A last-minute catch on Norfork Lake proved to be a championship moment Sunday for Randall Tharp in the Bassmaster Elite Series national tournament in the Ozarks.
Tharp, who lives in Port St. Joe, Fla., caught his biggest bass of the day with just seconds left before he had to make a 10-mile boat ride back to the dock, and he credited that fish with making the difference.
Tharp caught 5 bass weighing 16 pounds, 2 ounces Sunday, lifting his four-day total to 20 bass totaling 61 pounds, 12 ounces. The championship, Tharp’s first in Bassmaster Elite competition, was worth $100,000.
Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., was second with 59 pounds, 8 ounces. Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif., was third with 58 pounds, 12 ounces.
“It was down to 15 seconds before I knew I had to leave to make it back in time,” Tharp said. “I knew I had a good bag of fish, but I felt like I needed one more big one.
“I was cutting it close, but I took a few more casts. I flipped up to a little bluff in a creek and my line just started swimming sideways. I got that bass in and just took off.”
Tharp was using a gold and craw-colored jig that he designed for 4x4 Lures. He targeted three creeks at both Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes, where the tournament split time.
But he only fished one of those creeks Sunday. The fishing was that good there.
He caught all of his bass in less than 2 feet of water in creeks that had some color. The bass were in the shallows spawning, but unlike other competitors in the national tournament, Tharp didn’t target individual fish.
Instead, he pitched and flipped to areas he thought spawning bass might relate to.
“I was looking for crevices, stumps, laydowns, anything different,” he said. “And it worked out.”