JASPER, Ala. - When it comes to career accomplishments, Keystone Light pro Brent Ehrler boasts a highly decorated list. From a Forrest Wood Cup victory back in 2006 to four Walmart FLW Tour wins after today, Ehrler's resume couldn't be much more impressive. Yet still, the one thing that has eluded him in his nine years as a pro is the coveted FLW Tour Angler of the Year title - a goal which now rests firmly in his sights this season.
Over the years Ehrler has come close to capturing the prestigious AOY trophy, finishing among the top 10 in the points race five times – two of which were second-place finishes. His Achilles Heel for most every tournament season has been Lake Okeechobee. This year, however, Ehrler turned over a new leaf and finally broke through that barrier, rallying to a second-place finish. Now, with victory on Lewis Smith Lake, Ehrler has some serious momentum heading into the remainder of the season.
“You know I was just talking to my wife and Brett (Hite) the other day about the Ouachita River tournament I fished back in my first year on tour which was 2005,” said Ehrler, who now has over $1.9 million in career earnings. “I was so spun out at that event and I finished way down in 174th. I never would have expected to be where I am at today.”
This victory didn’t come easy for the Redlands, Calif., native. He said all week that every day was a grind on the water for him – despite maintaining a hefty lead throughout the event. With fewer and fewer bites each day of competition, Ehrler made a decision to start the final day right outside of the off-limits area since his fish didn’t normally turn on until later. He quickly boated four keepers in the first 25 minutes, providing an action-packed show for the FLW staff and spectators that stayed to watch.
As his day progressed, Ehrler secured his limit. However, the California native knew that he was still one bite shy of wrapping up a victory. That's when he made the decision to start throwing a Picasso School-E Rig - which ultimately paid off with a 4 ½-pound spot.
“I knew I need some nasty weather like today to throw that School-E Rig. I couldn’t really do it the first three days, but today I finally got the weather that makes those fish come up and chase it. When I caught that big one I had a feeling that put me over.”
So what is it that makes Ehrler so good at chasing spotted bass on deep, clear bodies of water?
“I think it’s just because I know how to read my Humminbirds. They can tell me every little detail about what is going on under the water. And being able to see the fish on my meter gives me the confidence to slow down and stay on the area that I’m fishing.”
The ‘Meter Man’ relied heavily on his electronics this week to catch his spotted bass, fishing anywhere from 15- to 30-feet deep. He focused on areas with brush piles where the fish would either suspend above them or sit in the brush. His primary bait the entire week was 5-inch Yamamoto Senko which he rigged wacky style on a 1/0 Gamakatsu Weedless Spilt-Shot/Drop-Shot hook. He matched that on a Lucky Craft Reaction Tube rod spooled with 12-pound braid tied to an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Once Ehrler marked a fish he would drop the wacky-rigged Senko down to the fish. Often times as he watched the bait sink on his graph, Ehrler could see the fish moving up to it. The majority of the time, however, the fish would follow the bait all the way down to the bottom where it would eventually pick the Senko up.
Increasing his lead every day, Ehrler landed 14 pounds, 11 ounces worth of spotted bass to bring his margin of victory to 7-4. His total weight for the tournament rose to 60-9, and earned the 'Meter Man' a $125,000 check.
“You never know when this opportunity will come and it’s awesome when it happens. And you know, to be great you need to surround yourself with greatness. Without all of my family and sponsors who support me I wouldn’t be here today.”
Powroznik keeps second
When you practice for a tournament, it helps to have a rough idea of the general size of the fish that reside on your primary areas. If you are Jacob Powroznik, you know the size of basically every fish that lives in the school you plan to fish. After Powroznik weighed in his 14-pound, 11-ounce limit on day one he mentioned that he would be able to catch 12 to 14 pounds every day. And did he ever back that up by catching 12-12, 12-3 and 13-11 over the last three days of the competition, respectively.
“That is one of those places you dream about finding,” said the Prince George, Va., native when referring to his fishing ground. “I did a lot of idling around in practice and when I found that school it looked like something you see on Kentucky Lake; there were hundreds of fish on it. For the fish to be that deep (47 to 50 feet) I knew they weren’t going anywhere.
“I knew I had found a good spot, but I had no idea it would be this good until the tournament started.”
Powroznik’s main spot was a long underwater point near the mouth of Simpson Creek. Throughout the week he alternated between a drop-shot and an umbrella rig (Swim N Frenzy). For his drop-shot setup, Powroznik used 10-pound braid with an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader attached to it. A 1/0-hook with a green pumpkin worm and either a 3/8-ounce or ¼-ounce tungsten weight finished off the drop-shot rig.
As for the umbrella rig combo, his choices were an 8-foot Villain or 7-foot, 11-inch Veritas rod rigged with either braid or fluorocarbon. Powroznik thought he would receive more bites from the fluorocarbon, not because of visibility, but because it makes less noise than braid coming through the water. Light-wire hooks gave Powroznik the ability to simply straighten them out in an effort to get the rig unstuck from brush – though he still lost close to $200 worth of umbrella rigs this week.
“I wanted to wind to blow, but I didn’t want it to blow as hard as it did today. I had to leave my main area and basically start practicing again. That’s when I started to throw the umbrella rig in wind-blown areas and ended up catching two good ones from docks in the back of pockets.
