Tharp Jumps to Bassmaster Open lead on Okeechobee

“It’s getting better all the time.” That’s what the Beatles sang in the 1960s, and it could have been written for the bass fishing on Lake Okeechobee this week. After a devastating cold front shut down the fishing on the massive “Big O,” the weather’s warming, and so is the fishing.

On Day 2 of the Bassmaster Southern Open, Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., jumped from 7th place into the lead after his 18-pound, 14-ounce catch gave him a total of 30-13 for two days. Brothers Chris of Guntersville, Ala., and Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., are second and third with 26-8 and 26-0, respectively. Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., moved up one place into fourth with 23-8 and Kyle Fox, also of Lakeland, moved down three places into fifth with 23-7. Four of the top five heading into the final day of competition are Bassmaster Elite Series anglers.

The productive patterns have changed very little since Day 1, but more anglers are catching.

Tharp’s big day came via the same flipping and pitching pattern used by the leaders in the first round.

“I was flipping mats with a Big Bite Baits Fighting Craw in black and blue,” Tharp said. “I was pegging a 1-ounce sinker to the bait and fishing it on 20-pound-test Gamma Fluorocarbon and a 7-foot, 6-inch Falcon Cara heavy action flipping stick.”

According to Tharp, the bites were hard to come by.

“The bass here are really sluggish right now,” he said. “When you put them in the boat, they’re like ice cubes. They’re really cold and don’t want to eat.”

Chris Lane vaulted from 16th place into second fishing a similar pattern. His 17-12 limit on Day 2 was one of the best catches of the day.

“I was flipping a Gambler B.B. Cricket behind a 1-ounce Gambler screw-lock sinker on a 7-foot, 2-inch All Star rod and Abu Garcia Revo reel spooled with 50-pound Stren SuperBraid.”

Chris Lane’s limit included the big bass of the day, a 6-15 lunker.

The heaviest catch of the day weighed 20-2 and was brought to the scales by Florida’s Larry Cahan. Despite zeroing the first day, Cahan is now in 7th place going into the final round.

“I fished scared on the first day,” Cahan admitted. “I was Carolina rigging and fishing a skaky head. But today I decided to get offshore and fish a 10-inch red shad worm really slowly. It paid off.”

On the co-angler side, Aaron Gengler, also from Lakeland, had a three-fish limit weighing 8-3 to move into first place. Though he only had a single bass on the first day, it was big fish of the day among the co-anglers (5-11) and enough to keep him in contention.

Only seven professionals and one co-angler managed to catch a limit both days. On the pro side of the ledger, there were 311 keeper bass weighed in on the first day and 363 on the second. The amateurs weighed in 94 bass on the first day and 180 on the second.

Everyone is expecting things to get even better on Saturday as the top 30 in each division prepare to do battle in the final day of competition. At stake in the Southern Open series is qualifying berths in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic and 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series. The winner in the pro division of the Okeechobee event will take home more than $45,000.

Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.

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