Randall Tharp found what he was looking for when he came to Ouachita for pre-practice and it held up for him throughout the event.
Anglers who fared the best in last week's Forrest Wood Cup either focused on the top few feet of water or went down 15 feet and deeper. Arkansas' Lake Ouachita just wasn't offering up much in between on a full moon in the middle of August.
Runner-up Randall Tharp and 3rd-place finisher Mark Rose were at opposite ends of that spectrum. Tharp enticed all of his weigh-in fish to the surface while Rose, who's become one of the best at offshore fishing over the past few years, pulled all but a couple of his from water that was well over twice as deep as he is tall.
2nd: Randall Tharp
> Day 1: 5, 16-00
> Day 2: 5, 13-01
> Day 3: 5, 12-05
> Day 4: 5, 15-01
> Total = 20, 56-07
Tharp ended up 4 1/2 pounds behind winner Scott Martin. He watched the weight that would've negated much or all of that deficit swim away on day 1, when he popped a big bag that could've been spectacular if not for several lost bruisers.
He went to Ouachita for some pre-practice immediately after last month's FLW Tour regular-season finale at Pickwick with the notion to work a bedding-bream pattern in shallow water. He found precisely what he was looking for on that trip, and it was still happening when he returned for official practice on the weekend prior to the event.
"I went out deep and tried other stuff and I could catch fish other ways," he said, "but if I caught a keeper, it was a 13- or 14-incher. There were a lot of 3- and 4-pounders up shallow."
He had four primary areas and fished each multiple times during the day. All were rife with spawning bluegill and they also had some shad action out toward the main lake.
"I've never seen a lake with that many bluegill, and when they'd get up in the water column, so would the bass. The fish would bust those shad up early, then a herd of them would move to the bank and start feeding on the bluegill.
"If they weren't there on my first pass I'd come back later, and whenever I'd actually see bass, I knew it was going to happen. There were times when I could see five 3- to 5-pounders."
> Topwater gear: 6'6" medium-heavy Falcon Cara rod, Shimano Chronarch MG50 casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), 30-pound Power Pro braided line with 6-foot Gamma co-polymer leader, Brian's Prop Bee # 3 (baby bream).
> He caught one schooler each day that ended up going to the scale on a Lucky Craft Gunfish. "I threw that on long points," he said. "When those schools would come up, you'd usually only have 20 or 30 seconds to get it done."
Main factor in his success – "Just staying in the high-percentage places."
Performance edge – "I'd say my EverStart batteries. We were really limited with the time we had to charge them each day, and I used the onboard charger plus four others to make sure I got every bit I could. That made a big difference because some guys were out of juice by the end of the day, but I wasn't."
Randall Tharp (third place, 41-6):
Focusing on the shallow stuff, Tharp said he has yet to fully tap his area’s potential however, he’s optimistic about finally rounding up the kind of catch he needs.
“I haven’t caught them a single day like I thought I could,” he said. “There’s a 20-pound bag swimming around there – I see them every day. If they bite today, I can pull this thing out.
“I’ve got key areas and then I’ve got key places on these areas. I don’t think there’s a fish sitting there all the time. It’s just a place those fish might slow down, it’s a place they might just hang around for a minute. This is just a high-percentage place. There’s little depressions, little indentions and I think this is just a little place that slows them down long enough to get a bait in front of them.”
Prior to launch, Tharp displayed a trio of his size 3 Brian’s Bees. Each bore debilitating battle wounds suffered during largemouth bass engagements.
“These are casualties of the week,” Tharp said. “I’m fishing these on 30-pound braid with a 17-pound leader because I’m fishing in some pretty deep timber and you have to get them out of there.”