Losing what he called “a really good fish” right off the bat, Randall Tharp’s Friday didn’t begin well.
But a few keepers later, Tharp began to roll straight toward the first-day lead of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro on Lake Guntersville.
“At about my fifth stop, I finally got into a little school and caught an 8 1/2 and a 5. From then on, it got pretty easy,” said the Floridian, who ended round one with 27 pounds, 8 ounces. “I caught fish at about every stop I made.”
Tharp’s huge haul of Lake Guntersville largemouth bass gave him the lead, but he didn’t stomp the field. He had 11 ounces on Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., who posted 26-13 for second place. Third place was taken by David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., with 24-13.
Fourth place was a tie at 23-2 between Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., and Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla. Roumbanis’ bag held the largest bass of the day, a 9-3. That Guntersville lunker positioned Roumbanis as the event’s frontrunner for the Carhartt Big Bass Award of up to $2,500 for the largest single catch.
B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier Coby Carden of Shelby, Ala., nailed down sixth place with 22-4.
Tharp, who now lives in Port St. Joe, Fla., lived much of his life in Alabama near Lake Guntersville, and he considers it to be his home water. He’s won several events on the lake over the years, including a 2008 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Allstate.
Tharp, like all 55 Classic anglers, had to make adjustments Friday after a hard rain and wind hammered Lake Guntersville the night before.
“I think the rain hurt everybody,” he said. “This lake typically fishes better when it’s a little lower. It was high, with too much current today. Obviously it muddied a lot of water up. I could tell by the way the fish were biting. They were slapping at the bait.
“But as the day went on, they started eating the bait a little better,” Tharp said.
His key moment was hooking into the 8 1/2-pounder.
“When you catch a fish like that, that’s a lot of weight in one bite. You definitely need a bite like that every day here to win this tournament,” he said.
Tharp said he was switching up his lures, going in turn to a lipless crankbait, a jig, a crankbait and a jerkbait.
“I’m fishing specific places, extremely slowly to get the bite,” he said.
Tharp said he culled six or seven times to put together his 27-8.
Besides a fast start toward the Classic’s first prize of $300,000, Tharp pocketed the $1,000 GEICO Everyday Leader Award, plus another $1,500 if he had a GEICO decal on his boat’s windshield.
Like everyone, Evers had to adjust to the muddy water.
“It was a grind today,” Evers said. “It looks great on paper — 26-13 — but I really didn’t catch that many fish. I had the right ones, and I’m fortunate to be where I am.”
He predicted that the weights across the board will improve as the water clears.
Evers said he capitalized on bass moving up toward spawning beds. He caught two of his larger keepers on back-to-back casts, then on the next cast, he lost one.
“Then I went hours without a bite. You come across little pods of them. You just have to keep moving, roaming until you find them,” Evers said.
The full field will return to Lake Guntersville Saturday for the second day. Sunday, only the Top 25 will compete.
Fans can catch the Saturday and Sunday weigh-ins in Birmingham at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Arena doors will open at 3 p.m. There’s no admission charge. Bassmaster.com will continue with wall-to-wall coverage, including live streaming of the weigh-ins. All online access is free.
To see the Classic competition on ESPN2, fans can tune into The Bassmasters on Saturday, March 1, at 10 a.m. ET, for the first hour of Classic coverage. The Classic finale show will air in prime time — 8 to 10 p.m. ET — on Sunday, March 2.