LEESBURG, Fla. – The conditions at takeoff on Day 1 of Bass Boat Technologies Stop 2 on the Harris Chain of Lakes Presented by Frogg Toggs were universally agreed to be terrible. But by the end of the weigh-in, with the sun shining and local favorite Keith Carson slotting into the 10th spot with a kicker plucked from a bed, the day turned out to be a pretty good one.
Setting the pace, Grant Galloway put 23 pounds, 9 ounces on the scale to earn the lead. In second, Randall Tharp, one of the biggest hitters in Florida, caught 22-15. Hot on his heels, Kerry Milner wrangled 22-13 for third.
A sophomore pro from Mississippi, Galloway has struggled in his start on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Presented by Fuel Me, never finishing above 100th so far. After today, with an 8-pounder and a 9-pounder to his credit, he may have finally got the ball rolling.
Things started out poorly for Galloway, however, as big wind in his area had him frustrated and mentally scattered.
“I got there and it was really windy, it was blowing right down the pipe of the area I was fishing,” Galloway said. “I finally settled in, there was one local boat in the area, and I saw him catch a few, so that kinda made me settle down. I slowed down, went to pitchin’, and it was just not working.”
Then, at about 9 a.m., things changed dramatically.
“I had one point that was windblown, and I bombed one up there, set the hook, and she wrapped me up in the pads,” Galloway said. “So, I hightailed it to her and grabbed it. So, I get her in the boat, after I pass out and come back twice.”
That was his first big one.
“I go on down the bank, and I saw a blown-in trash mat,” Galloway said. “I pitched over there, with a pitching bait, ‘thunk.’ I set the hook, and I just pinned it, I didn’t know what it was. So, I hightailed over to it, and I could just see her lip sitting in the mat. When I grabbed it, I didn’t have a clue how big it was.”
In a matter of minutes, Galloway went from a goose egg to 17 pounds for two fish.
From there, the former Mississippi State angler pulled out a jerkbait to finish his limit and get over 20 pounds. Then, he moved to a flat and wound a crankbait to cull up several times to hit his leading mark.
Having had a good practice, Galloway is in much better shape than he’s used to after Day 1, despite struggling with the conditions.
“I wasn’t able to fish thorough, I didn’t even get to fish a couple stretches that I just intentionally wanted to fish slow,” Galloway said. “The wind was just too bad. Hopefully, it lays down, and I can capitalize on that tomorrow.
“It’s Florida, and every time I’ve fished here, the big bite goes a long way, especially in these multi-day events,” Galloway said. “Do I think I can do it again? Yeah, if the good Lord’s willing. But, it’s all about the bite. I’m not targeting specific sized fish. It’s not like we’re on the Tennessee River and I’m graphing a school and I know how big they are. It’s just the luck of the flip. I feel like as long as I’m around numbers, the quality will show itself.”
Pretty high up there on the list of pre-tournament favorites, Randall Tharp landed a 9-7 for the Day 1 Berkley Big Bass and seems to be on pace to be terrifying for the rest of the field.
Catching just 10 keepers, Tharp caught the right ones for sure.
“I was very fortunate to get two big bites,” Tharp said. “And, I didn’t lose any fish at all today that mattered, I lost a few fish, you’re going to lose some fishing the way I do, but the big ones came in the boat.”
Not fishing offshore and not sight-fishing, you’re free to speculate on what Tharp is up to. One thing is for sure though, he sounds dangerous.
“I’m from Florida and this is not that far from me, and the Bass Pro Tour here last year was the first time I’d been here,” Tharp said. “But, it’s Florida fishing, when I saw the weather forecast I looked for a certain thing, and found it.
“It was slower this morning, I think I had three fish at 11:15,” Tharp said. “But, from that point on, it was pretty much on everywhere I went. I had a lot of bites the last day of practice. My first day of practice sucked, but I had probably 30 bites that day. I think if I can get 15 to 20 bites a day I’ll have a chance this week. You’ve just gotta catch every big one that bites.”
Fishing exactly how he likes to fish, Kerry Milner practiced for about four hours total and had one fish in the box at 2 p.m. Still, his plan to come and fish historic offshore shell beds turned out to be a good one.
“I caught a fish on my first stop this morning, had a few pecking on it, a few bites, and I started running spots,” Milner said. “I ended up back at the starting spot at 2:30, still with just a couple little bites. Then I made one small adjustment, and I caught three on three casts in a row, and one of them was my biggest one.”
Then he was off to the races.
“After I made that adjustment, I was able to bounce around and catch them pretty much anywhere I wanted to go on that pattern,” Milner said.
Busy with work and rigging, Milner left Arkansas on the first day of practice. After Day 1, it looks like he planned it right.
“I felt like I knew what I was going to do when I got here,” Milner said. “I knew what I was going to run, and I felt like with the cold front at all it would bring fish to my spots. Let’s just hope it works tomorrow.”