Powroznik finished with a four-day total weight worth 53-5 and claimed a check for $35,000.
“If you would have told me when I left Virginia that would get second here, I would have been grinning from ear to ear all the way down. This place is just amazing. And If I was to move anywhere it would definitely be Alabama.”
Morgan up to third
If a person was to bet on which angler was going to make a top 10 in a given event, one of the smartest picks would be Andy Morgan who has amassed a staggering number of top-10s in FLW competition – 53 to be exact. Being a flipper at heart, Morgan also has a knack for doing well on bodies of water that are similar to Smith, though that’s not to say he still doesn’t throw a jig.
After looking at the extended forecast before the event, Morgan knew the weather was going to warm and that the conditions would likely push the largemouths shallow. He figured it he could just make the cut to fish Saturday and Sunday he would have a chance at some big bites.
“Yesterday I got some bites in 18 inches of water,” said the Dayton, Tenn., native. “I was catching them around 20 feet (deep) or so the first day, and they seemed to move shallower each day.”
Morgan was the only angler in the top 10 who saw his weights increase each day of the event. He caught 11 pounds, 2 ounces on day one – the coldest day of the tournament. On day two Morgan improved by catching 12-9 and followed that up with 12-13 yesterday. Today, on the warmest day of the tournament, Morgan caught 14 pounds – most of which came in the last 45 minutes of the day.
Like many of the anglers chasing largemouths, Morgan’s bite generally wouldn’t turn on until the afternoon. To counter that, he would fish in areas where his odds were better to catch spotted bass by throwing a homemade umbrella rig.
Morgan used a War Eagle ½-ounce jig with a Zoom chunk trailer (green pumpkin) on 16-pound Gamma fluorocarbon to do most of his damage this week.
“For the last 45 minutes of the day I could basically call my shots on where I would get bit. And in the last 20 minutes of the day I caught eight or nine fish – I even lost a 4- and 5-pounder which hurt. Those 20 minutes were about as good as it gets in a tournament though.”
Morgan spent most of his time this week running about 30 miles up the Sipsey, fishing just below the 278 bridge.
After four days of tough fishing, Morgan brought a total weight of 50-8 to the scales and walked away with $30,000.
Christie rises to fourth
Rayovac pro Jason Christie put the pressure on Ehrler, bringing the second largest bag of the final day – behind Ehrler – to the Walmart parking lot. Christie hauled in 12-2 on the first day then found some key bites on day two to bring in 15-8. Day three was his downfall as he could only manage 8-4 after losing two good bites. His total catch for the week settled at 50-5 and gave the Park Hill, Okla., pro $25,000.
Christie encountered the issue of not really getting any good bites until noon or later - a reality which seemed to plague many of the pros in this event.
“I don’t really know what was going on with those fish," said Christie. "I think the largemouth would roam early in the morning, then once the sun got up nice and high they would get under some cover.”
Generally on the first three days of competition Christie would only receive one or two bites before noon. But once the sun came up, he would get 12 to 15 bites until it was time to head in. In fact, when Christie caught 15-8 on day two he didn’t get his two biggest fish until the first flight had already checked in.
The Oklahoma pro put most of his efforts into chasing largemouths around shallow docks and bushes, though he wasn’t opposed to any spots that decided to bite either. Many of the areas he targeted were main-river pockets and drains located near the mouth of Brushy Creek.
“Any time I found those isolated docks it was guaranteed to have a fish. I had one dock that I caught a keeper off of every day and it was probably only the size of a truck.”
After the first two days the attention switched from docks to brush as the weather warmed.
When he targeted the docks, Christie threw a 7/16-ounce Booyah Bed Bug jig (brown) and used a green pumpkin Yum Craw Papi. On the final two days as he made the adjustment to fishing brush, he employed a ½-ounce weight with a Texas-rigged Yum Craw Papi (also green pumpkin).
According to Christie, “I fished in knee-deep water or less all week.”
“I ran around a lot and at times and I know my co-anglers got sick of it. My cameraman on the final day was especially getting sick of making (a bunch of stops); I’d take three casts, then pull up the trolling motor and make a run to the next place.”
Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., was one of several anglers who brought mixed bags of fish to the scales during the week. Kreiger came out strong on day one with a 15-pound sack. Days two and three saw conditions getting tough for the 2012 EverStart Series champion when he caught 12-14 and 9-11, respectively. His total weight of 50-3 earned Kreiger a cool $20,000.
Conditions on the final day gave Kreiger the opportunity to run water like he had been doing all week. He focused on steep banks with wood cover that hung out over deep water with some wind blowing to it in the Ryan Creek area. He threw a Swim N Frenzy umbrella rig most of the day, targeting whatever structure he could find near the bank.
“Today was pretty cool, I watched every fish today come up and eat my bait,” said Kreiger.
“For some reason I seem to do halfway decent here, and I’m OK with that. I had fun this week and only lost two fish the entire week, so I was pretty happy."
Rest of the Best
Rounding out the top-10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Lewis Smith Lake:
6th: Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, 49-9, $17,000
7th: Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., 47-4, $16,500
8th: Cody Meyer of Auburn, Calif., 46-5, $15,000
9th: Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., 45-13, $14,000
10th: Ray Scheide of Dover, Ark., 43-14, $13,000
The next FLW Tour event is set for Beaver Lake in Rogers, Ark., April 11-14, the third of six qualifiers.