EVANS, Ga. — A Carolina rig brought Peter Thliveros to the brink of winning the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon.
Instead, his good friend Kenyon Hill made off with the $100,000 first-place check in his first win on the Bassmaster Elite Series. But Peter T. had an exceptional tournament in his own right, steadily inching up the standings from 33rd on Day One to fourth after Day Three before finishing in eighth place.
Both men succeeded with a trio of techniques: topwater baits, swimbaits and a Carolina-rigged worm. But what distinguished Thliveros was that he caught about 90 percent of his fish on the slow, deliberate Carolina rig, in a tournament when most competitors pinballed around the lake throwing jigs, shaky heads and topwaters.
"I can fish behind people throwing that and catch them steadily," he said. "I have so much confidence in it. I feel so much better about putting one hook in them and landing them, as opposed to them slashing at a topwater and getting them hooked in the side or coming off or missing it."
Thliveros was pounding points along with the best of them — though those points were tougher to find, with the water down several feet from lake levels of years past. But the topwater baits — a Pencil Popper was his favorite — were effective for him only first thing in the morning and from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"You had to be around a big group of fish in competition with each other for food," Thliveros said. "If you weren't around a big enough school of fish, they would roll up on my swimbait, take a look at it and go."
Outside of those peak hours, when the competition sagged, deployed the Carolina rig to entice fish probably are used to chasing the swift, darting blue herring so many anglers sought to mimic this week.
"An easy meal, I guess," he said of the worm. "Something that's easy for them to get without expending a lot of energy."
Thliveros explained that while he and Hill were both fishing about 25 miles upriver, in similar areas and using a similar pattern, Hill caught more and bigger fish because, well, there were more and bigger fish in his spots.
"Bigger groups of fish was the key to getting competition amongst the fish, and getting bigger bites," Thliveros said.
His eighth-place finish was identical to his 2006 finish on Clarks Hill Lake. Hill and Davy Hite finished one-two this year, after finishing in reverse order two years ago.
The returning champion at Clarks Hill, Mike McClelland, said he didn't throw a Carolina rig en route to his title, but did this year to fill limits when conditions soured.
"We had pretty decent wind this year, but whenever the wind would lay down, I was throwing a finesse worm on a Carolina rig," he said after Day Four. "It just gave you more of a finesse approach, and I think the fish have been blistered pretty hard on those big jigs and those topwaters. Something different every now and then is a good way to go."