ANDERSON, S.C. – All week long, Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., said that he didn’t want to be in first place until after the final day of competition on Lake Hartwell. Well, he lived up to his word. Using a whopping 20-pound, 5-ounce catch as a springboard during Sunday’s finals, Ehrler effectively ran away with the title – boasting a total catch of 74 pounds, 13 ounces to walk away with the fourth FLW Tour victory of his career by out-fishing his next closest competitor by more than 3 full pounds.
If it wasn’t clear before, it’s certainly obvious now that Ehrler is fishing as well as anyone on the planet. And that’s no exaggeration. In addition to today’s Lake Hartwell victory, Ehrler has won the Forrest Wood Cup title (2006), the FLW Tour event on Lake Ouachita (2010), the FLW Tour Table Rock Lake contest (2010), two FLW Series titles (Lake Havasu in 2009 and Lake Shasta in 2010), and the 2004 EverStart Series Championship.
In addition, Ehrler boasts 29 top-10 finishes in FLW events since 2003 as well as over $1.86 million in career earnings. He has recorded two angler-of-the-year titles (EverStart Series Western Division in 2003 and FLW Series Western Division in 2010), finished runner-up in the FLW Tour Angler of the Year race in 2008 and 2011 and netted three top-10 finishes in the Forrest Wood Cup since 2006.
And as a final bonus, Ehrler managed to shrug off his second-place finish at the FLW Tour Lake Hartwell event just one year prior en route to full redemption in South Carolina in 2012.
Not bad for a few days work.
“It feels so good,” said Ehrler, who netted $125,000 in first-place winnings at the Lake Hartwell contest this week. “I can’t tell you how awesome it is to win this thing. I just had a very good day today.”
Ehrler said that he had been mixing it up all week, fishing in depths ranging from 2 to 50 feet and employing multiple baits including everything from drop-shot rigs, to jigs, reaction baits to Picasso umbrella rigs. But today, Ehrler said he honed in on two key areas where he managed to do most of his damage.
“All of my fish came on two spots today,” he said. “Basically, both of those spots had fairly big drop-offs from about 30 to 50 feet. This lake is fairly flat so when you find those deeper drop-offs, you can get those better quality bites. It took me awhile to get going. But when those spots turned on, it went fast. I had a limit by about 9:30 a.m.”
Ehrler said that he targeted staging bass that were adhering to deeper drop-offs and content on feeding up on baitfish before moving onto the banks to spawn.
“I pulled up on one spot and caught a 4- or 5-pounder right away,” Ehrler said. “I had a dry spell in the middle of the day but I caught two good fish pretty late. I basically conserved both of my main areas today and that really paid off. I didn’t fish one spot at all until today and the other one, where I caught most of my fish, I only fished a little bit on day three.”
While Ehrler’s arsenal was vast all week, the California pro said he concentrated mostly on fishing a Phenix football jig and Phenix casting jig equipped with a 5-inch twin-tailed grub. Then when he found the fish he was looking for, he often employed a drop-shot Senko rig.
But winning the tournament wasn’t the only bonus for the young pro this afternoon.
“Today I got a text from my wife that my son just started crawling,” said Ehrler, trying to hold back tears onstage. “This has just been an awesome week. It really has.”
Frazier the next ‘young gun?’
Without a doubt, 23-year-old Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., turned in the performance of his career in today’s competition. Buoyed by the largest catch of the tournament – a behemoth 21-pound, 14-ounce sack during the final day of competition, Frazier leapfrogged from sixth to second place overall with an outstanding four-day total of 71 pounds, 11 ounces.
“I managed to make it interesting,” said Frazier, who looked like he could be in the driver’s seat for his first FLW Tour title right until the closing minutes of final weigh-in. “But just to be up here with these guys is awesome.”
Frazier, who targeted bass in the back of a single creek all week, said he wasn’t about to change things up too much on the final day of competition.
“I did the exact same thing I did all tournament; I fished quarter-mile stretches in the back of that creek,” he said. “Today, the fished moved a little bit further back in the creek and it took a little bit to find them. But I probably had a limit by 10:45 a.m.”
Frazier said that he specifically looked for “transition stuff” such as channel swings and other areas of the creek where bass were moving in and out in preparation for the spawn.
As for his bait of choice, Frazier kept it simple.
