LAKE WALES, Fla. — Day Two leader Kelly Jordon caught a small keeper around 9 Saturday morning, then released it a few minutes later. But he had no regrets when he failed to weigh a fish at the end of the day.
"None, zero," Jordon said.
That's because he got slammed about as hard as anyone Saturday in the Bassmaster Elite Series Citrus Slam presented by Longhorn. Jordon had 44 pounds, 3 ounces in total weight and a 7-13 lead when he started the day; he ended it with the same 44-3 but a 4-14 deficit to new Kissimmee Chain leader Kevin VanDam.
That one-pound male bass wouldn't have helped Jordon much. And he was hoping that its release might help him land the 10-pound female on the spawning bed he went to first thing in the morning. But it didn't, so he changed tactics
"I was determined not to let my balls-to-the-wall personality kill me in this tournament," said the Mineola, Texas, angler. "I made a conservative move, for me. With that big lead I knew I just needed to catch about 10 or 12 pounds."
However, Jordon couldn't coax another bite the rest of the day. All the Elite Series anglers who made the top 50 cut Friday knew Saturday's high winds were going to make fishing tough. And they did.
The high winds were even tougher on Byron Velvick. The Day One leader with 25 pounds, which is still the Berkley Heavyweight Bag for this tournament, was in second place Friday. Velvick dropped out of the top 12 for Sunday's finale and into 15th place with only 3-2, which gave him 39-8 overall.
That allowed VanDam, who started Saturday in third, to walk through an open door, even though he struggled. VanDam's 13-6 limit, which was boosted by a 7-pounder, gave him 49-1 and the Day Three lead, even though it was his lowest weight of the tournament.
"If the wind blows like that again tomorrow, it will be very hard," said VanDam, who is concentrating on clumps of hydrilla in an area unprotected from the wind. "You just can't stay positioned out there. You can't slow down. It would be nice to be able to cast three or four different baits in each area, but you just can't keep the boat in position."
Mark Davis, who is the only angler to win BASS Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic titles in the same year, was fishing the same area as VanDam. And he had moved up the leaderboard from 42nd to ninth in the first two days. But he fell out of the top 12 also. His 7-13 limit left him in 18th place.
VanDam's one big bite Saturday was the only thing that kept him from weighing a similar total as Davis.
Eight pounds, four ounces separates first from 12th for Sunday's finale. Jordon proved Saturday that an 8-pound lead isn't safe. So the $100,000 first prize is up for grabs Sunday.
Bryan Hudgins caught the only 20-pound limit Saturday and zoomed from 34th place into sixth. His 20-10 bag gave him 43-7 overall and left him full of confidence. However, one of his first comments after coming off the weigh-in stage was, "I'm an idiot."
Hudgins, who lives in nearby Orange Park, Fla., finally fished a goldmine Saturday that he knew existed in the Kissimmee Chain. Late in the afternoon, Hudgins went to a spot that had produced a big fish for him in November and had been productive in the past.
"I've got so much stuff on these lakes," said Hudgins, in explaining why he hadn't tried it earlier.
In the final 30 minutes, with his trolling motor batteries almost dead from fighting the wind all day, he landed a 5-pounder, a 6-pounder and lost a 10-pounder at the boat. All were caught on a SPRO lipless crankbait.
"I hope it blows from the same direction at the same speed tomorrow," Hudgins said. "This is the biggest concentration of fish I've had the whole time I've been here. I'm really, really excited to go back out there tomorrow."
Ray Sedgwick also made a big move up the leaderboard Saturday with 18-4, giving him 46-4 overall and jumping him from 20th to 3rd. Sedgwick, who is from Cross, S.C., also took Purolator Big Bass honors with a 7-7.
He and Scott Rook, who is in second place with 47-0, are fishing within 100 yards of each other in some thick hydrilla that has isolated open pockets in it. Like everybody else, Sedgwick and Rook had to fight the wind there.
"They weren't easy," said Rook of his 13-6 limit that matched VanDam's. "I don't have anything else. I learned something in Florida. You have to slow down. You might make 25 casts to a spot, then, boom, catch 'em."
Rook is using a junebug-colored plastic worm weighted with a ¼-ounce slip sinker. Sedgewick is relying on several lures, including a Zoom Vibra Tail worm, a Senko and a lipless crankbait, similar to a Rat-L-Trap.
Another angler who made a move up the leaderboard Saturday was Bill Lowen of North Bend, Ohio. He started the day tied with Davis for ninth, then moved up to fourth with a limit weighing 14-7, giving him 44-12 overall.
"If the wind lays down, it could be real interesting tomorrow," Lowen said. "I couldn't fish my best spot today."
Jordon, who is known as someone who often catches big bass, failed when he went conservative Saturday, after he couldn't get the 10-pound spawning female to bite. He won't go conservative again Sunday.
"I've got to catch them tomorrow," Jordon said. "That makes my decision a whole lot easier."