GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – The Tennessee Valley Authority failed to produce any current on day one of the FLW Tour finale, yet 24 pros still managed to catch limits in excess of 20 pounds. One of those sacks was caught by leader Vic Vatalaro, who tallied 25-12. Another was registered by Bryan Thrift, who took a giant step in claiming his first Angler of the Year award.
Thrift entered the tournament with a 21-point lead over second-place Brent Ehrler. While Thrift thrived with a 22-pound limit, Ehrler managed only 14-10. At the conclusion of day one, Thrift sits in ninth, Ehrler tied for 91st. The third-place pro, Ish Monroe, sacked 18-7 for 39th place and now may be the greatest threat to unseat Thrift. Fourth-place pro Andy Morgan is 14th with 21-2, but he started 54 points behind Thrift in the standings.
“If I can average a 19-pound bag over the next two days that should be enough,” Thrift said. “Anything less, you never know. This is Guntersville.”
The Damiki pro wasted little time this morning – sacking nearly 20 pounds in the first hour of the day. He then moved to a secondary area and caught another 5-pounder. From there he called it a day and took advantage of FLW Outdoors opening their scale at noon. Although he wasn’t due in until 3:15, Thrift placed his stringer on the scale at 12:40 p.m. – forfeiting nearly three hours of valuable fishing time.
“I had already lost one of them and I didn’t want to lose any more so I eased on in. I had a decent bag, so I feel real good about that.”
Thrift sampled Guntersville’s dock bite in practice but it wasn’t there. Instead, he’s fishing offshore, something he’s becoming increasingly comfortable with. With a commanding lead, he can almost taste AOY.
“I came really close to winning back in 2008. I was leading going into the last day and then the wheels came off. So I’m excited to have another opportunity; they don’t come along that often.”
Vatalaro bucks ledge trend
In practice, Vatalaro decided he’d try the Guntersville grass as well as the offshore ledges. Practice went well, but it’s difficult to tell exactly what “well” means until you hook every bass that bites. So when Vatalaro stuck 25-12 today, he was more than pleased.
“I did something else this morning and caught a quick limit,” said the Kent, Ohio, native. “Then I ran up to the grass to cull and ended up replacing all five of them.”
Vatalaro used a 1/8-ounce Weedless Wonder jig and a big worm to catch his fish. He positioned his boat in water 7 to 12 feet deep and then flipped to water 4 to 6 feet deep.
“There are little pockets with hard spots, either rock or shells, that are really productive. They are almost like little holes in the grass.”
Vatalaro’s two biggest fish topped the 6-pound mark. And equally impressive, none of his five keepers perished in the 97-degree weather. The pro leader has no definitive plans for tomorrow. Whereas many offshore anglers are sharing water, Vatalaro had no company on day one.
Brent Long is currently second with 25-11, just an ounce behind Vatalaro. He’s catching his fish deep, something he’s not accustomed to.
“I’m fishing offshore and I hate it,” said the Cornelius, N.C., pro. “I am a shallow-water fisherman, but Guntersville is usually won deep this time of year.”
Long was culling at 6:30 this morning, just minutes after taking off as boat No. 120.
“I have three different places, but I have one good spot where caught four today. So far, I have that area to myself but there were some other boats in sight. It’s just a main-river ledge. The boat is in like 25 feet and the top of the ledge is about 12.”
Long started the day and caught his first limit with a Zoom Ole Monster. He then switched to a hand-tied (Ernest Langley) 3/4-ounce football head jig with a Zoom Fat Albert Twin-Tail grub and upgraded his catch.
TVA expert Mark Rose had one particular area in mind shortly before takeoff this morning. He knew it was loaded with largemouth bass. What he didn’t know was that he’d be the first boat to fish it. Within hours, Rose had already accumulated 20 pounds or so.
“I’m fishing ledges of course,” said the Marion, Ark., pro. “I just happened to luck up and get one of the best ones to myself this morning.”
Rose is throwing typical offshore stuff like a big worm, a 3/4-ounce Strike King jig and a Strike King 6XD crankbait. He estimates he has 15 different spots. Of the 15, three are especially good and the one he fished early this morning stands above the rest.
“The bite was good early, then we hit a dry spell and then it picked up some again at the end. There was no current today. But having current in practice at least helped me identify where they live.”
Carver, Minn., pro Jim Moynagh used a 3/4-ounce All-Terrain Tackle jig to catch a limit weighing 23-3. Moynagh fished ledges and rotated spots throughout the day.
