Wirth Looking to Win at Home

GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — Kevin Wirth has flirted with victory on several occasions during this year's CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.

Now, the Kentucky-based angler has a chance to win in his own backyard.

Wirth, who lives in Crestwood, jumped to the top of the leaderboard Saturday during the third day of fishing at the Bluegrass Brawl here in southwest Kentucky. His haul of 16 pounds, one ounce gave him a three-day total of 51 pounds, five ounces and more than a three-pound lead on the field.

"I feel good," Wirth said. "It's mine to win. It's been 11 and a half years since I won one," he said, visibly choking back his emotion.

Wirth staked his lead fishing solely in Kentucky Lake — a 160,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River. Unlike some of the other anglers who fished strictly deep or shallow, Wirth has used his knowledge of this body of water to his advantage by throwing a wide variety of lures to various depths.

After entering the day in third place, he moved ahead of Kevin VanDam, who led the first two days of this tournament. VanDam enters Sunday's final round with a total of 48-3. Morizo Shimizu is third with 46-3, Tommy Biffle is fourth with 45-4 and Skeet Reese is fifth with 45-3.

Rounding out the top 12 anglers who will compete for the tournament title Sunday are Jeff Kriet (45-2), John Crews (44-2), Edwin Evers (43-14), Lee Bailey (43-7), Kelly Jordon (43-1), Mike Wurm (43-0) and Jimmy Mize (42-15).

The 50 competitors who made the cut to Saturday had to deal with tremendous angling pressure on Kentucky Lake and nearby Lake Barkley. Several local tournaments began here on Saturday and introduced hundreds of boats to the water — a total that doesn't include the recreational boaters who hit the lakes, as well.

It didn't take long for Wirth to encounter some of the new anglers.

"Some guys were watching me early and then came in and idled right on top of where I was throwing," he said. "It kind of made it difficult."

But not difficult enough to disrupt his focus. The first bass Wirth landed Saturday weighed 5-3 and he was able to secure a limit by 6:45 a.m., only 75 minutes after he launched. In the second area Wirth fished, he found more quality bites and was able to cull several fish from his live well.

He said the key to his success has been determining the times when bass school and actively bite.

"I'm trying to work different water columns," he said. "Sometimes they might be suspended five feet in 25 feet of water. Other times it could be 15 feet in 25 feet of water. They might be on the bottom or two feet off the bottom. It's been a guessing game, really. They're kind of deep schooling. One minute, you're just whacking them like heck and then it just goes dry. You don't know when to make a move."

Wirth plans to rotate between three primary holes on Sunday. With heavy rain forecasted for the final round, he's hoping his background on Kentucky Lake helps his cause.

"The rain is going to play a key role," he said. "These fish will go to suspending even worse. With cloud cover and no current, it could make it real difficult. I might have to get a lot more aggressive, hit a lot more places and hope I can catch one here, one there."

VanDam eked out a 13-pound, 4-ounce sack on Saturday — his lightest of the tournament. He also encountered numerous boats after making a long run down Kentucky Lake to his primary holes.

"It made it tough," he said. "I had a hard time getting on any of the places that I've caught fish on because there's always a boat there. They've been watching for a couple days and they were definitely out there today. I managed to scratch out what I did and hopefully tomorrow there will be a lot less out there. I've got a couple places where I think if I can just get on them and spend some quality time, I can catch some fish."

VanDam threw crankbaits and jigs to deep-water ridges for most of the tournament, but moved to more shallow areas Saturday. He estimated the ledges he fished Saturday ranged from 13-18 feet deep.

"I was struggling a bit early, so I ran some new water," he said. "I was able to catch some fish, but they just didn't have any size."

Evers moved to eighth place after landing the biggest sack of the day (17-4) on Saturday. Randy Howell entered Saturday's action in second place, but only caught three fish and finished in 18th place.

The remaining 12 anglers will launch Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET. The heaviest four-day total will earn the leading angler a $100,000 first prize.

Weigh-in is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET at Kentucky Dam Village State Park Marina.