Tharp leads after Day 3

leader.jpg

Seigo Saito

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., scrapped his fish catching game plan because floodwaters washed out his primary hot spot and forced him to find a place to catch bass on the upper Mississippi River.
 
That adjustment might earn him a second Bassmaster Elite Series title and a healthy $100,000 payday.
 
Tharp’s efforts produced 15 pounds, 10 ounces of bass today, giving him the lead going into Championship Sunday at the 2018 Bassmaster Elite at Mississippi River presented by Go RVing.
 
His two-day total is 49-12 — only 1 ounce ahead of Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala.
 
Martens will start the final round Sunday in second place with 49-11.
 
The moderate flooding of the Upper Mississippi has been a hot topic in La Crosse this week. It’s affected the fishing for most of the field — some good and some bad. For Tharp, it’s kept him on his toes.
 
“I knew my pattern was falling apart. The more the water levels increased, the more concerned I’ve been that my bass would move,” he said. “And they did. I started out in the same area I have been over the past couple of days, and after an hour or so I knew the fish weren’t there any more. I decided to call an audible, and it paid off.”
 
The 49-year-old pro said that he was catching bass right along a section of the bank that is now under water, and the bass are no longer positioned on the same structure.
 
“I probably stayed too long this morning,” Tharp said. “Decisions are critical in this game, and today I made the right ones after changing my plan and moving to a different spot. Hopefullytomorrow I can keep the momentum rolling and win this thing.”
 
Tharp won a Bassmaster event in 2016 that was played out on two Arkansas lakes: Bull Shoals and Norfork. A second Elite Series title would mean a lot to the former Forrest Wood Cup champion.
 
“I know what it means to win one of these, and that would be great. But right now I’m focusing on staying on top of the fish,” he said. “The standings are very tight, and it could come down to a single big bite for one of us tomorrow. One ounce ahead of Aaron Martens isn’t enough to be comfortable.”
 
Martens was sharing water for the past three days with California pro Chris Zaldain, who finished in 28th place with a final three-day total of 42-7. That means Martens will be fishing his favorite spots all by himself during the final round of competition.
 
“I’m not worried about catching a limit at my spot. I’m confident I can do that,” he said. “The fish are there, but finding a big fish that weighs 4 pounds or better is the challenge. I know they are there because I caught two during practice. To have a shot at winning tomorrow, I’m going to need a couple of bigger bass like that.”
 
Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., will begin Championship Sunday in third place, only 7 ounces out of the lead.
 
“It’s always great to spend a week fishing here,” Monroe said. “I love tournaments where I can fish my strengths, and I’ve only got one rod on my front deck. It’s rigged up with Ish’s Phat Matt Daddy Frog from River2Sea, and my best spots only seem to be getting better, even with the high water.Tomorrow is going to be exciting.”
 
Rounding out the Top 5 are Gerald Spohrer of Gonzales, La., with 49-2 and Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., with 48-1.
 
The current leader of the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award is Chad Pipkens of Lansing, Mich., thanks to a 5-8 largemouth bass he caught on Day 1 of the event. If no one catches a larger bass, Pipkens will earn a $1,500 bonus.
 
Takeoff will occur at Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse, Wis., at 6 a.m. CT, and final weigh-in will be at Valley View Mall at 3 p.m.
 
The Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo and Rock-N-Ribs Festival are being held in conjunction with the tournament. The events will continue Sunday at Valley View Mall beginning at noonfeaturing boat demo rides, an aquarium, bbq competition, free prizes and the latest fishing products on the market. All activities are free and open to the public. For more information, visit Bassmaster.com.