When a bass fisherman is on a hot streak, and in Randall Tharp’s case it’s more like torrid, not even a major breakdown in his big engine can cool him off.
Tharp actually turned the malfunction into a positive that helped him catch a five-fish limit of 16 pounds Thursday for the Day 1 lead in the Bassmaster Central Open tournament at Barnett Reservoir.
“I was in between my No. 1 spot, where I caught a good 3-pounder to start the day, and my No. 2 spot when my engine just shut down,” said Tharp, an Alabama native who recently relocated to St. Joe Beach, Fla. “I mean, I was really close to my No. 2 hole, so I called for the support boat, put my trolling motor down and started fishing.
“By the time the support crews got to me — about an hour and a half later — I had four fish, four good fish. After they got there, it took them about an hour or so to fix my motor. I didn’t blow it up or break the lower unit or anything; they just brought a bunch of parts and put three or four on there, and it worked the rest of the day.”
On Day 1 of the three-day event, many fishermen struggled with changing conditions. After a two-week run of hot weather, a cold front and overnight rain passed through Central Mississippi. The most-confused anglers appeared to be locals who fish Barnett Reservoir regularly.
Elite Series pro Pete Ponds of nearby Madison, who grew up fishing the lake, failed to weigh in a single keeper, and only one of the Top 20 fishermen — Scott McGehee of Madison, who finished the day in 18th with 10-3 — is from Mississippi.
Others, like Louisiana's Marvin Ethredge, just couldn't get fish in the boat.
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But nothing seemed to bother Tharp, just a month removed from winning the FLW’s Forrest Wood Cup and $500,000. After his breakdown and repairs, his day just kept getting better.
“I must have caught three limits today (15 keepers, over 12 inches) and was able to cull three times with bigger fish once the repairs were made,” Tharp said.
With his bank account already on the rise from the Wood Cup win, Tharp would love another crack at a $500,0000 payday, which will be the top prize at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
“That’s big for me,” he said, “because it is on Guntersville Lake in Alabama, which is kind of like my home waters and I have won two events there as a pro.
“I’d truly cherish a shot at that.”
Tharp has a 4-ounce lead over Brian Potter of Claremore, Okla., who caught his 15-pound, 12-ounce limit by 10:30 and basically quit fishing.
“It’s funny because I really had some really bad practice days here,” Potter said. “I came in last Thursday, and I think I got one bite that afternoon. I got two bites Friday, maybe two on Saturday and none on Sunday. Monday it got better, and then on Tuesday I found the answer. I had 40 to 50 bites on Tuesday, and shook them all off.
“I finally figured out what they wanted. Today, it was crazy. I started catching them right away but I didn’t want to burn them up. I was hoping to get 10 pounds today, but I got this and I was satisfied. So I just spent the rest of the day trying to get my partner a limit. He had a chance, but he missed two good fish late.”
Gene Eisenmann of Frisco, Texas, is third with 15-6, but is concerned Friday’s forecast of post-front bright blue-bird skies will affect his fish, and whether or not he can get enough charge overnight to sustain his trolling motor batteries.
“I can’t believe I had any power left in those batteries,” Eisenmann said. “The key to what I am doing is covering a lot of water in a hurry. I put my trolling motor on High 5 from the start and never backed off.
“I am fishing shallow, which plays to my strength, and I am fishing fast, which is different from what most guys are doing. I saw and heard a lot of people talking about slowing down and finesse fishing, but I am fishing like crazy. The fish are shallow, and they are acting crazy.”
Like Tharp and Potter, Eisenmann would not give details of where he is fishing or how he is fishing, but did slip up and say he had to retie his line and replace hooks often due to “how tough the riprap is on my line,” a clue that he is fishing the rocks on the lower end of the main lake.
Another clue was this: “If it is sunny tomorrow like they say it will be, I better get my fish early,” Eisenmann said. “I think the fish where I am fishing will definitely be affected by the sun. I need to get out there early and get my fish by 9 a.m.
“But, I think I can still catch fish; I just won’t get as many bites after that. I will just have to back out a little and fish deeper cover in the same area. These fish aren’t going far.”
Twenty-three-year-old Mook Miller of Little Rock, a former collegiate fishing star at Arkansas, is fourth with 14-13. He was also fishing shallow bass on the lower end of the lake, but was fishing both rocks and vegetation.
“The wind really helped me,” said Miller, giving a clue to his fishing location.
A north wind was blowing baitfish into the shallows on the lower end of the lake.
“I fish rocks and fish pads, and I caught fish on three or four different baits,” he said. “The good thing is that there are so many shad where I am fishing that I don’t think anything will move these bass.
“If anything, I may have to make a slight adjustment.”
Miller got a big boost Thursday with a 6-pound bass that he boated at 10 a.m.
“I had a limit before that, but making a 5-pound cull (trading a 6-pounder for a 1-pounder) is pretty nice,” he said.
Rounding out the Top 5 was Gerald Spohrer of Gonzalez, La., who posted a limit of 14-7 after wasting much of his day
“I had some good practice days here on a spinnerbait and square-bill crankbaits,” said Spohrer. “I was pretty much killing them shallow on those lures. It was stupid how they were biting.
“But today, and I know this is totally opposite of what you’d expect on an overcast day, the bite just stopped. They were not nearly as aggressive.”
Spohrer took a break, thought it out, and decided to get small and go slow.
“I grabbed a smaller lure, a Missle, and started flipping and slowed it way, way down,” he said. “The difference was amazing. I had four fish at 1 (p.m.), but after that I culled most of them and put bigger fish in the boat.”
On the co-angler side, Bob Walton of Longview, Texas, got a big break to grab the lead with a three-fish catch of 8-14.
“The key was the 5-pound, 7-ounce fish I caught in pads on a spinnerbait,” Walton said, “and I was lucky to get it. I had him at the boat and my partner went to net him and I was lifting him to get him in the net, the hook pulled out. He fell into the net.”
Walton has a 10-ounce lead over Will Major of Port Allen, La, who had three fish weighing 8-4.