“I really don’t know the potential of the places I have,” he said. “You never do, because when you get a few bites in practice you immediately back off. It was really nice today to hunker down and throw at them.”
Moynagh said some of his spots produced better than expected while others were letdowns. But that could easily be reversed tomorrow.
“It’s hard to learn these ledges with only three days of practice. You can only do so much. With that limited time frame, I basically ruled out any shallow stuff. I went all in on these ledges and crossed my fingers.”
Desperately trying to qualify for his first Forrest Wood Cup in years, Chevy pro Jimmy Houston sacked an impressive 22-pound, 11-ounce stringer Wednesday. Houston entered the Guntersville event in 67th place in the year-long standings. But with a strong finish and several pros double qualifying through the FLW Series, Houston still has a very realistic shot.
“I’ve had some good tournaments this year but I always seem to follow them up with a bomb,” he said.
Today the legendary angler enjoyed Guntersville’s versatility. He said he caught his fish in water as shallow as 2 feet and as deep as 30 feet.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on day one at Lake Guntersville:
6th: Craig Dowling of Grant, Ala., 22-10
7th: Kyle Mabrey of McCalla, Ala., 22-7
8th: Keith Combs of Del Rio, Texas, 22-5
9th: Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 22-1
10th: Terry Bolton of Jonesboro, Ark., 21-11
Law overcomes culling error for co-angler lead
Jason Law experienced an incredibly frustrating morning, but he displayed some impressive resiliency to claim the co-angler lead at the conclusion of day one. Fishing with pro Stetson Blaylock, Law had a nice limit in the boat early and was about to cull. When he opened his livewell at 9 a.m., he saw six bass (a rules violation) and his jaw dropped. Without realizing it, he inadvertently failed to cull his previous keeper. He then called Tournament Director Bill Taylor for direction on how to proceed. Taylor ruled that Law had to release all of his fish and start from scratch.
Instead of dwelling or complaining, the Waycross, Ga., native put the pedal to the metal. He finished the day with a stout limit weighing 20 pounds, 12 ounces. Blaylock was baffled as to how all the fish he was catching were 2-pounders and all the fish Law was catching were 4-pounders.
Law couldn’t explain it either, other than saying he used an 8-inch Hags Tornado, a ringworm style soft plastic (green pumpkin), on a 1/2-ounce jig head.
“It was just awesome,” Law said. “It was just all day long. I bet I caught 25 or more keepers. I got tired of setting the hook; that’s pretty hard to do. Stetson was definitely around them but for whatever reason I just got the big ones to bite.
“This feels pretty good because I took like 140th last year on Guntersville. It was a different time of the year but it still feels good to get some redemption.”
Coming into this event, Law was 8th in the Co-angler of the Year race. But he’s not thinking about COY. Instead he just wants to focus on the tournament at hand and qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup, which is being held in his home state.
“I don’t really like to be leading to be honest. I led the Clarks Hill event last year on the final day. In fact, I was leading until the final flight, when Alan Hults came in and pushed me to second.”
Rest of the best
In second place for the co-anglers was Birmingham, Ala., resident John Jacobs. Jacobs caught a limit worth 20 pounds, 5 ounces, only the second back-decker to crack the 20-pound mark.
In third was Chad Hillis of McMinnville, Tenn., with 19 pounds, 4 ounces. Hillis drew pro Scott Suggs and caught his fish on ledges with soft plastics.
“Scott had his limit in the first 45 minutes and I had my limit by 8:30. I’m from Tennessee, so I’m accustomed to ledge fishing on TVA lakes.”
In fourth place was West Coast co-angler JR Wright, who fished with fellow Western angler David Kromm.
“I love fishing deep, and we stayed in pretty much the same area all day,” said Wright, who caught 19-1. “We were using big 10-inch worms and football-head jigs.”
With 18 pounds, 12 ounces, Mark Heatwole finished the day in fifth place.
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers at Lake Guntersville on day one:
6th: Van Roy Foster Jr. of Dalton, Ga., 18-3
7th: Dan Clark of Cleveland, Tenn., 18-0
8th: Naohiro Maruo of Takamatsu, Japan, 17-12
8th: Eric Schultz of Minnetonka, Minn., 17-12
10th: Billy Brindle of Calhoun, Ga., 17-9
Day two of the FLW Tour event on Lake Guntersville will begin Thursday at 6 a.m. at the Lake Guntersville Resort State Park located at 7966 Alabama Hwy. 227 in Guntersville, Ala.