Tharp’s ‘simple’ plan pays off at Barnett

Randall Tharp focused on isolated boat docks to find big fish during the Bassmaster Central Open on Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Open winner shows local fishermen a new pattern

If there is a fishing lesson to be learned from last week’s Bassmaster Central Open on Barnett Reservoir, it is to keep fishing simple and never overlook the obvious.

Winner Randall Tharp did exactly that and basically ran away with the tournament.

“I spent the entire tournament fishing boat docks, and trying to key on isolated boat docks to find big fish,” said Tharp, who led from start to finish and won by nearly four pounds. “I spent the entire week on the lower part of the main lake and in Pelahatchie Bay. I pre-fished other areas but I couldn’t find anything better.”

When asked if he gave much consideration to the most popular fall patterns on Barnett Reservoir — deep ledges on the main lake, or vegetation on the upper river area, Tharp just grinned.

“Yeah, but it’s hard to beat boat docks and if you look at who all was fishing in the Bay, you get a good idea why,” he said.

Six of the 12 anglers who made the cut to the final day’s fishing spent most of the tournament in the Bay with docks the primary target. Another fisherman, veteran Roland Martin, fished there, too, but didn’t make the cut.

“But that’s how I caught my big fish,” said Martin, whose 6-pound, 7-ounce bass on Friday was the biggest fish weighed in three days. “I was using a Senko worm under a boat dock in the Bay.”

Among the guys you didn’t see fishing the docks in the Bay were many of the local anglers who fish Barnett regularly. You also didn’t see any of them fishing in the final round, either. None of the 20 Mississippians in the event, including about a dozen of the lake’s best, made the cut.

All of the pre-tournament talk about winning patterns centered on deep ledges on the main lake or pitching vegetation in the river, and most of the locals could be seen doing one of the two.

“What that did was make the lake fish awfully small,” said one from the stage. “When you put that many fishermen on that little bit of water, it gets kind of crowded.”

Changing weather conditions and the heavy fishing pressure increased the difficulty.

“I think that worked for me on the dock pattern,” Tharp said, adding that weather doesn’t affect permanent dock-dwelling bass as much as other fish, and that fish being pressured in nearby pads sought refuge in the docks.

Hard to argue his logic, since Tharp left town with the $47,000-winner’s boat/cash package.

Squeezing by

Tharp may have had a big margin of victory, but, in another respect, he came extremely close to losing. It wasn’t until midday on Monday, two days after the final weigh-in that BASS tournament officials stopped looking into an area Tharp had fished.

After Saturday’s conclusion, Tharp finally talked about his winning fishing pattern and mentioned how he keyed on isolated docks. Two of the docks he specifically described were on the main lake about half a mile from the bridge to Pelahatchie Bay.

On Saturday, Tharp caught a 3-pounder off one dock in a cove on one side of Timberlake Campground and then a 5-pounder on a dock in a cove on the other side of the point.

Trouble is, most of the cove holding the first pier mentioned is closed to boating, which means it was off limits to the competing anglers. There is a single old, weathered sign on a pole that says “no boating beyond this point.” Earlier in the tournament, Tommy Martin had a day’s catch disqualified because he had gone beyond the sign without knowing what it said.

When told of Tharp’s statements, BASS tournament director Chris Bowes began looking into the situation. It wasn’t until Monday that he ended the query and was satisfied that Tharp’s catch was legal.

“We can’t make a decision based on an arbitrary line,” Bowes said, referencing the single pole and how it related to the bank on each side of the cove. “When you look at the dock in question, it appears some of it is in front of the sign and some isn’t but the question is where is the line supposed to be.

“Randall told me he knew the sign was there but that he stayed in legal waters and fished in legal waters. Tommy’s case was different because he said he clearly went beyond the sign and didn’t know what it said.”

The “dock” is an L-shaped fishing pier for campground visitors only. It includes a short walkout pier that leads to a long pier that runs parallel to the bank for perhaps 60 or 80 feet deeper into the cove. At best, only part of the pier is in legal water.

Reservoir officials were contacted twice, once about Martin’s situation, and he clearly traveled past the line, no matter where it actually is, and then on Monday after the tournament to inquire about Tharp.

The reservoir officials offered no opinion to Bowes, and later said the sign was a holdover from the early days of the reservoir when campers used to swim in the cove. They said there is no regulation on record regarding the cove as being off limits to other boats.

But, the sign itself, having been put there by reservoir officials, makes the area off limits to tournament fishermen, according to B.A.S.S. rules.

“As I understand it, that means it is like there is a concrete wall on that line,” said Elite Series angler Pete Ponds of nearby Madison. “You can’t go past that line and you can’t fish past that line. I don’t know whether that pier is legal or not because I don’t know where the line is, but I’m interested to hear what B.A.S.S. rules.”

This writer went to the pier in question that Saturday after the weigh-in and walked on it.

This is my interpretation — it is extremely close. Standing on the pier, I could only see the back of the sign, but only a fraction. I couldn’t read the front of the sign at all.

It could be that if Tharp fished only the outer edge of the pier and didn’t move down it — while landing a fish in strong winds that were blowing directly down the cove, for example — he was indeed legal.

B.A.S.S. had access to a witness, Tharp’s fishing partner.

If they are satisfied, that is enough for me.

They will come back

After the tragic murder of one of the tournament anglers at his motel the weekend prior to the event, rampant speculation suggested B.A.S.S. would never return to the metro Jackson area. That assumption is ridiculous, if you look at the facts.

Jackson’s ranking among dangerous cities in America is high, but is lower than B.A.S.S.’s home in Birmingham, and is lower than other places B.A.S.S. has gone in recent years, such as New Orleans and Detroit.

Of factors that play into B.A.S.S.’s decision on where to hold events, it appears that perceived safety ranks low. The towns, communities or counties that write a big enough check will get the events. The City of Ridgeland will make another bid, a tourism spokesperson for the city said. It might take a few years, but it will.

Pat Renegar, manager of the Bass Pro Shop in Pearl also said that as long as BPS remains sponsor of the Open series, those events must be held close to a BPS store. The final weigh-in was held at the Pearl store.

“When you think about it, that narrows the possibilities a good bit,” Renegar said.

So, yeah, B.A.S.S. will be back.

When they do, reckon those docks and piers will be popular?

You bet.

About Bobby Cleveland 1350 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.

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