DAYTON, Tenn. – Casey Martin made the drive from Guntersville, Ala., to Dayton, Tenn., with one goal in mind for the final Walmart FLW Tour qualifier of the season – make the Forrest Wood Cup. It was a tall task as the rookie pro sat in 54th place in the standings and would need to make the top-10 cutoff. Now that he’s done that, Martin has set his sights higher – this time on the $125,000 first-place purse.
Despite a very slow morning on his best spot, Martin stuck it out and adjusted. Earlier in the week Martin shared this very spot with Mark Rose, JT Kenney and Anthony Gagliardi. One would assume without the other three it would be game on. Not so.
“I almost left,” said Martin. “Then I idled around one more time to see if they were still on the graph and they were.”
Martin finally trigged the school with a drop-shot, Roboworm (green pumpkin) and 10-pound Seguar Invizx line, something he hasn’t used all week. During the opening round the fish were crushing his Picasso School-E Rig, 3/4-ounce Omega football jig and Strike King 10XD crankbait. Today, four of his five weigh fish came on the drop-shot, the other on the School-E Rig.
“They didn’t leave, you just have to adjust with them and figure out how to catch them. Today, the key adjustment was switching to a spinning rod and a drop-shot.”
Martin had a few flurries, but described the day overall as a “grind.” Whatever it was, the official result in the books was 23 pounds, 3 ounces – his big fish weighing approximately 7 pounds. With one day remaining, Martin will start with a 10-pound lead.
“I never touched my big-fish spot today, the spot I caught the 6 and the 7-11 yesterday. I need to have something saved in case the mega-school won’t fire.”
Martin did visit one other area, but it was vacant. While his lead looks nearly insurmountable, he’s essentially relying on two schools. What he calls the mega-school is a shell-laden ledge that drops from 15 feet to 25 feet of water.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time on my first spot again tomorrow. I could stay there all day; there are so many fish and it seems like you get two or three bites every once in a while. But the pressure is taking its toll and they’re getting hard to catch. I think they are getting accustomed to seeing the same thing over and over.”
Neal rises to second
Local pro Michael Neal put a serious hurt on the Chickamauga bass for the second consecutive day. Amazingly, he still lost ground to Martin. Neal’s day-three stringer weighed 22 pounds, 8 ounces. With one day remaining, Neal’s total sits at 62 pounds, 12 ounces.
“I got off to a strong start,” said the second-year pro. “My first five weighed over 20 pounds. I caught a bunch more fish, but no more big ones. Hopefully that place will reload and I can catch another 20 pounds.”
Once he had over 20 in the well, Neal switched to targeting isolated brush and stumps, but the big bite never happened. He upgraded four times on the day, but in total gained only a pound.
“All the fish I weighed today were deep structure fish. I caught some stroking a jig and some ripping a spoon.”
Neal said the place he’s caught them each of the last two mornings he didn’t even fish on day one.
“I’d love to have day one all over again. But anytime you average over 20 pounds a day you can’t complain.”
Neal’s stringer Saturday was anchored by two 5 1/2-pounders. To catch Martin tomorrow, he may need five just like them.
“I think I can catch them tomorrow. I left them biting this morning. I’m ready to get back out there.”
Strader up to third
Like Neal, Wesley Strader got off to a fast start and had nearly 20 pounds within the first hour of the day. But like Neal, he was unable to upgrade after that – officially weighing in 19 pounds, 7 ounces.
“On my first cast I caught a 3-12,” said the Spring City, Tenn., native. “Then it slowed down a bit because the water wasn’t going good. The more the current built up, the better it got.”
Strader is fishing one large rock eddy towards the Watts Bar dam. The good news is that he has the area completely to himself. The bad news is that the quality in the river isn’t quite as good.
“That’s the thing about the river, 20 pounds is about all you can do. You can make the cuts, make it to the last day, but you really can’t compete with the lower end. I tried to upgrade in the lake, but I couldn’t. Dude, it’s hard to get rid of a 4-pounder.”
Strader’s main presentation is a 5 1/2-inch Basstrix swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Pure Poison jighead. He’ll also mix in a Zoom Ol’ Monster worm and a 3/4-ounce Pure Poison football jig.
The Walmart pro’s total weight is 58 pounds, 4 ounces.
“My only regret is that I should have stayed on that spot longer on day one.”
Moynagh up to fourth
Carver, Minn., resident Jim Moynagh caught a 22-pound, 2-ounce sack and rose from 17th to fourth with a cumulative weight of 55 pounds, 15 ounces. Not surprisingly, Moynagh is doing his damage with a 1-ounce All-Terrain football jig, a bait he’s won a bunch of money on over the years.
“Dragging a jig around may not be the most exciting way to fish, but I do whatever it takes to catch them,” said the M&M’s pro. “It’s ironic; I grew up around walleye fishermen who would just drag bait around the bottom. I got into bass fishing because that was boring, but here I am dragging a jig around the bottom.”
Moynagh is tipping his jig with either a craw or a twin-tail grub. He plans to hit several schools tomorrow and adapt as necessary.
“There’s no guarantee I’m going to catch them, but I think I can come up with a good bag tomorrow.”
Moynagh’s 22-2 was anchored by a 6-pounder and his other four keepers were nearly-identical 4-pounders.
Nixon falls fifth
After a strong day two, Chevy pro Larry Nixon knew he was in trouble early this morning with the bright skies and lack of current. And with only two schools of fish located, he didn’t have much else to fall back on. So he scraped out what he could and brought a 12-pound, 15-ounce limit to the scale.
“I’m pretty disappointed because I had them dialed in yesterday.” said Nixon, who caught his big sack behind a small eddy. “Yeah, I had only two schools, but they were the right fish.”
Nixon’s total weight is 55 pounds, 5 ounces. He’s been catching most of his fish this week on a Carolina-rigged 5-inch Senko and 3/4-ounce Jewell football jig.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Chickamauga after day three:
6th: Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., 54-0 (three-day total)
7th: Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., 54-0
8th: Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., 53-13
9th: Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., 53-3
10th: Tom Redington of Royse City, Texas, 52-13
The final day of FLW Tour competition on Lake Chickamauga will begin at 6:30 a.m. from the Dayton Boat Dock located at 175 Lakeshore Drive in Dayton.