CONCORD, N.C. – On Friday, amid the talk of local young guns taking Lake Norman by storm at the National Guard Open weigh-in, Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., quietly snuck into the last qualifying position.
Today the locals left the door ajar, and Nixon didn’t even bother to knock as he marched through it and took the lead with five bass weighing 12 pounds, 9 ounces.
Local anglers Bryan Thrift and Hank Cherry managed just four keepers apiece today, leaving them in eighth and 10th place, respectively, and digging themselves quite a hole going into day four.
Nixon now has a 1-pound, 5-ounce lead going into the final day, which might not sound like much, but on Lake Norman that equates to about a 3-pound lead elsewhere.
“Sneaking into the top 10 was not intentional – I guarantee you that,” said Nixon. “I lost a great, big fish the first day that would have put me way up there, and yesterday my fish spit up three huge shad in my livewell that I assure you cost me 5 ounces. So it’s not like I tried to intentionally manage my fish for this – you just can’t do that on this lake – you’ve got to get all you can each day.
“But as for being consistent and targeting 12 pounds a day, that has been my goal. Coming here I felt like 12 pounds a day would do the trick, and this is the third day in a row I’ve had over 12 pounds. If I can catch that tomorrow, I’ll feel pretty good about my chances.”
Unlike other contestants who have talked of catching 15 to 20 bass per day, Nixon noted he is not getting near that number of bites each day, but each fish he has caught has been a better quality bass.
“I’ve committed to one general portion of the lake because of the quality fish I found there,” he said. “Everywhere else I went during practice, I could catch a bunch of fish, but they were all small. But each time I returned to this one section, my number of bites dwindled and my quality increased.”
In terms of Nixon’s technique, there’s nothing fancy about it.
“I’m just throwing a Berkley Power Wacky Crawler worm on a shaky head and a Texas-rig,” he said. “I’m fishing a lot of shallow water cover – lay-downs and stumps.”
Nixon did reveal he was making long casts to his targets.
“If you just let your boat quietly drift up to a lay-down on this lake right now, it’s full of bass,” he added. “So I’m staying way off those targets and making long casts because I know those fish are there.”
Suggs move to second
“I’m not even looking at that leaderboard,” Suggs said of his chances to beat Nixon. “I’m just going fishing. I’ve been in this position too many times in other events and got to thinking about what I needed to win – adding it up over and over in my head – and it ruins me. I’m done with that. I don’t care if I need 2 ounces or 10 pounds; I’m going fishing like I would any other tournament day.”
Suggs is concentrating his efforts on stumps in between docks. He is throwing a 1/4-ounce shaky head with Zoom Trick worm.
“I’m catching some off the docks too, but I’m really milking the stumps,” he said. “I’m making repeated casts to them and just letting that lure sit there and soak.”
Bennett slips into third
“I had a really good day the first day, but the last two days I have really struggled,” said Bennett. “I’m just not getting near the bites I did that first day, and I don’t really know why. I know that my bite is better later in the day, once the sun gets up high.”
Bennett is fishing docks with a Senko and a shaky worm.
“These are all postspawn fish, but they seem to be leaving fast,” he added. “And I really don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow. I think I’m going to use the morning to experiment with some new stuff until the sun gets up before I go to my better fish areas.”
“I only had five bites all day – three on a Fluke, one on a Gigi Stick and one on a lizard – and that was it,” Vatalaro said. “I really struggled for what I caught.”
Tomorrow Vatalaro plans to secure a limit first and then worry about bigger fish.
“I went to my bigger-fish spot right off the bat this morning, and I think that was a mistake because it got tough; I just don’t fish the same with an empty livewell. So tomorrow I’m going somewhere else for a quick limit to get settled down; then I’ll worry about bigger ones.”
Bolivar to fifth
All year Bolivar has suffered from having a great first day and a poor second day. At Norman this week, he set out to remedy that.
“On the second day at every tournament this year, I have run out of fish because either I caught them all or other anglers got to them,” he explained. “So at this event I spent two days of practice intentionally looking for off-the-wall places and difficult places to reach for later in the event, and it worked.”
At Norman, Bolivar has literally found single casts that few others would go through the trouble to make.
“Like going under dock cables, around the back side of a dock just to make one cast over another dock,” Bolivar said. “It’s crazy, but if you can get your lure to a piece of virgin water on this lake, it’s an automatic bite.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the FLW Tour event on Lake Norman:
6th: Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., five bass, 19-13
7th: Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., five bass, 9-4
8th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., four bass, 8-5
9th: Jay Yelas of Tyler, Texas, four bass, 7-1
10th: Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., four bass, 6-12
The top 10 pros take to the water for final-day competition in the FLW Tour National Guard Open on Lake Norman Sunday at 7 a.m. at Blythe Landing located at 15901 NC Highway 73 in Huntersville, N.C.