GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — The Bassmaster Elite Series angler who began the week in stone-cold last place in the Angler of the Year points race on Sunday morning greeted his family, who drove through the night from Oklahoma to see him on the dock.
That's what leading a tournament has done thus far for Terry Butcher, who has to this point, most improbably, led the truncated Southern Challenge presented by Purolator wire-to-wire despite weighing in just 16 pounds, 6 ounces Saturday after 26-3 on Friday. If he can hold off the charge by some of the most accomplished anglers in the world, he'll have another $100,000 for his efforts Sunday afternoon.
The difference in Friday and Saturday for Butcher (besides the 10 pounds) was his inability to get an early bite on the second day. Whereas he had 22 pounds by 7:30 on Friday, he had only a 2-pounder by 8:45 Saturday. "I really need a couple of good bites early in the morning," he told a TV crew on the dock.
Behind him: The opportunistic Jason Quinn (2nd, 41-14); Terry Scroggins (3rd, 41-3), who's catching fish in several ways; and the eminent Kevin VanDam (4th, 40-14), who said Friday and Saturday were nowhere near what he had accomplished in practice.
"All these guys are capable of that 20-pound bag," Quinn said. "It's just who gets the big fish. A 6-pounder is gonna take it all."
Behind VanDam, Yusuke Miyazaki, Mark Tucker and Kelly Jordon, respectively, all began the day within 6 pounds of the lead. Jordon may be especially dangerous, considering that he improved upon his Day One weight by nearly 7 pounds Saturday.
The final five, who are all within 9 pounds of the top, are Shaw Grigsby, Kotaro Kiriyama, Ben Matsubu, Timmy Horton and Alton Jones.
Scroggins is the only angler in the tournament to sack at least 20 pounds both days, a distinction he achieved by working three patterns: a shad spawn early, sight fishing at midday and a deep crankbait pattern late. "You're going to have to do multiple things to win," Scroggins said. The main one, he concurred, was to score that elusive big bite.
Tournaments develop in unpredictable ways. Matsubu's week on Lake Guntersville illustrates the need to adjust. In practice, he was sacking them with such gusto that even his roommate James Niggemeyer took notice. "He said, 'Dude, I've never heard you talk so much,' Matsubu said. Niggemeyer joked to Takahiro Omori: "He's already made the cut."
Since that time, he hasn't been able to entice a heavy fish. No one in this tournament has yet produced an 8-pound fish, so it may not take a fish even close to that large to sway the results.
"This lake is chock-full of big ones," Matsubu said. "You get a couple of 7-pounders, you're right back in it."
If someone is going to sack a decisive kicker fish, Tucker predicted, it would come in the moments after leaving the dock.
"Every day is different," Tucker said. "You need to make adjustments quick." The reason, he said, is that he has seen the bite evaporate after about the first three hours of the day.
After that, he said, the winner will be largely determined: "The guy who wins the tournament will win by 10."