The knots are tied. The hooks are sharpened. Competitors are as ready as they’ll be.
Forty-five of the world's best bass anglers began competition Thursday morning in the the FLW Championship known as the Forrest Wood Cup on South Carolina’s Lake Murray.
Amazingly, three of those 45 world-class competitors hail from Rhea County, Tenn.
The trio from Rhea County includes Andy Morgan, Wesley Strader and Michael Neal. Morgan and Neal both hail from Dayton, while Strader calls Spring City home.
2014 Kellogg’s Angler of the Year Andy Morgan qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup by virtue of his 2013 FLW Tour Angler of the Year victory. He has qualified to fish in an amzing 17 Forrest Wood Cup championships.
Both Strader and Neal qualified due to their top 10 finishes in the 2014 FLW Tour Angler of the Year race.
On Facebook Thursday morning Neal posted, "This is it. The tournament everyone here has waited for all year. Gonna be a grind and a challenge to stay mentally focused- the most underrated aspect of fishing. All it takes is 5 bites in the next eight hours to be in contention."
Earlier FLW shared this YouTube pre-tournament report from Neal
Randall Tharp is the defending champion.
“Once the tournament starts, being the defending champion doesn’t mean a thing,” Tharp says. “The guys aren’t going to sit back and yield anything to me. They want to beat me, and I want to beat them. I want to defend my title and hopefully have a chance to win that trophy twice.”
A cold spell that snuck in just in time for the tournament’s beginning brought pleasantly cool air for the clear morning launch. However, cold fronts tend to fiddle with even the best of angling scenarios, so it will be interesting to hear how this impacts today’s productivity.
With $500,000 and massive prestige on the line, playing it safe won’t get the job done.
Andy Morgan said, “This is what you work for all year. This is the tournament we all want to make it to. There are no points involved, so there’s no pressure. That lets you just go out and just fish to win.”
In the Forrest Wood Cup, 45 pros and co-anglers from the Walmart FLW Tour, Rayovac FLW Series, Walmart Bass Fishing League, FLW College Fishing and The Bass Federation are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two, a co-angler champion is crowned and the pro field is pared to the top 20. After Saturday's weigh-in, the pro field is cut to the top 10. A pro champ is crowned on Sunday, with a $500,000 prize paid to the winner.Photo courtesy Michael Neal via Facebook