UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2019 - Potomac River

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

The usual suspects

The usual suspects
Randall Tharp doing what he loves: pulling fish out of the mats

CLEWISTON, Fla. - The weights might not be as deep as last year, but the top of the leaderboard is still mighty impressive at Lake Okeechobee. Not just in numbers but in names. The two pros at the very top of that leaderboard are the same ones that finished first and second at the 2011 Walmart FLW Tour opener.

Those two pros are Randall Tharp and Brandon McMillan. While McMillan won last year's event, Tharp is leading this one - albeit by a slim 2-ounce margin. Once again, the two are fishing the same water as a friendly rivalry - one built out of fierce competitiveness and mutual respect - continues to build.

Tharp got the upper hand on day one thanks in large part to a 9-pound, 8-ounce giant, the Snickers Big Bass of the day. That anchored his 33-pound, 9-ounce limit, but as is often the case with Tharp, he wasn't satisfied.

Pro leader Randall Tharp holds up a 9-pound, 8-ounce Lake Okeechobee largemouth."I needed another big one to get to 40 pounds," said the EverStart pro. "I really thought that was possible today. I would have liked a little bit of a faster start, but overall I'm pleased with how today went."

For most, the conditions were tough as a steady north wind stirred up many areas. That didn't bother Tharp as he "did what he likes to do." That likely means he's flipping mats and reeds with a heavy weight and some variety of creature bait. His technique triggered 20 bites, 10 of which were big (5 pounds or more), from a handful of areas.

"I've got one really good spot that nobody else is fishing. I ran in there today and caught two big ones. It's possible I could win the tournament there. I've got some other stuff too - some have boats on it and some don't. But the main area I'm fishing I feel like holds the biggest bass on this lake."

Coming into this event, Tharp has six consecutive top-10 finishes on the Big O spanning FLW and BASS competition. He has yet to clinch that first Okeechobee win and it's something that is definitely on his bucket list. Each winter, Tharp and his wife Sara head down to Lake Okeechobee for several weeks of fun fishing. This year, he's been whacking and stacking for nearly two months. During that stretch, he learned as much as he could about every single mat on the lake.

"This lake is awful special right now. It's a full moon in February. Even if they're not really up spawning, they bite better on a full moon."

McMillan second

Defending FLW Tour Lake Okeechobee champion Brandon McMillan caught a 33-pound, 7-ounce limit on day one. The rollercoaster ride continues for local pro Brandon McMillan. Six weeks after the tragic murder of his father Jimmy, the 28-year-old McMillan is back in prime position to defend his 2011 title.

"Everyone in this crowd knows who this bag is for," McMillan said before the loudest applause of the day.

Like he did last year en route to victory, McMillan is flipping thick vegetation. While he had only one good stretch last year, this year he has seven or eight. The difference is that his area replenished last year as new fish would come rest under the mats after completing the spawn. With the spawn largely over, he's not sure if his fish are replenishing this time around.

"I hope they are, because all my eggs are in one basket. I just really want to survive tomorrow and then the pressure won't be a problem with only 20 boats on Saturday."

Whereas Tharp received 20 bites, McMillan got 15, six of which were quality. The difference might be attributed to the fact that McMillan fished behind Tharp for part of the day.

"We just understand how the fish set up under the thick, heavy cover, which helps us eliminate a lot of water. Besides that, I just put my head down and go fishing."

While they came in with similar weights, McMillan seemed more bothered by the wind.

"The weather made it made it tough to flip through the mat and make the bait fall the way you need to make it fall. It wasn't like the Okeechobee that I was used to fishing. I figured 20 or 24 pounds would be a good sack. I figured someone would bust 30, but I didn't figure I would do it."

Cox third

Third-place pro John Cox holds up a pair of Okeechobee giants caught flipping.Second-year pro John Cox of Debary, Fla., had the look of a relaxed veteran after weighing in a 27-pound, 10-ounce opening-day sack. The winner of the 2011 Red River qualifier had every intention of sight-fishing during this event, but the bedders just weren't there.

"Sight-fishing is fun and flipping is work," he said. "But at least I got a bunch of bites doing it. I ran around all over the place, burned a tank of gas and probably got 50 bites altogether. Most of them are small 12-inchers but then you find a few big ones mixed in and you catch a couple in a row.

"I think I caught two of my big ones in one area and three in a different area."

