published Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Pirch in top spot after rainy fishing

Thunder clapped around Chester Frost Park during a weigh-in at the Walmart FLW Tour event Friday.

Anglers’ family members and fans sprouted umbrellas and huddled to avoid raindrops, which had been persistent on Chickamauga Lake most of the day.

Rain helped the fishing a bit.

It also kept anglers on the lookout for lightning, which presents a serious danger to them in open water while holding a metal rod.

“I was making a long run fishing 45 minutes away up the river, and that first lightning bolt we saw was really close,” said Dave Lefebre from Union City, Pa. “When weather is like this and we’re that far up, it’s kind of dangerous, so we left early and gave ourselves plenty of time to get back.”

Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., took over the top spot with a two-day total of 43 pounds, 11 ounces. First-day leader Shinichi Fukae of Palestine, Texas, is just 3 ounces behind in the boater division. Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., was the last of 20 boaters to make the Friday cut with 32-8. Brad Knight of Wartburg, Tenn., is 15th at 33-1.

Of the top 30 in FLW points coming into the tournament, only three remain in contention today: No. 13 Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, Wis., in fourth place, No. 17 Brett Hite of Phoenix in 14th and No. 22 Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., in 17th.

Spring City’s Wesley Strader, fifth in the points, missed the cut by 6 ounces, finishing 25th at 32-2 and earning $1,500 after being tied for 49th the first day. He was 1 ounce and one spot behind Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala. Dayton’s Andy Morgan, 12th in the points, wound up 28th at 31-12 and got $1,000.

Keeton Blaylock of Benton, Ark., leads the co-angler division with 30 pounds after one day of beautiful sun and one day of rain. Alton Lackie of Germantown, Tenn., and Mark Horton of Nicholasville, Ky., are tied for second at 29-0. Dalton’s Van Foster Jr. slipped from ninth to 22nd and missed the co-angler cut by 3 ounces.

“A lot of these guys fish in lightning, and they’re out of their minds,” said Lefebre, tied for third in the points standings but finishing 89th at 25-0. “I’m scared to death of it. If it lightnings one time, I’m finding a boat house.

“We’ve made a lot of friends doing that, just pulling into a boat house. You do get a little worried that somebody may come down with a shotgun, though.”

No ramp, boat-slip or boat-house owner has ever threatened Lefebre, he emphasized.

He remembers one tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas three or four years ago, when he sought refuge from a local landowner.

“It was one of the worst storms I’ve ever fished in,” he said. “This little kid came down. I signed his hat. He said, ‘I’m going to get my friends. How long are you going to be here?’

‘“As long as it’s still lightning,’” I told him. “Three of his buddies came down, then his parents, and we had a good time.”

Severe weather never threatened Friday’s round of fishing. It just made heavy-duty rainsuits mandatory gear for the anglers as rain pelted them through the afternoon.

“A guy needs to pay attention on a day like today because one lightning strike is all it takes, especially when you’ve got a wife and three children,” said Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla. “Any time I see cloud-to-ground lightning, I high-tail it and I’m done.

“As long as you’ve got a good rainsuit, you’re good. But if you get wet, you can’t fish. My co-angler forgot his today, and you could tell his mentality at noon dropped because he was getting wet.”

Weigh-ins shift today to the Chattanooga Convention Center, after four hours of an Outdoor Expo beginning there at noon.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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