MONROE, La. – Buoyed by his standout catch on day one, it didn’t take much for Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., to maintain his Pro Division lead in the opening round of Wal-Mart FLW Tour competition at the Ouachita River. He caught just four bass Thursday, but still stretched out a 2-pound lead over the rest of the field after the first two days.
Herren’s four-bass catch weighed 11 pounds, 8 ounces on day two – just about exactly what he needed to maintain top status – and he totaled 36-6 for the opening round. With a 5-pound head start yesterday – he caught a 24-14 limit – few expected Herren to bring in another 20-pound stringer today.
Neither did he, but he almost pulled it off.
“Most of the day I went looking for totally new water, but I started where I fished yesterday,” Herren said. “I fished there for about an hour and I caught four fish early.”
Herren’s honeyhole looks so far like it could be worth $100,000 this week, but he didn’t feel so sure about that after today. Like many others, the leader is fishing upriver in Arkansas’ Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge. Leading anglers yesterday capitalized on dropping water levels and current in the Felsenthal pool, which tends to push bass tight into cover. Today Herren and others said that the water has leveled off above the dam, and that has had a dispersive effect on the fish they were keying on in the upper pool.
“Felsenthal’s bottomed out at normal pool,” he said. “The current positions those fish on targets, and we’ve lost the current.”
Still, Herren, throwing a Davis M-Series jig that he designed with a Paca Craw chunk trailer, fished his pattern of trees in a cypress swamp about 10 miles up from the Felsenthal dam long enough that he probably could have squeaked out another 20 pounds if he wanted. In just an hour, he caught his 11 ½ pounds and even lost a 6-pounder.
Leading day-one pros who fished the Monroe pool had a rougher go of it, however. Four of yesterday’s top five pros missed the cut: David Walker (second place Wednesday), Takahiro Omori (third), Todd Ary (fourth) and Keith Pace (fifth) all stayed closer to home and each caught just two bass Thursday.
But Herren worried about the pros fishing below the dam who did make the cut, like Bobby Lane.
“If it keeps warming up, the guys to watch in this tournament are the guys fishing the Monroe pool (in Louisiana),” he said. “I know where I’m fishing tomorrow, but, man, that’s the longest, most treacherous run a guy can make.
“I’m tickled to death just to be here. Everything else from here on out is just gravy.”
Sitting just under 2 pounds behind Herren, Mike Hawkes of Sabinal, Texas, pieced together two solid stringers in the 17-pound range over the first two days and claimed the second-place spot for the pros with an opening-round total of 34-7.
Like the rest of the top four pros after Thursday, Hawkes fished in Felsenthal, and he, too, is feeling the pain of the long run through the swamp.
“I’ve hit enough stumps this week that I feel like a pinball,” he said, saying he made a sketchy run over some thin water to reach his area the first two days. “It’s a slough, an old creek channel, right next to a backwater lake. You’ve got to run a chute kind of thing to get into it. It’s a real tribute to the equipment – the boats and motors – that all of us run here because we’re pretty rough on them.”
After three years on the FLW Tour, Jeremiah Kindy of Benton, Ark., finally made his first top-10 cut Thursday. He caught 32 pounds, 13 ounces in the opening round at the Ouachita River and qualified for the finals in third place.
He started fishing both days in the same area on Felsenthal as Herren. Flipping a black-and-blue jig, he caught 16 pounds, 5 ounces Thursday.
“I think 70 pounds of fish have come off that one little spot I’m fishing,” Kindy said. “When the water’s pulling, they move to the outside tree rows. I’m trying to camp out there a little bit. I think there’s more moving up every day, because I caught two 5-pounders off one spot today.”
Mickey Bruce of Buford, Ga., claimed the fourth spot for the pros with an opening-round weight of 30 pounds, 3 ounces.
“It’s the same old, same old,” said Bruce, who’s also fishing in Felsenthal, pitching a Stanley jig and a weightless worm. “It’s kind of tough to fish slow and cover a lot of water, but that’s what you’ve got to do.”
William Davis of Russellville, Ark., fishing a jig, qualified in fifth place in the Pro Division with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 8 ounces.
“I think it’s all good right now,” he said.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros to make the cut at the Ouachita River:
6th: Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., 29-3
7th: Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., 28-15
8th: Jason Kilpatrick of Satsuma, Ala., 28-14
9th: Alvin Shaw of State Road, N.C., 27-13
10th: Toshinari Namiki of Hachioji City, Japan, 26-6
– Lane, an FLW rookie, not only leads the Pro Division yearly standings, he’s made all of the cuts this season. He’s made his third final round in just three tournaments fished.
– Namiki is fishing in his second FLW finals of the year. He finished fourth at Lake Okeechobee.
– Robert Karbas Jr. of Wake Forest, N.C., earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass Award in the Pro Division with a 7-pound largemouth.
After placing ninth on day one, Roger Hester of Walnut Cove, N.C., moved up into the top slot on the co-angler side with a two-day catch of 17 pounds, 11 ounces. He pieced together two stringers that weighed almost 9 pounds apiece both days of the opening round.
To hear Hester tell it, it was all luck of the draw.
“I had the two best (pro) pairings you can imagine: I fished with Bobby Lane and Greg Hackney,” Hester said. “How does that happen? I couldn’t have done it better if I had picked them myself.”
Still, Hester said he does have a trick up his sleeve when it comes to catching these swamp bass out of the back of the boat.
“I’m throwing a Brush Hog, a little Beaver and a little twitch bait on top,” he said. “I didn’t fish but for two or three hours today, then I laid down the sticks. If they get around me, I think I can catch them.”
Second place for the co-anglers went to Merle Wells Jr. of Hammond, N.Y., for an opening-round weight of 16 pounds, 10 ounces.
Day-one leader Roy Altman Jr. of Augusta, Ga., dropped to third place with a two-day total of 15 pounds, 14 ounces.
Bruce Dale of Jamestown, Ohio, placed fourth with 13 pounds, 10 ounces.
Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala., took the fifth qualifying spot with 13 pounds, 8 ounces.
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers to make the cut at the Ouachita River:
6th: James Davis Jr. of Ferriday, La., 13-2
7th: Sondra Rankin of Paducah, Ky., 12-9
8th: Joe Cooper of Smithville, Texas, 12-2
9th: Russell Burroughs of Jacksonville, Ala., 12-0
10th: Kenta Kimura of Japan, 12-0
Bill Barrett of Sarasota, Fla., and Randy Clark of Mobile, Ala., tied for the Snickers Big Bass Award in the Co-angler Division, each with 5-pound, 8-ounce fish.
Day three of FLW Tour competition at the Ouachita River begins as the 10 pros and 10 co-anglers take off from Forsythe Park at 7 a.m. Central time Friday for the second half of competition. The co-anglers will wrap up competition Friday while the pros are fishing the first half of a two-day final round.