The 39-year-old pro won the Oct. 16-18 Southern Open season finale on Lake Guntersville, making it two in a row after his Southern Open victory in May on Santee Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.
His 66 pounds, 12 ounces of Guntersville largemouth bass jumped him over two other Alabama pros who were ahead of him after the second day: Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, who finished in second place with 66 pounds even, and Day 2 leader Matt Herren of Trussville, who had 65-9 for third place.
BASS anglers don’t often double. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., did it in 2007 in the Southern Open Circuit. And, in 2005, Kalamazoo, Mich., Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam, now the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, put together two Elite 50 wins.
“Wow, that’s something. Like Kevin VanDam?” said Tharp when he heard the comparisons. “VanDam is the best angler in the world. I’d like to make the Elites so I can fish against him next year.”
In the end, Tharp had to “settle” for the two $45,000 Open victories this season. Because he missed the Southern Open’s first 2008 event, he did not amass enough points to land one of the 10 Elite Series invitations awarded Saturday to Open pros.
Tharp led at Guntersville the first day, fell back to fifth place the second day, then recovered nicely by bringing in the day’s heaviest bag, 21-5. He hit the same spot each morning, but it let him down on Day 2.
“Friday I fished for two hours there and didn’t have a bite, so I started running around and caught my five just before I came in,” he said. “Today I went back to the same place as the first two mornings. I didn’t get anything for about 30 minutes, then it just started happening for me.
“There were two factors that made the difference: the sunshine and the lake level. The water coming up yesterday is what hurt me. They always bite better on Guntersville when the water is lower.”
Tharp said his primary pattern was not unlike what the majority of the 168-pro field relied on all week: working Guntersville’s copious grass mats. Tharp, a regular competitor on Guntersville, said his main bait was a SPRO Dean Rojas Signature Series frog in the midnight walker color.
Vinson moved up from 17th place on the first day to second place on Day 2. He managed 18-15 on the final day to stay in second place.
“I felt today like my fish would still be there, but I was concerned about the weather changes,” Vinson said. “I got a couple of blow-ups on a frog, so I spent time there flipping, but didn’t get another bite. Then I fished boat docks, and I got two that went about 4 pounds each.”
Herren led on Day 2. He watched the chance for a win evaporate Saturday when he arrived at his primary spot — milfoil and coontail vegetation in about 6 feet of water in a creek — and found another boat there. The delicate area couldn’t support two anglers, and Herren missed the key morning bite.
“You get two boats in there, and it spooked the fish,” said the 45-year-old who was pursuing his first BASS win. “I did get about 17 pounds when the other boat moved, but not the morning bite I needed.”
Both Herren and Vinson took consolation in missing the Southern Open title by earning tickets to the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 20-22 on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., and the option of moving up next season to the Elite circuit, the top tier of competitive fishing.
Vinson, 31, said he’s been eyeing the Elite Series as the next logical step in his career. He said he’ll take the spot.
In the co-angler division, Day 2 leader William Helton of Calhoun, Tenn., held on for the win, worth a $32,000 Triton-Mercury boat package.
Helton, 39, who works for Whirlpool Corp., said Guntersville was his first BASS event, and he worked grass all week to amass his 40 pounds, 7 ounces.
“It wasn’t easy out there,” he said. “I threw a Choo-Choo spinnerbait to grass just about all week long, in purple haze, both 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes, and a black-bottomed SPRO frog.”
The second-place co-angler was Day 1 leader Danny Clark of Cleveland, Tenn., who had a 37-7 total. Finishing third was Brian Marino of Nokomis, Fla., who had 36-12.
Saturday’s pro-side Purolator Big Bass honors and the $1,000 bonus went to Chris Ludwig of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., for a 7-5 largemouth. The Purolator Big Bass co-angler award of $300 was taken by Michael Bradford of Scottsboro, Ala., with a 7-8.
Bassmaster Open sponsors include Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter, Yamaha, Optima Batteries and Triton Boats
Local sponsors include Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau
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