2008 Southern Open #3 Lake Guntersville - Guntersville, AL, Oct 16 - 18, 2008

Fading hope

Shuffled leaderboard leaves Classic hopes in jeopardy

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — First came the big weights, the 20- to 25-pound catches that Lake Guntersville is known for from spring to autumn.

But the names attached to those weights were not Bassmaster Southern Open points-leaders Peter Thliveros, Terry Scroggins or Aaron Martens. They were buried in the bottom of the standings among those shrugging their shoulders at how days of practice with such promise could produce such disappointing results.

"No, it wasn't a good day," said Scroggins, who was second in points behind Thliveros. "I've already qualified for the (2009) Elites and the Classic, so I came here to try to win and cash a check. That's what we do. I guess I'll go out (Friday) and just go fishing, try to have some fun."

The names behind the big catches included Guess, Vinson, Morgan, Laiche, Strader, Myers, Ashley, Lane, Ludwig, Herren and Tharp. Some are well-known, others are part of the "Who? Really?" crowd.

But if things continue as they did Thursday, people may have to start learning about some new Elite Series anglers.

Randall Tharp of Alabama led the pack of slammers with five bass weighing 29 pounds, 6 ounces. Matt Herren of Alabama had 25-9, Chris Ludwig of Indiana 25-14, Bobby Lane of Florida 25-3 and Casey Ashley of South Carolina 24-2.

On a lake that produces huge catches regularly, Tharp sent a shock through the crowd with his near 6-pound average.

"This is my favorite lake and my favorite time of the year to fish it," Tharp said. "I just love lakes with big fish in them and love trying to catch them."

And just like that, the Southern Open points standings were shuffled around like a deck of poker cards tossed into a ceiling fan set on high speed. Herren now leads the standings with 802, followed by Lane (772), Greg Pugh of Alabama (740), Preston Clark of Florida (725) and Thliveros (683).

The top three in the final points standings earn berths in the Bassmaster Classic next February on the Red River in Shreveport, La. The top 10 will be invited to fish on the 11-event Bassmaster Elite Series that begins in March on Lake Amistad.

Thliveros, Scroggins and Martens have qualified for the Classic through the Elite Series points standings. If any of them qualified in the Southern Open circuit it would have allowed the next Elite Series angler — in this case, Rick Clunn of Missouri — to slide into the Classic.

Now, it appears Clunn and the two behind him harboring slim hopes for a miracle — Rick Morris of Virginia and Mark Menendez of Kentucky — will cling to the thread they hope does not unravel.

If Lane or Ashley double-qualifies for the Classic then Clunn would be in. If that happens and Clunn also qualifies for the Classic in two weeks in the final Central Open, then Morris would gain a Classic spot.

That's a lot of "ifs" for consideration.

"Don't count on me for a spot," Scroggins said Thursday.

They won't. But they will be looking at Lane, who is gunning for the top.

"I'm going just for the win," he said. "I came in ninth in points and already have qualified for the Classic and Elite season. I want to finish well in the points standings because anyone wants to do that, but I want to win one of these."

Lane said he had three limits that weighed at least 20 pounds Thursday and believes he can repeat things Friday.

"I should be able to, but you never know," he said.

After seeing the shakeup Thursday, he's absolutely right.