BUFFALO — Once in a while, at a Bassmaster Elite Series event, the leader has the relative luxury of playing at least a bit of defense on the final day.
On Sunday, the third and final day of fishing in the truncated Empire Chase presented by Mahindra Tractors, leader Edwin Evers was asked, as he blasted off from the dock, what he needed to catch.
"Twenty-one, 22 pounds," he said. "I need all I can get."
Forgive him for wanting to pour it on. With 41 pounds, 13 ounces over two days of fishing, he is the owner of a 3-ounce lead over Kevin Wirth, who has amassed 8 ounces of penalties for submitting two dead fish among his bags, and a 4-ounce lead over Paul Hirosky, whose six dead fish have cost him 2-4 in penalties.
Evers has kept his fish in good health, and he may be on the fish to win. But uneasy rests the leader who has caught less bass than his two closest pursuers. In fact, out of the 11 other anglers remaining in the field, the only one who can be considered very long odds is Terry Butcher, 3-9 off the lead in the 12th position. He estimated at the dock that he needs 25 pounds, and he'll be chasing that while deferring some of his water to Evers, his brother-in-law, who has been fishing the same areas.
"It's been phenomenal, catching those big old smallmouth on a spinning rod and a dropshot," Butcher said of his week.
Fourth-place John Murray sits only a pound out of the lead in his first tournament on Lake Erie after 10 years of wishing to fish the smallmouth here. He, too, has been feasting on the dropshot. Until this week, his largest-ever bag of smallmouth was 16 pounds. His two bags this week went 19-8 and 21-5. "That's my heaven," he said. "When I get to dropshot, I'm happy."
Greg Hackney, who's tied with Jami Fralick in fifth place with 40-0, would prefer that the calm, picturesque weather that greeted the anglers on Sunday were less hospitable. "I like the bad weather, like we had," he said. When the wind stirs the lake, shad swirl and the smallmouth go into a frenzy.
Even though he liked slaloming his boat over 10-foot waves on Day One, Rick Morris (8th, 39-7) was glad to see the weather take a turn for the better on Saturday. Two straight weeks of tournament fishing caught up with him on Day Two, when he nearly fell asleep sitting on the bow of his boat while driving the trolling motor.
Still, a little wind would turn on the bite that he and the other anglers in the lower half of the field need to make up their deficits. "I'd like medium wind," he said. "Not like the first day. That would be a little overboard."