For the record, Cox is not fishing out of a small aluminum boat nor is he pushing his way through any culverts.

Ferguson fourth

Art Ferguson III now guides in the Orlando area during the winter, but he spent over a decade guiding on the Big O. Needless to say, he understands Florida fishing and demonstrated that today by catching a 26-pound, 12-ounce stringer.

"My first day was incredible," said the Michigan native, who sits in fourth place. "I found a big school of fish blowing up shiners one day in practice. I went back there today and it was basically a one-spot day. I probably caught 14 or 15 keepers - picking them off one at a time and culling eight times total."

What's notable is that Ferguson is not flipping. He's instead employing what he calls "old-style Florida fishing," which means casting worms and lizards.

"I think those fish will be there again tomorrow, but it's a matter of whether they'll bite and how the wind affects them. Even though I found that school in practice, I was not expecting for what happened today to happen."

Elder Martin fifth

Roland Martin wrestles a big bass out of the reedsLegendary angler Roland Martin wasted no time in proving he still knows how to catch them. In his first Tour event after a 6-year hiatus, Martin sacked 26 pounds, 4 ounces and finished the day fifth.

"I started by heading south; I had some really good fish down by Rita Island," Martin explained. "But the water was too muddy, even way back in the reeds, so I headed back up to the Monkey Box and caught my first fish at 9 this morning."

Martin was due in the first flight today and was worried his early mistake might cost him. In the end, he received eight bites and with a later flight tomorrow, he's hoping for 12 bites. Not surprisingly, he's fishing heavy cover (mats, reeds) with 70-pound line.

"I had the opportunity for a 30-pound stringer, which is what I was hoping for. Thirty pounds is golden on a day like today; 26 pounds is just marginal."

Marginal maybe only for Roland Martin.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee after day one:

6th: Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., five bass, 26-1
7th: Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., five bass, 24-4
8th: Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla., five bass, 21-11
9th: Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 21-9
10th: Matt Peters of Cotter, Ark., five bass, 21-6

Agouros tops co-anglersCo-angler leader Spiro Agouros holds up an 8-pound, 1-ounce largemouth, the Snickers Big Bass of the opening day.

Spiro Agouros of Peterborough, Ontario, leads the Co-angler Division with five bass weighing 20 pounds, 2 ounces.

"I only caught five keepers today," said the reigning angler of the year from Canada's Top Bass Tournament Series. "I also lost a couple good fish that would have given me 26 or 27 pounds."

Agouros did successfully wrestle in an 8-pound, 1-ounce giant, the Snickers Big Bass of the Co-angler Division.

"I caught all my fishing on one bait, a new bait from Trigger X. We fished really heavy cover today and I just picked up one here and one there.

"It's great to be leading but I'm just thinking about five bites tomorrow. I think if I'm around them, I can catch them."Second-place co-angler Ralph Myhlhousen caught an 18-pound, 1-ounce limit on day one.

Myhlhousen second

Ralph Myhlhousen of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is in second place with five bass weighing 18-1.

Myhlhousen, a veteran FLW co-angler, coaxed two kickers that made up much of his weight.

Daley, Gulley, Savage round out top five
Third-place co-angler Mike Daley caught a 17-pound, 6-ounce stringer Thursday.
Mike Daley of Springfield, Ill., caught a 17-pound, 6-ounce limit for third place among the co-anglers.

"I was lucky and got the right ones," Daley said. "I started the day flipping an Angler Asset jig. I caught three doing that and then I changed up and it was game on."

Robert Gulley of Tupelo, Miss., caught a 16-pound, 12-ounce limit for fourth.

Derek Savage of Port St. Lucie, Fla., rounds out the top five with 16 pounds, 8 ounces.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers in the Walmart FLW Tour after day one:

6th: Aymon Wilcox of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., five bass, 16-5
7th: Wayne Lloyd of Lake Worth, Fla., five bass, 15-14
8th: John Hendry of Lakeland, Fla., five bass, 15-2
9th: Jeffrey Cummins of Marion, Ohio, five bass, 14-13
10th: Marlon Crowder of Tampa, Fla., five bass, 14-5

Day two of the FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee will begin Friday at 7:30 a.m. from Roland & Mary Ann Martin's Marina & Resort located at 920 East Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston.

Tags: brett-carlson  headline-story  2012-02-09-lake-okeechobee 

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