LA CROSSE, Wis. — He slipped from a two-finger hold to hanging by a fingernail, but Todd Faircloth was the leader again Saturday in the Mississippi River Rumble.
Starting in eighth place after Thursday, Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, jumped into the lead Friday by 12 ounces. By Saturday, the event’s third day, his hold on the lead was by a mere 7 ounces over Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala.
Faircloth with 47-11 and Martens with 47-4 led the 12 qualifiers for Sunday’s final round of the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Mississippi River. The first prize is $100,000 and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
“I think I’m in contention to win,” said Faircloth. “I’m in the right areas, I’ve seen some big fish.”
In third place Saturday was Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., with 46-12. Fourth was Dean Rojas with 45-7, and fifth was rookie Jamie Horton of Centreville, Ala., only 1 ounce behind Rojas.
Faircloth’s job for Sunday was clear: fish harder than you ever have. As it’s been all week, the Rumble was expected to come down to a game of ounces. Any of his 11 challengers could hook into a rare 6-pounder and wreck his chances for his third Elite win. Only 5 pounds, 15 ounces separated the pro in 12th from Faircloth.
“To beat these guys, everything has to fall exactly in place. Hopefully it’s my turn,” he said.
Faircloth missed an Elite win early this season to Alton Jones by 1 pound, 2 ounces. That was on another river, the St. Johns in Florida, but Faircloth isn’t letting that similarity color his strategy this time around.
“I’m fishing the way I like,” he said. “I have a game plan for tomorrow and I feel like I’m around the winning fish.”
He brought in 14-13 Saturday, not nearly as good as his 17-14 of Friday.
“I probably caught more fish today than I did yesterday, I just didn’t catch that big one like I had the first two days,” he said. “It got a little frustrating because I kept catching the same-size ones. The fish changed on me a little bit today. Yesterday I caught a bunch of my fish punching a big weight into the mats, but today that deal, with the cloud cover, didn’t pan out.”
Faircloth had even more at stake Sunday than an Elite win: Points to put toward the coveted Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown. After three days on the Mississippi, he was in second place, so a high finish Sunday could give him enough to claim the lead.
Second-place holder in the Rumble, Martens is one of the Elite pros fighting this week for more points toward a qualification for the 2013 Classic by the end of the season. Saturday he used the word “excited” about his chances to perform well on Sunday and achieve his goal, which had seemed out of his grasp after several poor finishes early this season.
He brought in the day’s largest bag, a 16-2, a near match to his first-day catch. Saturday’s outcome was a rescue from Day 2, when his 14-13 sack pushed him to fourth place.
“I got a solid 4-pounder at the end of the day,” said Martens, a two-time Elite winner, “but I figured something out. I think you will be impressed tomorrow, but I’m trying not to think too much about it.”
The 4 was actually a 4-14, the largest bass of the day.
When the water clarity changed and levels rose on Saturday, Martens stuck to Pool 8, but switched areas. He figured out how he had to adapt, implemented the changes and was on his way soon after 1 p.m., he said. Then he got the “one fatty” of a 4-pounder and closed up his livewell for the day.
Although he and Faircloth are close friends, and often share patterns during an event — and they have this time, too — the two aren’t fishing near each other, or in the same ways.
“He’s doing the complete opposite of what I’m doing. I think it would be cooler if I won, though.” Martens grinned. “Only because I’m doing something so completely different from anyone,” he added.
The top contender for the Carhartt Big Bass award of the tournament, worth up to $1,500, stayed at 5-3, the mark set by both Faircloth and Butcher on Friday.
The Rumble will wrap up Sunday. The 12 finalists will launch from Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse at 6:15 a.m. They’ll bring their catches to the scales at 3:15 p.m. While the pros are competing on the water, fans can have fun at the Bassmaster Elite Series Family Festival, which will open at noon. Bassmaster.com’s Hooked Up! with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona, hosts of The Bassmasters TV show, will broadcast live from the park.
All Bassmaster fan activities are free and open to the public.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage Sunday, including blogs from the water, BASSTrakk catch reports, analysis, live streaming of the weigh-in, a real-time leaderboard, photo galleries, results and standings. The War Room will broadcast at the top of the hour beginning at 9 a.m. CT. Access is free to all Bassmaster.com pages and features.
The local host is the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.ExploreLaCrosse.com).