Oddly enough, you won’t find a Mississippian fishing in Saturday’s final round of the Bassmaster Central Open on Barnett Reservoir, but you will find a Japanese and an Australian angler.
And you might just find Randall Tharp on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2014, beginning with the Bassmaster Classic in February on what he once consideres his home waters of Lake Guntersville.
Tharp, now of Port St. Joe, Fla., continued his mastery of the Barnett fishery on Friday, adding 13 pounds, 4 ounces to his tournament best 16-0 on Thursday for a two-day total of 29-4.
That’s good enough for nearly a 2-pound lead entering the final day. Kenta Kimura of Kyoto, Japan, is second at 27-5, and Oklahoma’s Brian Potter is third at 26-2.
“I came here with one goal, and that was to win the Central Open points title and qualify for the Elite Series,” said Tharp, who a month ago pocketed $500,000 for winning the FLW’s Forrest Wood Cup. “Now, my goal is to win this event tomorrow and get that automatic berth in the Classic.
“You just don’t know how much I’d love to fish (the Classic) at Guntersville. Before I moved to Florida a month ago, I fished Guntersville a lot, and I won some tournaments there. I sure would like to get a shot at that.”
The Central Open points title is in the bag, which will get Tharp an invitation to join the Elite Series, B.A.S.S.’s big league. He has qualified before but has turned it down. He said he won’t turn it down again.
Tharp came to Barnett ranked second in the standings, trailing leader Roy Sanford by a single point. Sanford struggled on Barnett and finished a distant 108th, far outside the Top 12, with just three fish and a two-day total of 5-1. In third a point behind Tharp was Chris Jones, but like Sanford he missed the cut, finished far down the list and fell out of the race.
Only one other pro in the Top 5 in points, Elite Series pro Stephan Browning, made Friday’s cut to the final 12, but he started the event 15 points behind Tharp. The most Browning could possibly make up on Tharp Saturday is 12 points, and that’s if Browning wins and Tharp falls to 12th.
That’s unlikely, considering how strong Tharp has been this week. On Thursday, he caught 16 pounds despite losing his big engine for nearly two hours until on-the-water repairs could be made. And Friday, when fog delayed the start of the event for 45 minutes, Tharp had to stay off his primary area another hour.
“It was so foggy I couldn’t get to where I wanted to go because I didn’t think it was safe,” Tharp said. “It was another hour or so before I could see could enough to go. Thing is, I’ve got a lot of options left. I have at least 15 places and different patterns that I haven’t even tried yet.
“If my primary pattern fails, I have other things I know I can do.”
Tharp remained secretive about the what and where of his fishing, but Kimura was extremely talkative.
“I’m in the pads throwing frog,” he said in broken English. “That’s all I am doing, and that’s all I do tomorrow, too. I may throw something else but it will be in pads, you can bet on that.”
Kimura’s home water in Japan is famous in bass circles. It’s Lake Biwa, where the long-standing world record for largemouth bass was tied a few years ago.
“That’s why I like this lake (Barnett) so much; it just like home,” he said. “I fish pads and grass there. That’s all you do, so I know how to fish that and I am comfortable doing that.”
That’s not to say he didn’t have some uncomfortable moments on Day 2 at Barnett.
“I had a tough morning,” he said. “At 11, I had one keeper. But after that, the fish turned on. I stayed on what I wanted to do and they started biting. I guess they were on a late bite today. Yesterday, I caught them all day.”
Potter, who was second on Thursday 4 ounces behind Tharp, also struggled early on Day 2.
“Wind was the key to my fishing Thursday, and today on my No. 1 spot the wind was not blowing,” he said. “I had to give that up and go looking for wind, and when I saw the kind of cover and structure I am looking for and found wind, I found fish.
“I’ve still got a lot of places to look, and I got more confidence today knowing that when my No. 1 spot was not as hot as it was Thursday, I was able to stay with my pattern and find other places.”
Two Louisiana fishermen round out the top five. Gerald Spohrer of Gonzalez is fourth at 23-10 and Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part fifth at 23-3.
Carl Jocumsen of Queensland, Australia, charged into the final round, and did so with an amazing stat for fishing with a frog in heavy pads.
“I had 10 fish blow up on my frog today, and I caught nine of them,” he said. “That’s wild, right. I fish frogs at home a lot but for barramundi, which is popular fish in Australia, so I am pretty experienced with it.
“Today, I started out on schooling fish and I caught a limit in a couple of hours, and then I went to the pads to fish for big fish. I culled all five of my fish. On Saturday, I am going straight to the pads.”
Veteran pro Roland Martin, who had two career B.A.S.S. wins on Barnett in the early ’70s, had the most-popular catch of the day. He took over big fish honors for the tournament with a 6-7.
“How about that?” Martin said to the crowd, getting a raucous ovation. “I caught it on a Senko worm under a dock in Pelahatchie Bay.”
The crowd at Madison Landing on Barnett Reservoir in Ridgeland had little opportunity to cheer for local fishermen, although one angler just missed an opportunity to fish the final round.
Gene Bishop of Ridgeland finished 1 ounce outside the cut, taking 13th place with a two-day total of 20-1. That included a second-day catch of 12-5.
“Oh man, that hurts,” Bishop said after learning of the near miss.
A check of $2,467 will help ease the pain.
“Not much,” Bishop said, “but I am glad I finished in the money.”
Saturday’s final weigh-in will be held at the Bass Pro Shops store in Pearl beginning at 3:30 p.m.