GREENSBORO, N.C. — The 12 anglers competing in the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions this week.
Most all had a torturous practice followed by an incredible resurgence in High Rock Lake's bass population. Saturday morning they were dumped on Lake Townsend, which each had less than one hour of visual time, much less fishing experience. Add in a chilly start, a mandated fishing area and there's makings of a day that spells tough in every way imaginable.
Brian Snowden bought in the only limit of the day (9-0 pounds), but was upstaged by Fred Roumbanis. The Californian, whose wife Julie is due with their first child in two days, brought three fish to the scales weighing 14 pounds, 10 ounces to take a commanding lead on a venue that redefines the meaning of challenging.
"It might be the baby thing because right now I've got almost no stress," said Roumbanis, who collected a $1,000 check on stage for the Purolator Big Bass prize on Friday and pocketed another one with his 6-3 lunker Saturday. "It kind of mellows me when I start thinking about taking him fishing and everything. I think that's why guys do so well with babies on the way. It really relaxes you and clears your mind somewhat of fishing."
Roumbanis says he has his sights on a potential 10-pounder at his favorite hole among the only docks on the lake — the ones where the anglers launched this morning. Though he used a drop-shot technique to entice his brace of bedding fish to bite, he says the big fish will require a different tactic.
"I think I can blind cast for her and I'll probably do it with a swimbait," Roumbanis said. "A good number of these fish are actually pre-spawn fish. They're still trying to lock up."
Snowden, in second place with 9-0, blistered the field on High Rock for two days by mainly flipping shallow, leading the closest competitor by more than eight pounds. He had only two fish near the end of the day when the anglers were allowed to fish whichever one of the six holes they chose. That's when the proverbial light bulb went off in his head.
"I told myself I wasn't going to live or die with one tactic like I had before in tournaments," Snowden said. "I had tried a whole lot of things during the day, so I was pleased with that, but I finally locked on to something."
That something was enough to put three keepers in the livewell and the confidence that he'd figured something out that could help him overcome a significant lead.
"The fish seem to be relating to the flat pockets with a little bit of gravel. I caught them today on a Senko with a 1/8 or 3/16 ounce weight," he said. "I've seen some nice fish ones cruising around and there are some that are either on beds or guarding fry. It took eight hours to figure them out, but better late than never."
Mike McClelland, nearly nine pounds behind Roumbanis in third at 5-14, didn't figure his fish out until late and when he finally did, he promptly lost two nice ones, fish that could have put him a better position than being 8-12 from the leader.
Fish that are guarding newly hatched fry seem to be the key to his bag, something he's confident he can significantly improve upon Sunday.
"It's frustrating when you finally zero in on them and lose fish like that," McClelland said. "The key to finding them was looking for the willow trees hanging over the water. Especially when the limbs are hanging in the water, the fry will hang around that."
The rest of the Super Six who will fish Sunday for the $250,000 first-prize in the first major of the year are Mark Tucker (4th, 5-9), Ish Monroe (5th, 4-15) and John Murray (6th, 2-13).
First-day leader Edwin Evers and Lee Bailey were within an ounce of matching Murray at 2-12. Ray Sedgwick was ninth at 2-4, Gerald Swindle 10th with one 2-1 fish. Russ Lane caught one at 1-3 and Dean Rojas didn't weigh one in Saturday.