Tharp Takes First Elite Series Title Amid ‘complex’ Tournament Format On Bull Shoals And Norfork Lake

Randall Tharp led the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race before he weighed his fish today. When he left the stage he did so with an Elite Series trophy.

The former Forrest Wood Cup Champion said he wanted to test himself against the best competition the Elite Series had to offer. Tharp has passed the test.

He did so today by overtaking a pair of Californians, one who has also mounted the highest summits of our sport – Skeet Reese, along with an aspiring young pro who has shown flashes of things to come – Chris Zaldain.

Reese and Zaldain nodded to their Western roots by trying to make the swimbait bite work. At times it did. When fish just followed the swimmers, Zaldain said he relied on a drop shot to put bass in the box.

It was a solid game plan that almost panned-out for the Golden State anglers.

But in the waning seconds of the 4-day tournament held on two different fisheries, Tharp snatched a big bass, and victory, from Norfork Lake.

“I had 15 seconds before I needed to head in,” said Tharp, “I made one last cast to a bluff bank. My line started moving off. That was the biggest bass that I just held up (as he crossed the weigh in stage) and I caught her on the last cast.”

The kicker pushed Tharp’s final weight to 16-2 (biggest bag of the day) and ran his total to 61-10 for the week. He won by a margin of 2 pounds, 2 ounces. That last fished weighed more than that and was, therefore, the key to his win.

It was classic Tharp. The guy just has a knack for finding those oversized bass that take a sack of fish from being ‘good’ to being of the ‘winning’ class. Lure choice may be part of the reason for his ability to boat the big girls – he fishes a jig. A lot.

And so he did this week. “I designed the jig I used,” said Tharp of the 4×4 Jig that he pitched on his signature series Halo rod.

Tharp said he focussed on 3 creeks in each lake. He concetrated his efforts on bluff banks along channel swings. Some of the fish may have been spawning and others were simply eating but Tharp caught them all in less than 5 feet of water. “The biggest ones came from less than 1 foot,” added the shallow water master. He covered “tons of water” with jigs weighing 5/8 or 1/2 oz.

Tharp said he’ll miss the first day of practice on Monday for the coming Elite Series tourney on Wheeler Lake which begins this Thursday, but the man – who gets his mail in Florida these days – has spent decades living and fishing in Alabama so he should be able to catch up quickly. Tonight he and his wife are hanging out and resting up. “I’m gonna enjoy this trophy. I’m gonna enjoy this town. I’m gonna enjoy you guys,” said Tharp to a happy audience.

Tharp concentrated his efforts on bluff banks. photo courtesy B.A.S.S.Tharp concentrated his efforts on bluff banks. photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

What follows is the official word from B.A.S.S.:

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. — The tournament format was complicated.

It was one event on two lakes over the course of four days.

But through all of the shifting and changing, Florida pro Randall Tharp decided to keep things simple — and that stay-the-course approach ultimately led to a victory in the Bassmaster Elite at Bull Shoals/Norfork.

Tharp used a 4×4 Jig — the Randall Tharp Signature series that he designed for the company — in the golden craw color pattern with a green pumpkin Zoom Big Salty Chunk to catch his fish all four days.

His final total of 61 pounds, 10 ounces was more than 2 pounds better than that of second-place finisher Skeet Reese (59-8). Chris Zaldain (58-12), Matt Herren (58-10) and Bill Lowen (58- 5) made up the rest of the Top 5.

“When I got here, I wanted to find one pattern that would work on both lakes,” Tharp said. “Both of these lakes are Ozark Lakes, and they’re very, very similar. That’s the game plan I wanted to have. It just took me three days of practice to figure it out.”

Tharp said he discovered the key to winning on the third day of practice and really dialed it on the fourth and final practice day, which he spent at Norfork.

On the first day of the tournament, he caught 15-8 on Norfork to put himself in fifth place. He didn’t fare quite as well on the second day of the event at Bull Shoals, catching only 13-12. But he made a slight adjustment the next day on Bull Shoals — and that may have been the key to his winning the tournament.

“I used a 1/2-ounce and a 5/8-ounce version of the jig this week, but the majority of the fish I weighed in came on the bigger one,” Tharp said. “I had one fish in the boat Saturday, and I just kept thinking they wanted something quicker. That’s why I went to the bigger jig.”

Tharp’s Saturday catch of 16-4 pushed him into the lead going into Sunday’s finale on Norfork. He landed 16-2 Sunday to stay ahead of a Top 12 that was separated by only 4 pounds coming into the day.

“Just about everything I caught all week came from 5 feet of water of less,” he said. “The whole stringer that I weighed in today probably came from 2 feet or less.”

Though bass were spawning on both lakes, Tharp said he wasn’t sight fishing for bedding fish.

“I was just looking for crevices in rocks — shady places,” he said. “I was looking for isolated stuff that was different, whether it was a stump or a laydown or whatever.

