Tharp leads Walmart FLW Tour season opener - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Tharp leads Walmart FLW Tour season opener

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Pro leader Randall Tharp holds up a 9-pound, 8-ounce Lake Okeechobee largemouth. (Photo by Brett Carlson) Pro leader Randall Tharp holds up a 9-pound, 8-ounce Lake Okeechobee largemouth. (Photo by Brett Carlson)

CLEWISTON, Fla. – Does home-lake advantage play a role when 320 of the world's best anglers gather to see who can find the heaviest four-day stringer of bass for a first-place cash prize of up to $125,000? Just look at the leaderboard of the season-opening Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude.

EverStart pro Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., crossed the stage Thursday with a five-bass limit weighing 33 pounds, 9 ounces to lead day one of the event. Tharp now holds a slim 2-ounce lead over Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., who caught five bass weighing 33-7. Add to the top-five anglers John Cox (third) of Debary, Fla., and freshly-out-of-retirement Roland Martin (fifth) of Naples, Fla., and you have a handful of anglers with intimate knowledge of Okeechobee leading the tournament's full field of anglers from all across the United States, Canada, Spain and Japan.

"The wind blew 15 to 20 (miles per hour)," Tharp said. "So I adjusted. And that's just something you know how to do from fishing here. A lot of the guys here have put all their eggs in one basket."

Even though he's not a Floridian, Tharp said his familiarity with the lake gave him an edge on the first day of competition.

"I was going out there to catch a 40-pound sack, to be honest," Tharp said. "I probably had 20 bites today. Ten of them were big ones. And by big ones I mean 5 pounds or better."

Tharp said his first bite didn't come until about 9 a.m. but was well worth the wait. That bite came from a bass weighing almost 10 pounds. By 10 a.m. Tharp was culling his small fish.

Tharp said the wind would dictate where anglers would be able to fish on the second day of competition and it would continue to be a "game of adjustments" for the anglers.

"The weather made it horrible on me," McMillan said. "It made it tough to flip through the mat and make the bait fall the way you need to make it fall.

"It wasn't like the Okeechobee that I was used to fishing," McMillan added. "I figured 20 or 24 pounds would be a good sack. I figured someone would bust 30, but I didn't figure I would do it."

Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Lake Okeechobee are:

3rd: John Cox, Debary, Fla., five bass, 27-10

4th: Art Ferguson III, St. Clair Shores, Mich., five bass, 26-12

5th: Roland Martin, Naples, Fla., five bass, 26-4

6th: Steve Kennedy, Auburn, Ala., five bass, 26-1

7th: Todd Auten, Lake Wylie, S.C., five bass, 24-4

8th: Glenn Browne, Ocala, Fla., five bass, 21-11

9th: National Guard pro Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 21-9

10th: Matt Peters, Cotter, Ark., five bass, 21-6

Tharp caught Thursday's big bass weighing 9-8 on the pro side to win $500.

Overall there were 724 bass weighing 1,813 pounds, 12 ounces caught by pros Thursday. The catch included 121 five-bass limits.

Pros are competing for a top award of up to $125,000 this week plus valuable points in the hope of qualifying for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart, the world championship of bass fishing. The top five anglers in the point standings from the four Walmart FLW Tour Open tournaments will qualify.

Spiro Agouros of Peterborough, Ontario, leads the Co-angler Division with five bass weighing 20-2 followed by Ralph Myhlhousen of Council Bluffs, Iowa, in second place with five bass weighing 18-1.

Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers are:

3rd: Mike Daley, Springfield, Ill., five bass, 17-6

4th: Robert Gulley, Tupelo, Miss., five bass, 16-12

5th: Derek Savage, Port St. Lucie, Fla., five bass, 16-8

6th: Aymon Wilcox, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., five bass, 16-5

7th: Wayne Lloyd, Lake Worth, Fla., five bass, 15-14

8th: John Hendry, Lakeland, Fla., five bass, 15-2

9th: Jeffrey Cummins, Marion, Ohio, five bass, 14-13

10th: Marlon Crowder, Tampa, Fla., five bass, 14-5

Daley and Agouros tied for Thursday's big bass with fish weighing 8-1 in the co-angler division. They each received $125.

Overall there were 477 bass weighing 925 pounds, 7 ounces caught by co-anglers Thursday. The catch included 49 five-bass limits.

Co-anglers are fishing for a top award of $25,000 this week plus valuable points that could help them qualify for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart. The top five co-anglers in the point standings from the four Walmart FLW Tour Open tournaments will qualify.

Anglers will take off from Roland & Mary Ann Martins Marina & Resort located at 920 E. Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning and from the Clewiston Boat Basin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning. Friday's weigh-in will also be held at Roland & Mary Ann Martins Marina & Resort beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday's final weigh-ins will be held at the Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.

Fans will be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.

Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when "FLW" airs March 18 from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. "FLW" is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.

For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the EverStart Series on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.

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