DECATUR, Ala. – The machine that it Mark Rose churned out another solid day of Tennessee River productivity and the National Guard pro from West Memphis, Ark. pulled farther away from the pack as he stretched his lead to a third day in the FLW Tour Open event on Wheeler Lake.
You'd never know it from the numbers, but Rose actually says his Wheeler experience level is the lowest of any of the TVA lakes. Nevertheless, he has made this tournament about fishing the way he likes to fish, which is standing on the bow and staring at a Lowrance HDS-10 screen until he finds fish.
"I'm just really comfortable right now," Rose said. "I'm fishing my strengths and I like this body of water. I'm an offshore fisherman, I've grown a passion for that in the past few years and I just love this body of water."
Rose grabbed the early lead on day one with a limit catch of 21 pounds, 6 ounces – the biggest bag of the event and the only one to break 20. This feat gave him a lead of 3-7 over Alabama pro Blake Nick, but Rose would widen the margin to 4-6 a day later by sacking up 17-8. Today, Rose caught his smallest bag of the event, 15-10, but with Nick's weight also slipping, the lead now stands at a formidable 7 pounds, 1 ounce as Rose heads into the final round with 54-8.
Although he held his cards low on the particular baits he's throwing, Rose did state that he's using a mix of reaction baits and plastics. "It seems that they bite the aggressive stuff early in the morning and then I have to slow down after that."
Rose said he's fishing a couple of particular spots about 15 miles from the tournament site. Electronics, he said, play a central role in his game plane.
"I couldn't do this without my Lowrance StructureScan," he said. "You have to idle and find these fish and see where they're set up and how they're set up. You actually have to use your (electronics) to read the fish and see what baits to throw. You have to see where they're at and what kind of mood they're in."
"I know what they're doing; it's just a matter of them pulling up," he said. "There's a lot of fish out deep and I'm catching the few aggressive ones that are pulling up to feed. I'm only getting six or seven bites a day and I lost a big one today, so you have to have those big bites. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and make the most of it."
Like many other competitors, Rose reports voluminous abundance of shad throughout the river. Some areas have greater densities and he's fishing food-rich spots.
"There's bait all over the (Tennessee River) system right now and I'm on a few areas where they can ambush the bait really well."
Having squeezed three days of leading productivity out of his spots, Rose said he anticipates having to grind out his final day's limit. "I'm wearing (the spots) out. I'm milking them for all they're worth and I'm just hoping there's five there tomorrow. It's slim pickings."
Nick stays at second
Nick joked that he and Clausen had an unofficial side bet on who would take second place, as Rose seems destined to win. Realistically, Nick has carefully calculated the current and potential weights and he knows it's not over 'til it's over.
"I'm seven pounds back and so you go and have that miracle day and catch 22 pounds and Mark still has a good day and catches 14, then it's possible (for me to win)," Nick said.
Day three say Nick returning to the Wheeler Dam area where he caught most of his fish on a jig. The past two days had been fairly calm, but today's increased wind proved challenging for Nick's presentation.
"The wind made it really hard to set up and make the right casts," he said. "Once I found the fish, the way I had to set up with the wind, I was throwing behind the boat, while my co-angler was just stroking them."
Nick, who has held the second-place spot since day one, caught a limit that weighed 12-15 on day three and boosted his total to 47-7.
"They're there. The morning is crucial. You can catch a 20-plus-pound bag out of there in the morning. I'm stoked. We're supposed to have calm weather (in the final round), I won't have a co-angler and I'll be able to sit there and fish."
Third-place Clausen still scrambling
Clausen has been in somewhat of a weight groove the past three days with limits of 15-15, 15-14 and 15-2. He enters the final round in the third-place spot he's held since day one with 46-15 – just a half pound off the lead.
"The five fish I weighed came on fish baits," Clausen said. "I really didn’t isolate a lot of what's going on. I caught a couple on top, I caught one flipping, I caught one on a chatterbait and one on a spinnerbait. It's been really a grind, just going all day with one here, one there."
Clausen got three big bites each on days one and two, but only two quality fish today. Without any defined area or groups of fish, he's hoping he can put together one more good bag on day four.
"I've gotten two or three big bites a day and I'm deathly afraid that the wheels are going to fall off the train tomorrow. I feel pretty fortunate to get one or two of those big bites, but I might get five tomorrow. I'm just going to go out and spend my eight hours grinding it out and we'll see how it goes."
Long drops up to fourth
On day two, Missouri pro Shane Long picked up a dropshot out of desperation after he was unable to get the fish he marked to eat a jig. Today, the dropshot baited with a 6-inch Luck "E" Strike finesse worm (green pumpkin, pink) got top billing and produced the majority of his fish.
"I caught a couple of big ones the last couple of days on the dropshot so I went out today to catch them on it," he said. "I fished a couple places where the current was too strong to fish the dropshot, so I caught a few there on a 5/8-ounce Lucky "E" Strike football jig with a twin tail grub."
On day two, Long's biggest sack – 17-4 – was anchored by a kicker that went 7-4. Today, his dropshot yielded one just shy of 5 pounds. His third-day weight of 13-3 moved him up a notch to fourth with a total weight of 42-9.
Williamson slips a notch to fifth
Michael Williamson, of Fort Smith, Ark. went back to the lily pads he fished on day two, but he also found the wind a hindrance. A Spro popping frog was his primary bait, but with significant disturbance across the vegetation, his presentations were somewhat hindered. When the situation became untenable, Williamson moved to the nearby bridge and caught a couple of fish on a wacky-rigged Roboworm.
"It didn't produce like I thought it would today and I think the wind had a lot to do with it," he said. "But I'm going to go back there tomorrow and stay there all day and try it again. There's plenty of fish there. It's just about aggravating them enough to where they'll bite."
Williamson caught a limit weighing 9-11 and slipped a spot to fifth with 39-15.
Best of the rest
6th: Larry Nixon, of Bee Branch, Ark., 39-9
7th: Randall Tharp, of Gardendale, Ala., 38-12
8th: Brett Hite, of Phoenix, Ariz., 38-3
9th: Scott Suggs, Bryant, Ark., 37-3
10th: Jerry Lawler, of Athens, Ala., 36-4