“If there was a whole bunch of cover, it usually wasn’t all that good. I just keyed on little turns or isolated boulders — stuff that stood out.”

Tharp was already a three-time winner on the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens circuit, but Sunday marked his first time to raise the coveted blue trophy awarded to winners on the Bassmaster Elite Series. The $103,000 he received for first place pushed his career earnings with B.A.S.S. to $493,457.

Last year’s Elite Series season was one of the toughest of Tharp’s professional career. He earned checks in only two of the eight regular-season events and failed to qualify for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship or the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
But so far this season, he’s made up for all that went wrong.

Tharp finished 11th in the 2016 Elite Series opener on the St. Johns River in his home state of Florida and 16th in the second tournament of the season earlier this month on South Carolina’s Winyah Bay. His victory Sunday vaulted him into first place in the Angler of the Year standings.

“Before last year, two bad tournaments in a row was the longest bad stretch I’d ever had,” Tharp said. “For some reason, I just couldn’t put two good days together.

“Maybe I got all of my bad days out of the way, because I have yet to have one this year.”

Tharp was awarded $1,000 for the leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.

Tharp also earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.

Lowen and Zaldain earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for both leading on the second day.

Tharp won the Toyota Bonus Bucks of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, Powroznik, received $2,000.

The Big Bass Award of $1,500 was presented to Herren for weighing in the overall biggest bass of the event — a 6-1 largemouth bass.

Tharp also earned the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $1,000 for being the highest placing angler using A.R.E. products.

Dick Cepek Rolling Forward Award of $1,000 will be presented to the angler who makes the largest gain in Toyota Angler of the Year points from tournament to tournament.
2016 Bassmaster Elite at Lake Norfork – Bull Shoals 4/21-4/24
Lake Norfork/Bull Shoals, Mountain Home  AR.
(PROFESSIONAL) Standings Day 4

Angler                   Hometown              No./lbs-oz  Pts   Total $$$

1.  Randall Tharp          Port St. Joe, FL        20  61-10  110 $103,000.00
Day 1: 5   15-08     Day 2: 5   13-12     Day 3: 5   16-04     Day 4: 5   16-02
2.  Skeet Reese            Auburn, CA              20  59-08  109  $25,000.00
Day 1: 5   13-04     Day 2: 5   12-07     Day 3: 5   19-02     Day 4: 5   14-11
3.  Chris Zaldain          Laughlin, NV            20  58-12  108  $20,250.00
Day 1: 5   16-02     Day 2: 5   14-12     Day 3: 5   14-04     Day 4: 5   13-10
4.  Matt Herren            Ashville, AL            20  58-10  107  $15,750.00
Day 1: 5   17-00     Day 2: 5   11-06     Day 3: 5   15-05     Day 4: 5   14-15
5.  Bill Lowen             Brookville, IN          20  58-05  106  $14,250.00
Day 1: 5   13-10     Day 2: 5   17-04     Day 3: 5   12-12     Day 4: 5   14-11
6.  Jacob Powroznik        Port Haywood, VA        20  56-10  105  $13,500.00
Day 1: 5   12-09     Day 2: 5   15-08     Day 3: 5   16-04     Day 4: 5   12-05
7.  Steve Kennedy          Auburn, AL              20  55-09  104  $13,000.00
Day 1: 5   13-12     Day 2: 5   13-09     Day 3: 5   14-12     Day 4: 5   13-08
8.  Adrian Avena           Vineland, NJ            20  53-09  103  $12,500.00
Day 1: 5   14-00     Day 2: 5   15-15     Day 3: 5   11-15     Day 4: 5   11-11
9.  Mike McClelland        Bella Vista, AR         20  53-01  102  $12,000.00
Day 1: 5   11-01     Day 2: 5   16-10     Day 3: 5   14-08     Day 4: 5   10-14
10. Brian Snowden          Reeds Spring, MO        20  52-07  101  $11,500.00
Day 1: 5   12-06     Day 2: 5   14-08     Day 3: 5   16-01     Day 4: 5   09-08
11. Brandon Palaniuk       Rathdrum, ID            19  51-13  100  $11,000.00
Day 1: 5   11-12     Day 2: 5   15-13     Day 3: 5   15-10     Day 4: 4   08-10
12. Koby Kreiger           Bokeelia, FL            20  51-05   99  $10,500.00
Day 1: 5   12-08     Day 2: 5   13-13     Day 3: 5   16-07     Day 4: 5   08-09
Davy Hite                Ninety Six, SC      06-01        $750.00
Matt Herren              Ashville, AL        06-01        $750.00
Day   #Limits    #Fish      Weight
1        88       500      1125-13
2        94       506      1327-05
3        40       229       624-10
4        11        59       149-02
233      1294      3226-14