“I threw a Rapala Shad Rap all day,” he said. “And all the fish I caught all week came on that bait.”
For Frazier, the highlight of the day was when he hooked into a mammoth bass in the 7-pound range
“When I hooked my big fish I didn’t think it was even a bass at first,” he said. “It just started stripping my line. But then I saw it roll over and I realized what it was. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy to get it in the boat.”
And that probably made all the difference between a fifth-place finish and getting his runner-up check worth $35,000.
“Man, it’s just been an awesome week,” he said. “It’s been a dream come true.”
Stone cements comeback
Marty Stone of Fayetteville, N.C., had an emotional rollercoaster ride of a tournament to say the least. After taking a two-year hiatus from the sport and struggling mightily during most of the first day of the tournament, Stone turned things around in a big way. Not only did he qualify for the top 10 and earn a well-deserved third-place finish in the final, but he also – and perhaps most importantly – demonstrated to himself that he still has what it takes to be on the top pros on tour.
“I exceeded all expectations this week,” said Stone, who parlayed a total catch of 68 pounds, 5 ounces into $30,000 in winnings. “After taking that much time off I had a lot of self-doubt. And today was just another step in that journey. It’s still a long journey but it’s a good first step.”
However, it was far from easy.
“I really enjoyed myself this week but today was very stressful” he said. “My bite really picked up later in the day and we lost an hour because of daylight savings time and that had me worried. By noon, I didn’t have a fish in the boat and I had lost five good fish leading up to that point. So I was beyond frustrated.”
But shortly thereafter, Stone’s karma started to change for the better.
“From noon to 2 p.m. I had a great day of fishing,” he said. “For me, the conditions had to be just right. I needed sunshine, some wind and baitfish. And once I had that combination, I was able to call my shots. I still lost a 5-pounder later in the day that hurt and I would have killed for another hour of fishing time, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Stone said that he caught “90 percent” of his catch came on a War Eagle double Colorado blade spinnerbait.
“I was basically fishing docks with that spinnerbait and fishing laydowns with a Bandit 200 crankbait,” he said. “I really like Lake Hartwell. It really fishes to my strengths.”
During final weigh-in, Stone regaled the crowd with an emotional story of his own, about the “real strength” of a friend he never met. The story revolved about a soldier named Duane who he had been trying to meet for the past year or so. However, he never got the chance because Duane recently perished in a house fire attempting to save his two daughters.
“He’s my real hero,” said Stone, barely able to fight back tears. “And I dedicated this tournament to him.”
Auten nails down fourth
Using a total catch of 66 pounds, 1 ounce, Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., finished the Lake Hartwell event in fourth place overall.
“This was a real good tournament for me,” said Auten, who managed a fantastic finish despite battling a sinus cold throughout the final day of competition. “I did really well here last year but feel off on that third day. So it’s just a pleasure being able to fish on day four.”
“I relied on a Phenix swim jig with a Zoom Super Fluke in white and chartreuse,” he said. “And I caught all but one fish on it all week.”
In the end, Auten said he had no complaints.
“Overall I’m happy,” said Auten, who took home $25,000 in winnings. “I fished pretty well and had a good time. And anytime you make the top 10 you can’t complain.”
Gagliardi nets top-five finish
If there was a crowd favorite it had to be Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C. And, in the end, he didn’t disappoint. Using a catch of 61 pounds, 1 ounce, Gagliardi turned in a fifth-place performance to claim $20,000 in prize money.
Gagliardi, who had been fishing both deep and shallow all week, knew that he was in for a tough day right from the get-go.
“I started out deep and I could tell right away that the fish were acting differently and that it wasn’t going to be as good as a few of the other days,” he said. “So I started running around and wound up going shallow. I was throwing a swimbait and a Buckeye Spot Remover with a Senko but I just wasn’t able to get the big bites I really needed.”
Overall though, he said he was happy to have made the cut.
“When they first announced we’re coming here I was really excited,” he said. “When we came here last time, the lake really didn’t show what it was capable of producing. But I think now all the anglers know what Lake Hartwell is all about.”
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro finalists:
6th: Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., 61-0
7th: Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., 58-14
8th: Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wisc., 56-6
9th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., 55-7
10th: Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., 54-9
For a complete list of the day’s results, click here.
FLW Tour Major competition resumes March 29-April 1 at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo.