DAYTON, Tenn. – One of the most consistent anglers in bass fishing finally clinched the prestigious Angler of the Year title as Andy Morgan put in a workmanlike effort on Lake Chickamauga, his home water, to seal the deal. Meanwhile, a Walmart FLW Tour rookie desperately seeking to qualify for the Forrest Wood Cup jumped into the lead at the halfway point in the tournament.
The hometown crowd got exactly what they wanted Friday afternoon. Not only did Morgan clinch AOY, but the other two prominent local pros, Michael Neal and Wesley Strader, caught 20-pound plus stringers and sit near the top of the leaderboard.
For Morgan, the AOY win was special, but not surprising. For the better part of a decade the Dayton, Tenn., native has threatened for AOY, but with no true smallmouth fishery and the season ending in east Tennessee, this was clearly Morgan’s year.
“You called it earlier in the year, my chances at winning without a smallmouth lake and with us finishing up the season here in the southeast were so much greater,” Morgan said. “Looking back over the years where I’ve done better than others, it seems like the years when we’ve had really wet springs is when I’ve done well. This year, we’ve had plenty of water everywhere, other than Beaver, so I guess it was the perfect scenario. But believe me, after Beaver, where I took 68th, I thought I had no chance, no chance. Usually there is one person who goes all year without a slip-up.”
Morgan gained some ground on Keystone Light pro Brent Ehrler at Lake Eufaula and then surged into the lead at Grand Lake. On his home pond, he never looked back – fishing mainly deep brush and stumpy ledges.
“I took it slow, one cast at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time. How sweet it is to win it right here in the hills and hollers of Dayton.”
While the AOY race is over, Morgan isn’t done fishing as he made the top-20 cutoff in 14th place.
“I couldn't have scripted it any better, other than winning the tournament. It was pretty sweet. It’s great to win, but it’s even better to win at home and have everyone come out to support you.”
Martin surges into the lead
Coming into the final qualifier of the year in 54th place in the points race, Casey Martin knew he’d have to catch them to make the Forrest Wood Cup in his rookie season. While he’s extremely comfortable fishing deep patterns in the summertime, not even Martin expected a start like this. After catching 22-15 on day one, the New Market, Ala., pro caught 27 pounds on day two, the heaviest limit of the tournament thus far. Martin’s 49-15 gives him a 7-pound, 9-ounce lead at the halfway point in the tournament.
“It was crazy,” said the pro leader, who shared water with Mark Rose, JT Kenney and Anthony Gagliardi. “On my third cast this morning I caught one and then it was one after another. I left that spot with about 17 pounds and culled once on my next stop. Then I visited a place I caught two big ones yesterday and I caught a 6 and that 7-11. I spent a total of six minutes there and I left. And as far as I know, nobody is fishing it.”
The 7-11 was the 3M ScotchBlue Big Bass of the day. While his other areas have bigger fish, Martin likes to start on the crowded ledge, which shouldn’t be crowded tomorrow as none of the other three made the top-20 cut.
“That first spot is a mega school. Having a limit there before I go hop around really puts me at ease.”
Martin said he’s catching his fish on a Picasso School-E Rig, a 3/4-ounce Omega football jig (Ozark special color) and a Strike King 10XD (sexy blueback herring color). The School E-Rig produced the early flurry and accounted for three of his five weigh fish.
With a sizeable lead Martin is beginning to change his mentality from qualifying for the Cup to winning the tournament.
“When I was leading at Okeechobee, I admit I was a little star struck. I think I’m more prepared for this one. And the lake is setting up exactly like Guntersville. Believe me, I want to win.”
Trailing Martin is legendary angler Larry Nixon, who has already qualified for the Cup through last year’s Opens. Nixon said he didn’t have much found when the tournament started, but he’s slowly figuring things out.
“I have two real good spots, but it took me a long time to find the sweet spot on my second one,” said Nixon. “In fact, after an hour, I almost left.”
Nixon stayed, got lined up and caught three big ones in four casts and decided to pull up the trolling motor and leave.
“The current is so fast the fish have to have somewhere to tuck and hide. I basically started hitting the eddy. If you don’t hit it just right, your bait gets pushed downstream. You have to figure out just the right drift.”
