LAKEPORT, Calif. — Just before daybreak on what could be the biggest day of his career, Greg Gutierrez was rummaging in a compartment in the bow of his boat, looking into a tackle box, rustling plastic sacks.
"I'm digging into my bag of tricks and goodies," Gutierrez said.
If ever there was a time to dig something out of the bag, this would be the day. Gutierrez, who before this week had never led a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, has led this one for its first three days, and normally, anyone with 91 pounds and 14 ounces of weight after three days would be cruising.
But this Golden State Shootout presented by Evan Williams Bourbon is shaping up to be decidedly abnormal. Steve Kennedy (2nd place, 90-4) put himself into strong contention with a 40-7 stringer, and Skeet Reese (3rd, 89-12) did the same with a 35-7 bag, both the biggest of those anglers' lives. Gutierrez' 25-4 was barely enough to hold them off.
A tournament that once appeared to be Gutierrez' to lose is now a dogfight. Not only do 3 pounds separate first from third place, but all three anglers are well on pace to shatter Preston Clark's record of 115-15 of total weight in a BASS tournament.
"It's cut-and-dry," Gutierrez said. "The guy who wins this tournament will own the record."
Of the remaining 12 anglers in the field, no one believes that fewer than two anglers will break the 116-pound barrier this afternoon. And the possibility is strong that it could be someone from outside that top trio.
"I'd have to have 42 to stay in it," said Jared Lintner (4th, 79-13). It speaks highly of Clear Lake that such a figure isn't out of reach. Not after Timmy Horton and Jeff Reynolds both bagged fish bigger than 12 pounds. Not after Kennedy brought in a 40-pound sack on Saturday.
It's possible, Lintner said, "if somehow they eat. If you get five of those big ones that are following the bait? You could have 45 or 50."
Kelly Jordan began the day in seventh place, about 15 pounds out of the lead, and declared he'd make up that ground by sacking 55 pounds. "I'm won't feel comfortable until I have five 11-pounders in the live well," he said.
The weather for catching bass on deep baits was perfect Saturday. Sunday morning bears a strong resemblance.
Some early morning cloud cover was more than the anglers had seen on recent mornings, but it didn't appear to be terribly thick. It had the leader concerned because it had the chance to throw off his daily routine. He has been throwing swimbaits in the mornings, going to the jig around noon and in the hot afternoon flipping into the heavy cover that the fish seek to stay cool. "I'm combat fishing with them at that point," Gutierrez said. If he lacks that much direct sunlight, though, he may not get such chances in the cover.
Kelly Jordon (7th, 76-14), Gerald Swindle (8th, 76-4), Pete Ponds (9th, 75-15), Glenn Delong (10th, 75-1), Scott Rook (11th, 74-12) and Peter Thliveros (12th, 74-11) rounded out the final dozen.
Editors Note: ESPNOutdoors.com's new and exclusive pre-game show, Hooked Up, will start at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 1. It will be hosted by ESPN2 Bassmaster television hosts Tommy Sanders and Jerry McKinnis, and can be seen in the same location on ESPNOutdoors.com where the live video weigh-in is streamed.