UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2019 - Grand Lake

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

The Tennessee River grand finale begins

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: colin-moore  pre-tournament  2014-06-05-pickwick-lake 

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Wrapping up the Costa FLW Series Central Division with an early fall stop at Lake of the Ozarks has become a tradition over the last few years. This year, the final stop of the season is presented by Evinrude and takes place Oct. 10-12, which should be good timing for a number of patterns to play. READ MORE »

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Grand Lake has been flooded for most of the summer, and, as a result, it hasn’t received as much fishing pressure as is typical for one of the premier fisheries in the region. Weights for the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division finale, presented by T-H Marine, have the potential to be outstanding for this time of year, but it may all come down to what the weather decides to do leading up to the event. READ MORE »

The Cal Delta is Looking Good

The Cal Delta is Looking Good

This week the Costa FLW Series Western Division will conclude with the final event of the season on the California Delta. The tournament, which is presented by Power-Pole, should showcase a different side of the Delta, given that most of the Western Division tournaments on the famed fishery take place in the spring. That said, last year’s event on the Delta fell on nearly identical dates as this year and could be a good tease for how things may shake out this time around. READ MORE »

Big Smallmouths, Big Water for Season Finale

Big Smallmouths, Big Water for Season Finale

Any tournament with smallmouths in it is a good one, but when the Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits heads to the St. Lawrence River it's usually a show-stopper. This year’s event, which is presented by Realtree Fishing, shouldn’t be any different as the Northern Division looks to close its season out on one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the world September 19-21. READ MORE »

Another Potomac Rumble Looms

Another Potomac Rumble Looms

Moving south from Lake Champlain, the second stop of the 2019 Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits is on the Potomac River. The tournament, which is presented by Lowrance and runs Aug. 22-24, should offer a fairly standard set of August conditions for the anglers, with plenty of quality largemouths to go around. READ MORE »

Smith Honored with Sportsmanship, Community Leadership Award

Smith Honored with Sportsmanship, Community Leadership Award

Capt. Blake Smith was presented with the 2019 Forrest L. Wood Sportsmanship & Community Leadership Award by the award’s namesake, Forrest Wood, at the 2019 FLW Cup pre-tournament banquet in Hot Springs, Ark. Smith, of Lakeland, Fla., has fished the FLW Tour since 2015. READ MORE »

Day 3 of Practice with Scanlon

Day 3 of Practice with Scanlon

Casey Scanlon won the FLW Tour season finale at Lake Champlain, which he almost had to do to make the FLW Cup. Now that he’s here at Lake Hamilton, he’s got a shot at $300,000 and a possible edge over the competition due to his momentum and extensive Ozark experience. READ MORE »

Hard Lessons and the FLW Cup

Hard Lessons and the FLW Cup

Two terrible tournaments to end the season cost Miles Burghoff his shot at the Polaris Rookie of the Year title. This week at the FLW Cup on Lake Hamilton, he's hoping to apply the lessons learned at the end of the season to his preparation for the championship event. READ MORE »

Thrift Roams Hamilton on Day 2

Thrift Roams Hamilton on Day 2

In seemingly any tournament that Bryan Thrift shows up to he is without a doubt one of the favorites to win. With two FLW Tour Angler of the Year titles, six Tour wins and five Costa FLW Series wins – including his most recent on Lake Champlain just a few weeks ago – it’s easy to understand why. READ MORE »

Riding Around Practice on Day 2

Riding Around Practice on Day 2

In a Ranger Z520L with a 250-hp Evinrude G2, it takes about 15 minutes to run from Carpenter Dam, which impounds Lake Hamilton, to the Blakely Mountain Dam that separates Hamilton from Lake Ouachita. If you stop and chat with 11 pros along the way, however, you’ll need most of the morning, but you’ll also wind up with a pretty sound idea of what’s going on at Hamilton for this week’s FLW Cup. READ MORE »

The First Morning with B. Lat

The First Morning with B. Lat

You won’t hear Brian Latimer complain about hot weather and tough fishing in Arkansas during this week’s FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton. For B. Lat, sweating it out on the water is vastly better than working in the heat installing landscaping and mowing lawns for a living, which is what he was doing just a few years ago. A lot’s changed since those days. Now, Latimer is an FLW Tour champion, with a growing fishing media company and his first shot at a Cup title. READ MORE »

FLW Cup Schedule of Events

FLW Cup Schedule of Events

The FLW Cup goes down August 9-11 on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark. As the crowning event of the FLW Tour season, there’s naturally a lot that goes with it, from takeoffs, the FLW Expo, a Trace Adkins concert and of course the weigh-ins at the Bank OZK Arena. Below you’ll find everything you’ll need to follow or attend the Cup, from the times to each event and seminar to each giveaway going on. Keep in mind, everything is free to attend and all times are Central. READ MORE »

Pre-Practice Report from Hamilton

Pre-Practice Report from Hamilton

For some, preparation has been in the form of map study and online research, while others have made the trek to Lake Hamilton to get eyes on the playing field, which went off limits July 22. READ MORE »

The FLW Cup Playing Field

The FLW Cup Playing Field

It’s been 14 seasons since the FLW Cup has been held at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark. In the years since, FLW fans have likely developed some familiarity with nearby Lake Ouachita, which has been a frequent destination for the Cup and, in fact, hosted last year’s championship event. Hamilton is less-known because it hasn’t gotten the nod to host the finale since July 2005, when George Cochran won his third bass-fishing world championship . READ MORE »

McCaghren Ready for Hamilton

McCaghren Ready for Hamilton

Billy McCaghren spends a lot of his free time coaching 8- to 10-year-old boys on how to swing and catch; but when the FLW Cup visits Hot Springs August 9-11, the Arkansas pro is hopeful that some of his young baseball players will be able to swing by and see the Lake Hamilton bass he plans on catching. READ MORE »

Summertime on Champlain

Summertime on Champlain

For three years running now, the Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits has kicked off on Lake Champlain. The tournament, which is presented by Polaris, should offer great fishing like usual, but it’s going to be far different than the last two FLW Series tilts on the big Northern lake. READ MORE »

FLW Live Schedule for Lake Champlain

FLW Live Schedule for Lake Champlain

FLW Live is back for the season finale of the FLW Tour on Lake Champlain. The event, which is presented by T-H Marine and hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau runs Thursday, June 27 through Sunday, June 30. READ MORE »

Exploring Champlain with Strelic

Exploring Champlain with Strelic

Living about as far as possible from Champlain, Wade Strelic is looking to finish his rookie season strong at the FLW Tour finale. Hailing from Alpine, Calif., near San Diego, Strelic is sitting 28th in points and has made the check cut in three out of six events so far – another good derby will lock him in to the FLW Cup. READ MORE »

Nelson Wraps Champlain Practice

Nelson Wraps Champlain Practice

Ron Nelson is easily in the group of favorites in the event and a bonafide Northern expert, so I was eager to hop in the boat for a morning with the smallie snatcher. Champlain isn’t fishing quite like it was the years he won, but Nelson is still guaranteed to have a lot of eyes on him come day one. READ MORE »

Scouting for Smallies with Felix

Scouting for Smallies with Felix

Over the years, a lot of anglers have established impressive records on Lake Champlain, but few have done it as quickly and authoritatively as Austin Felix. READ MORE »