Professional B.A.S.S. fisherman, Randall Tharp, has spent seven days at home in Mexico Beach when on his ten-hour drive to Texas he says, “I am not looking past my first cast at Sabine at this point,” about the next leg, of the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series tour.
This is Tharp’s 10th year competing among the best 100 anglers in the world and his next stop is the 510-mile-long tidal river bordering Louisiana. It will also be his second try to fish this spot, over June 7-10, since it flooded in April, which led to cancelling this event.
He calls it a wildcard, but says, “It’s a pretty fishery. I’ve had a decent couple trips over and I feel good about it.”
So far this year, he has been in striking distance of a win only once, where he finished 9th on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. He has been as he describes, “streaky,” since finishing 102nd at the Lake Martin opener.
“I like the way that lake sets up, but, I was fishing the wind, and I got in a bad rotation behind some good fisherman,” he says.
The weather hasn’t helped.
Since February, he has launched in temperatures below freezing at Kentucky Lake to 100 degrees at Lake Travis in Texas. “This stretch, will be muggy and buggy,” he says, “then we’ll get up to crispy mornings in Wisconsin (June 21-24) and South Dakota (June 29-July 2).”
Of Grand Lake, he recalls, “After the third day, everything was clicking, and, I was learning a lot, but, the big ones didn’t bite on the final day and I had mechanical issues, that cost me time. But, by far, it was a highlight, of the first half of this season fishing against Kevin [VanDamm] on the last day,” he says, of the seven-time Toyota Angler of the Year.
The strength of this year’s field also includes 2018 repeat Bassmaster Classic champion, 26-year-old Jordan Lee. “We’re all good at finding, and catching them. It’s not about fishing against fish,” Tharp says, “but about outsmarting your competitors and guys are pushing it.”
Recapping the first leg in detail, “Kentucky was a tough event,” Tharp says. “I was fishing shallow for spawning bass instead of sight fishing. It shocked everybody how difficult it was to get a bite in a lake that’s got so many fish in it. The third day, I ran out of fish.”
Tharp is currently sitting 54th in the Angler of the Year standings, but only 68 points outside the top 15.
He admits that he is behind in his goal but gaining ground. He had the bites at Lake Travis where he finished in 60th weighing in 20 pounds but is most excited that he caught a rare Guadaloupe bass there.
Tharp says that he hasn’t had to fish outside of his comfort zone yet, but Lake Oahe (South Dakota) is a big, unknown. “I will have to do things I don’t like to do. It’s going to be deep, for drop shotting meaning, I am looking at my electronics more.” A salt-water enthusiast, he adds, “I’d rather have a grouper looking at me in my screen than a bass.”
Following Sabine, Tharp is looking forward to returning to the Red River, in Louisiana, where he captured the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup and historically finished sixth, fourth and first. After that, “The Mississippi is phenomenal and where you're going to catch 30-40 fish a day, regardless of what you’re doing. It’s a unique event with a big cheering section.”
Tharp got a reminder, of how deep his fan base really does run, even though he didn’t qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, in March. Instead, he helped launch his new line of 12 fishing rods that includes a new plug-specific crank bait rod built on composite blanks he personally oversaw the creation of, over the last year for ARK Fishing International.
“We sold every one we had,” he says, adding, “It is the coolest thing I’ve been part of this year.”
He will also be casting for customers, and distributors, as a representative at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) on July 10-13, in Orlando.
But even a positive visit with fans doesn’t distract Tharp from wanting to win the Classic; the only goal he hasn’t reached in his career. “I won’t retire before that is on my mantel,” he says.
Tharp may arguably be the best flipping and pitching guy on the circuit, but it is about performance, and finishing in the top 70 to fish next year. “I’ve made the top 12 cut every year except one,” he says, about being on the outside looking in, “and so finishing strong is the goal now.”
One advantage his experience gives him is patience.
“Guys get flustered if they can’t get a lot of bites. I excel, when that’s the case.”
He explains, “It’s a mental game. When I won at Red River I didn’t have bite at 11:45 on the final day. Being stubborn can get you in trouble or be your best friend.”
His other best friend Tharp’s wife and fellow traveller, Sara fished Kissimmee on a fun day in January, with their two dogs.
They caught two eight-pounders, and after thinking about it, he says, “I wish I could take the dogs out every day.”
“It might make a difference in the bite.”