FLORENCE, Ala. — Wellman's morning surprise:Elite rookie Nate Wellman's parents drove all night from Grand Rapids, Mich., to cheer him on Saturday in his first top-12 competition day.
"How could we not come, we're his 'pit crew,' " said Laurie Wellman, who took turns at the wheel with her husband, Ross, to cover 720 miles in one haul. "As soon as we knew he made the cut, we said, 'Why not, let's do it.' "
They surprised their son at the Pickwick Lake ramp.
"I didn't know they were coming until I got to the ramp to put my boat in the water, and my mom was standing there, her thumb out like she was trying to hitchhike," the Elite rookie said.
Ross Wellman is an angler himself, but he didn't teach his son how to catch bass.
"He taught me," Ross said. "I was more of a steelhead-trout person in Michigan. When he was 12, he talked me into buying a bass boat."
The Wellman family continued to support Nate through the years. For the Elite Series, his boat rig flies the colors of Trailer Equipment, Ross and Laurie's semi-trailer leasing business.
Making his first top-12 cut in only his third Elite event, Wellman began the final day in sixth place and more than 9 pounds behind Davy Hite, the leader with 63 pounds, 8 ounces.
"It's a good feeling to know I could accomplish this," Wellman said. "I like shallow flipping, and this place is definitely set up for that. It's nothing like home, but I feel at home here. I live on a river (the Muskegon), I guide on a river, so I understand how fish relate to current and feed."
In the penalty box: Matt Reed was held for 19 minutes at the docks Saturday morning as his penalty for not wearing a life jacket below the Wilson Dam, as required by marine law, during Friday competition.
Reed himself reported the violation to B.A.S.S. tournament officials.
"It's just one of those mistakes you make," said Reed, adding that out of habit, he removed his life jacket when he turned off his boat's motor.
Reed said he'd go to the dam waters Saturday as soon as he was released. Then, he said, he would run to some spots down the lake for a flipping bite, then go back to the dam.
"I hate missing the early bite up there, but it is what it is," he said.
Reed was in 10th place, 10 pounds, 9 ounces behind leader Davy Hite (63-8). Hite and Keith Poche, just 12 ounces behind Hite, headed to the dam first thing Saturday.
Sweet on Scroggins: Terry Scroggins' Saturday game plan included a first stop at his oh-so-sweet spot.
He found it Thursday, but not until he flipped elsewhere for an hour. "I just kind of stumbled on it," he said.
On Friday, Scroggins had five out of the spot even before fishing began for many of the 50 Elite pros.
"I had most of (my day's catch) before the second flight came by me this morning," said Scroggins at Friday's weigh-in; he had been among the 25 boats of the first flight. "You have to get there real quick to this one particular spot, but when it's over, it's over. But when it's on, it's wide open."
He said his total Friday fishing time at the spot was 10 minutes. Later, he culled only once, trading a 3-pounder for a 3 1/2-pounder.
He weighed in 20 pounds, 15 ounces, on Friday and moved from 17th place into seventh. He had been in 42nd place after the first day.
His climb into the top 12 gave him a shot Saturday at the first-place prize of $100,000 and a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth. He's now 3 for 3: his third top-12 cut in three 2011 events.
Ike's got warrior hands:Mike Iaconelli showed his roughed-up thumbs Friday to reporters.
"See, that's what happens when you're catching fish," he said. He opened up his fists to show his palms. "And that's what happens when you're catching fish here."
The palms of his hands looked chewed on.
Iaconelli started very slowly this tournament: 68th place with 12 pounds, 13 ounces. On Day Two, with a 19-11 bag, he improved to No. 27 on the leaderboard. On Day 3, he brought in exactly the same weight, 19-11, just enough to qualify for Saturday's top-12 finale.
From 68th place to a shot at the win is meteoric, even in the Elite Series, the best anglers in the world.
"You might think, 'He must have figured something out.' But I didn't, it's baffling," he said after Friday's weigh-in. "I did exactly the same thing the first day as I did the next two days when I got the big bites. You try to put your finger on just why that happened, but I didn't change baits, I didn't change patterns, I didn't change areas, I worked the same rotation of places — all was the same."
Dropped water level might have brought fish to him in one of his patterns, he added, and cloud cover on Thursday and Friday until about 1 p.m. might have helped him a little bit.
He said he has two patterns going. In one, he is flipping the sides of pockets, not the backs. His bigger fish are coming on what he called a staging pattern. These are prespawners heading inshore, but stopping on spots he's pinpointed.
"I can look at the bank and guess where those fish will be," he said.
Day Four Quotables:
"Keith (Poche) and I are the only two who have been at the dam consistently all three days, and stayed there to grind it out. There's been a flurry all three days there, and hopefully there will be one again." - Day Three leader Davy Hite with 63-8
"It's going to be a shootout. I figure there are five, six people who could win." - Davy Hite
"I'm pretty nervous. I have an opportunity to win this thing, I'm 12 ounces behind." - Runner-up Keith Poche with 62-12
"For some reason, the smallmouth here elude me. In the several times I've been here, I bet you I haven't caught 10 smallmouth. I don't understand them, they're nothing like the smallmouth at home." - Nate Wellman of Newaygo, Mich. (6th place with 54-6).
"When you have a 4-pound average, it's hard to better up." -Terry Scroggins on stage Saturday (5th place with 54-15)