His best spot today hadn’t been fished by anyone else to his knowledge. He believes that is partly because the fish aren’t really showing up on the screen. Nixon now thinks that’s because they’re tucked so tight in the eddy.
“I’ve seen folks on both sides, but not right on it,” he said. “It’s a booger to find the right cast, but when you do they just thump it.”
Nixon weighed 22-8 after opening the tournament with 19-14. His key baits thus far have been a 3/4-ounce Jewell football jig and a Carolina-rigged Senko.
Neal rises to third
“Yesterday I hit more cover,” explained Neal. “Today I fished more schools. Yesterday I ran around and hit probably 75 to 100 places – stuff like brush piles and stumps.”
Neal caught four good ones off one school he has to himself. At one point he caught a bass on almost every cast for 15 minutes straight. But several other fish came off community areas.
“Now since we’re in the cut, I should be able to move around on these community schools. They’re community for a reason; they’re full of fish.”
With his second top-20 cut of the season, Neal also punched his ticket for the Forrest Wood Cup, a first for the young Tennessee pro.
“I pulled up on one place and caught six in like 8 minutes,” he said. “After that, I left and didn't catch anything else. But I’m pretty sure I’ve got it to myself.”
Clausen has been bouncing back and forth between shallow and deep all week. Today the two-hour fog delay essentially killed his early-morning shallow bite.
“I weighed three shallow yesterday and I’ll probably start shallow tomorrow believe it or not. There’s a good opportunity in the first hour or two to catch a few big ones.”
Clausen’s best five weighed 20 pounds, 9 ounces, giving him 39-11 for the tournament.
Rounding out the top five was three-time Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt with a two-day total of 39 pounds, 9 ounces. Wendlandt weighed 22-14 Friday and said one big one came shallow and one big one came deep.
“I’m fishing mainly deep, but I am catching some shallow,” said the Leander, Texas, pro. “I actually got fewer bites, I just got the big bites today.”
While he weighed all largemouths today, there was a brown bass in his bag yesterday.
“I caught two big ones in the first two hours and then I changed up, made a move and caught three more and then I was pretty much done. I’m not sure what is left, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it all to myself.
“One spot I know bigger fish live there. When you get a bite, it’s a 3 1/2 or bigger.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Chickamauga after day two:
6th: Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., 38-13
7th: Shinichi Fukae of Palestine, Texas, 36-13
8th: Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., 36-6
9th: Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., 35-11
10th: John Voyles of Petersburg, Ind., 35-4
Reagan takes co-angler lead
“On day one I fished with Chris Baumgardner and we caught a ton of fish shallow, but a lot of them were small fish,” said Reagan. “With about 5 minutes left in the day, I caught one about 5 pounds.
“Today I fished with John Devere and John and I know each other from fishing the BFL Mountain Division. John was on big fish and my first cast of the day resulted in a 4-14. I didn’t catch as many, but the ones I caught were a lot bigger. I did cull several times.”
While Devere fished specific targets, Reagan dragged his baits around slowly.
Reagan went out of his way to thank Baumgarnder and Devere, both of whom he called “great guys.”
“I may not catch a fish tomorrow, but from what I know about Casey Martin (his day-three partner), he seems like a great guy too.”
Harkness caught 13-4 on day one and followed that up with 15-12 today.
Watson, Winchester, Norris round out top five
Wesley Watson of Bracey, Va., rose to third after catching four bass on day two weighing 11 pounds, 6 ounces. Combined with his day-one weight of 15-12, Watson has an opening-round total of 27 pounds, 2 ounces.
Shane Winchester fell from second to fourth after catching three bass Friday worth 7 pounds, 6 ounces. His total weight stands at 26 pounds, 1 ounce.
Oklahoma co-angler Eddie Norris rounds out the top five with 26 pounds even. Chickamauga marked Norris’ first FLW Tour top-20 cutoff.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day two:
6th: Ken Coats of Tulsa, Okla., 25-1
7th: Andrew Owens of Dividing Creek, N.J., 23-6
8th: John Kite of Festus, Mo., 23-5
9th: Nick Hensley of Cumming, Ga., 23-5
10th: Brad Roberts of Faubush, Ky., 23-0
Day three of the FLW Tour on Lake Chickamauga will begin Saturday at 6:30 a.m. from the Dayton Boat Dock located at 175 Lakeshore Drive in Dayton.