Countless giants lie beneath the swollen and detritus-strewn waters of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Terry Bolton might be able to give an accurate count, though, seeing as he caught a bunch of them Friday.
After sacking up 20 pounds, 10 ounces on day one of the FLW Tour season opener presented by Polaris at Big Sam – good for 10th place entering Friday – the Benton, Ky., angler put together a megabag full of hawgs that totaled 33-9 and moved Bolton to the top of the leaderboard with all the momentum he could want heading into the weekend.
One could point to technique, preparation and skill as the reasons for Bolton’s success on Rayburn, and all would be valid reasons. Yet, what’s happening for Bolton at the weigh-in stage is all about what’s happening between his ears on the water.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do [on Saturday]: I’m going to do the same thing I’ve done the last two days,” he quips. “I’m going to get up, put my clothes on, go fishing, and I’m going to enjoy myself because that’s all this year is about is me having fun.”
Bolton kicked around retiring after the last Tour season, during which he says he didn’t have as much fun as he should have. Rayburn tends to be a cure-all for that when it’s fishing as hot as it is right now.
“When you catch 33 pounds, that helps you have fun,” Bolton adds.
The veteran pro says he caught some of his fish on day one on a spinnerbait, but overcast conditions today ignited a crankbait bite, and he did most of his damage with a Rapala DT14 or DT16 in his hand. Bolton caught fish throughout the day but really pounded on them during an early afternoon flurry that culminated with him culling 5 1/2-pounders.
Surprisingly enough, Bolton’s massive stringer wasn’t his largest bag ever. In 2008, during the FLW Series East-West Fish-Off, Bolton sacked up 38-15 at Falcon Lake. Still, you won’t catch him complaining. Quite the opposite, actually.
Nick LeBrun – 48-4 (19-2 day two)
Louisiana native Nick LeBrun put up a big showing at Rayburn on day one, totaling 29 pounds, 2 ounces for the outright lead heading into Friday. Bolton might have eclipsed LeBrun both on the leaderboard and in the big-bag rankings, but second place on cut day isn’t too shabby, especially considering it could have been much worse.
LeBrun had 12 pounds at 1 o’clock. His spots seemed to dry up a bit, which he attributes in part to fishing pressure in that area of the lake. After a tremendous day one, it was starting to look like all of LeBrun’s momentum was about to push him headlong into a brick wall.
Instead, the Tour rookie reached into his bag of tricks and decided to fish a spot he’d been saving for a rough stretch. It paid off in a big way, aided by a 5-pounder that buoyed his day-two weight into the high-teens.
“I’m excited,” he says. “You’re going to have a bad day. If today was my bad day, I’ll be really excited.”
As he should be. LeBrun is less than 6 pounds out of the lead with (potentially) two days left to fish, and 6 pounds in nothing to make up on a lake that’s been churning out 7- to 11-pounders thus far this week.
Jim Tutt 45-4 (21-11 day two)
Few professional anglers know Big Sam the way Jim Tutt does. The Longview, Texas, angler has more FLW Tour and Costa FLW Series tournaments at Rayburn under his belt than anyone in the field this week with 23, and his wealth of knowledge about the fishery showed out in a big way on Friday.
“It’s awesome to fish a spot you’ve fished for 30 years and catch one,” Tutt quipped after landing a 5 1/2-pounder at around 10 o’clock Friday.
Tutt spent most of the day slow-rolling a small crankbait on 10-pound-test line around grass lines. It’s a formula that’s worked for him in the past, and it’s one that is paying off so far this time around, even with water levels still absurdly high.
Another lesson Tutt has learned about Rayburn over the decades: If it’s working, keep doing it. He’ll spend Saturday doing much of the same in many of the same spots.
Chad Warren – 44-6 (18-15 day two)
Despite missing part of the official practice period due to illness, Chad Warren hammered on big fish Thursday. He did the same thing Friday, with the same baits, in many of the same ways.
Warren was targeting contour lines with grass – a staple for many anglers this week – but his three primary spots have all paid off. As an added bonus, the Sand Springs, Okla., pro had two of those spots entirely to himself each of the first two days of the tournament.
With the field now cut to 30 anglers heading into Saturday, there’s a good chance he’ll have them all to himself again, which probably means more of the same: big fish, and lots of them.
Bryan Thrift – 43-15 (23-0 day two)
Death, taxes and Bryan Thrift near the top of the leaderboard.
The best angler in professional bass fishing is never out of the hunt. He tallied 20-15 on day one and surprisingly flew a little under the radar given the multitude of big bags carried to the weigh-in stage Thursday. But with another 20-plusser on Friday – and a top-five positioning heading into the weekend – Thrift is once again knocking at the door of a Tour win in search of lucky No. 7.
Thrift has done all his damage with a Carolina rig. All day. Cast and catch. It’s what worked for the Shelby, N.C., pro Thursday and Friday, and if it works out Saturday as well, he may be dragging that Carolina rig all the way to a big win on Big Sam.
FLW Tour sophomore Andy Wicker turned in a bag of 22-5 on Friday – a respectable bag, to be sure – but the size of the stringer wasn’t what impressed spectators at the weigh-in stage. It just so happened that almost half that stringer was comprised of one fish.
Wicker landed a behemoth 11-2 largemouth on a 3/4-ounce TrueSouth football jig with a green pumpkin Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Chunk trailer. It was the largest fish ever weighed in for Big Bass at an FLW Tour event on Rayburn and the ninth-largest in Tour history. And the best part? Wicker was simply fishing to fill his limit, expecting to catch only small bass when he landed the new record.
Getting 110 percent
Kyle Cortiana sits in 13th place following day two. His 23-3 on Friday was exactly what he needed to remain in contention heading into the weekend, though the way he sacked up that impressive bag is equally impressive in its own right.
When you make 29 casts and get 34 bites, that’s just getting more than you paid for.
Cortiana found a grassy spot to hunker down and toss a Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko, assuming a little finesse might be the key to catching some numbers. When you’re right, you’re right.
The Coweta, Okla., pro landed 29 fish on 29 consecutive casts, which has to be some kind of record. He noted that on several casts he lost a fish that he had hooked and another fish swooped in to clean up. When the dust had settled, Cortiana landed 29 fish in a row – all but two of which were his biggest fish of the day.
The streak stays alive
Thrift’s consecutive limits streak is alive and well. In his last 65 days of Tour competition, he’s managed to fill out a full five-fish limit in all 65. Don’t expect the streak to die at Rayburn, as hot as the lake is fishing.
Monsoor’s giant leap
Sixteen-year Tour vet Tom Monsoor turned disappointment to elation on day two, virtually erasing the sting of his 8-pound, 1-ounce bag Thursday with a massive 26-4 effort on Friday. He moved into 17th place with that stringer, which he caught primarily on a homemade 1/2-ounce football jig with a green pumpkin Yamamoto Double Tail Grub.
Top 10 pros
1. Terry Bolton –Benton, Ky. – 54-3 (10)
2. Nick LeBrun – Bossier City, La. – 48-4 (10)
3. Jim Tutt – Longview, Texas – 45-4 (10)
4. Chad Warren – Sand Springs, Okla. – 44-6 (10)
5. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 43-15 (10)
6. Miles Burghoff – Hixson, Tenn. – 42-8 (10)
7. Billy Shelton III – La Crosse, Va. – 42-1 (10)
8. Jordan Osborne – Longview, Texas – 41-9 (10)
9. Sam George – Athens, Ala. – 39-9 (10)
10. Andy Wicker – Pomaria, S.C. – 38-14 (10)