basically fishing two tournaments. One tournament has 123 boats, and the other tournament has six people. But no, it doesn't change my strategy at all. I've never had any strategy to win Angler of the Year. My strategy is simply to win tournaments - every tournament I enter. And if you do that, the Angler of the Year will fall into your lap."

However, Dudley did suggest that having a boat draw of 46 won't make things any easier.

"I'm in the top one-third of the field, but there are still 45 boats in front of me, so it's a big deal," he said. "And with the fish so bunched up, it could be difficult getting to some of my spots. So yeah, I'm sweating this a little bit."

Ehrler, who is in a similar spot with regard to the AOY race, said he also won't deviate from his normal game plan.

National Guard pro Brent Ehrler, currenlty ranked second in the angler of the year race, prepares to head out onto Pickwick Lake."I did what I need to do in practice to do well, and that's all you can hope for," said Ehrler. "I'm just going to go out there and fish and try not to think about it too much."

However, one thing Ehrler almost certainly will be thinking about will be his wife, who is expecting to give birth to their first child any day now.

"It's been a mentally tough week, no question," said Ehrler. "We've had two due dates, July 18th and July 20th, and they've both passed already. So, obviously, it could happen any day now. But overall, she's doing well."

Rookies, Cup berths take center stage

Heading into the Pickwick event, there were other notable contests as well. For the 2011 season, a handful of anglers are also in the running for the FLW Tour Rookie of the Year race. Currently, John Cox of Debary, Fla., is in the lead with 749 points. He is followed by Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala. (730); Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga. (725); Troy Morrow of Eastanollee, Ga. (721); Shawn Murphy of Nicholasville, Ky. (713); and Dustin Baker of Lakeside, Calif. (696).

And last, but not least, there are plenty of pros and co-anglers fighting it out for one of the final 30 berths in this year's Forrest Wood Cup. To gain automatic entry into the main event, anglers will have to finish in the top 30 in the year-end standings. However, that being said, there is some additional wiggle room. If any of the top 30 pros after the Pickwick contest have previously qualified through another circuit, the 31st ranked angler will be invited. If two anglers in the top 30 have already qualified, then the 32nd ranked angler will receive a berth, and so on.

Tourney format

FLW Tour anglers make some last-minute preparations before the start of the Pickwick Lake contest.During FLW Tour competition, pros supply the boats, fish from the front deck against other pros and control boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck and compete against other co-anglers. Anglers are permitted to weigh in their best five bass each day. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points that determine angler standings. The full field competes on days one and two. After Friday's day-two weigh-in, both the co-angler and pro fields will be cut to the top 20. On day three, the co-angler champion will be crowned based on the field's three-day accumulated weight. Also on Saturday, the pro field will be cut down to the top 10 pros. The remaining pro field will then compete during Sunday's final round of tournament action. The pro winner ultimately will be determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days.

Anglers will take off from McFarland Park located at 200 James M. Spain Drive in Florence, Ala., at 6 a.m. each morning. Thursday and Friday's weigh-ins will also be held at McFarland Park beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday's final weigh-ins will be held at Walmart, located at 3100 Hough Road in Florence, Ala., beginning at 4 p.m.

Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.

Pros will fish for a top award of $125,000 and co-anglers will cast for a first-place prize of $25,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.

Bass-fishing fans take note

Want to watch the weigh in live but can't make it in person? Then tune into FLW Live on FLWOutdoors.com shortly before 2:30 p.m. Central Time to watch live streaming video and audio of today's opening-round weigh in.

Daily on-the-water coverage will also be available online at FLWOutdoors.com. To see up-to-the-minute tournament updates, click here.

Fans will be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The first 300 kids 14 and under on Sunday will receive a free rod and reel combo compliments of KIX 96 FM. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.

The McFarland Park marina was bustling with activity shorlty before opening takeoff on Pickwick Lake.In addition, during this week's FLW Tour competition on Pickwick Lake, anglers will be vying for valuable points in hopes of qualifying for the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing. This year's Cup will be in Hot Springs, Ark., Aug. 11-14 on Lake Ouachita where the winning pro could net as much as $600,000 - the sport's biggest award. This week, a select few anglers also will be gunning for the prestigious 2011 Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title that will be determined by the most points accumulated over the six Tour Majors.

Coverage of the Pickwick Lake tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on VERSUS. "FLW Outdoors" will air Sept. 11 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. "FLW Outdoors," hosted by Jason Harper, is broadcast to more than 500 million households worldwide.

Thursday's conditions

Sunrise: 5:53 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 75 degrees
Expected high temperature: 93 degrees
Water temperature: 86-90 degrees
Wind: W at 1 to 3 mph
Humidity: 64 percent
Day's outlook: sunny with chance of isolated thunderstorms

Tags: gary-mortenson  morning-story  2011-07-21-pickwick-lake 

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