published Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Familiar waters FLW finale a homecoming for Dayton's Morgan


Dayton’s Andy Morgan pulls a fish out of Grand Lake on June 6 on the way to the Walmart FLW Tour points lead.
Dayton’s Andy Morgan pulls a fish out of Grand Lake on June 6 on the way to the Walmart FLW Tour points lead.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The sixth and final regular-season stop on the 2013 Walmart FLW Tour next week will promote Lake Chickamauga and give the people of Dayton a chance to showcase their town for professional bass fishermen from throughout the United States.

And maybe to crown one of their own as the Kellogg's Angler of the Year.

Evinrude pro Andy Morgan of Dayton leads the points standings on the strength of a third-place finish on Lewis Smith in Alabama in March, an 11th on Lake Eufaula in Alabama a month ago and a seventh on Grand Lake in Oklahoma in early June. And he seems to have the home-water advantage over most of his fellow pros next Thursday through Sunday out of the Dayton Boat Dock, although he says that isn't necessarily true.

Morgan's 902 points are only nine more than second-place Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., has, "and Thrift has been fishing on Chick more than I have this year," Morgan said. "I haven't got to fish that much around here.

"It would be a great deal if I won it, no question, but it's still a long shot," he added.

The top five are within 32 points of Morgan, who would lock up Angler of the Year with a top-nine finish.

"Anything can happen," he said. "I could be 20th, which is a great finish in fishing, and lose out depending on who finishes in the top 10."

He noted that a 68th-place finish on Beaver Lake in Arkansas normally would have wiped out any chance for the points title with only six events, but his top challengers also each had one clunker of a tournament.

"I was leading the points one year when we finished up on the Detroit River," Morgan said, "and the whole top five bombed. Somebody who was like eighth or 10th and thought he had no chance to win was the points winner."

Morgan finished second in the standings in 2010, when Thrift won. The two are good friends, by the way, and the North Carolina pro is one of five of next week's participants who will be staying in Morgan's house or cabin.

"If he's beating me, I may make him go to a motel," Morgan joked.

He's not hurting the Dayton lodging economy by hosting some of the anglers. There will be nearly 400 in town vying for the $125,000 top prize in the pro division and a $25,000 top award to the co-angler winner.

Two other Rhea Countians who could be very much in the running are fellow veteran Wesley Strader of Spring City, a member of the Walmart team, and young pro Michael Neal of Dayton, who operates Dayton Boat Dock. Strader is 32nd in the points, Neal 37th.

The competitors will launch from there each morning at 6:30. It also will be the site of the Thursday and Friday weigh-ins starting at 3 p.m. The Saturday and Sunday weigh-ins for those making the cuts will begin at 4 at the Walmart store in Dayton, and NBCSN will televise highlights from the tournament on Aug. 4 from 11 a.m. to noon.

The Walmart store will host the FLW Outdoors Expo from noon to 4 p.m. on June 29 and 30, before the weigh-ins. That is free for fans and gives them a chance to interact with some of the pros and to try out Ranger boat simulators and interactive games and participate in other activities.

In an FLW release about the tournament, Morgan and Strader both talked about how great Chickamauga has been but noted that it's smaller than comparable fisheries and will have the tournament anglers bunched up at some spots.

"It's going to be won offshore," Strader said, "and there are just not that many good areas to go around for everybody. It's going to be competitive."

Said Morgan: "The lake has been on fire. We've had an unbelievable spring here. We were seeing five-bass stringer of over 40 pounds. The fish are post-spawn now and it's slowed down a little bit, but guys are still bringing in upper 20-pound weights to win the local weekend tournaments. ... The fish are biting and the lake is very good right now. Everyone is going to catch fish, but it's going to be tough to catch the 18- to 20-pound stringers each day, just because Chickamauga isn't very big."

He agreed that offshore spots will be the difference and said the pros "better bring everything that you have. The fish will be biting on everything."

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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