BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The second day of the Bassmaster Classic showed again why Kevin VanDam's presence in a tournament inspires fear in fellow competitors.
VanDam pulled two sea monsters out of his livewell to a standing ovation from the thousands gathered in Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, part of a hefty 19-pound, 14-ounce sack that equaled Boyd Duckett's first-place total from Friday.
The difference is that VanDam's weight is anchored by a 5-7 largemouth, a fish he's more likely to duplicate Sunday than Duckett's 8-2 from Friday. The impending storms give him good reason to feel strongly about his chances for a third Classic title.
"The weather forecast gave me some inspiration," said VanDam. "It's bad to be out on the water in lightning and tornadoes and stuff, but the fish like it."
Making moves to within striking distance Saturday was VanDam (19th to first), Gary Klein (30th to sixth) and Steve Kennedy (25th to seventh). Going in the opposite direction were Randy Howell (second to 10th) and Gerald Swindle (ninth to 45th following his day two disqualification).
VanDam's display of fish was offset later by Alabamian angler Gerald Swindle emotions. Swindle came to stage with a sack that had already been disqualified. Swindle took off his hat, ran his hand through his hair and told the crowd that he was sure they all knew by then that he had been disqualified for a breach of boat safety.
"It was a bad decision," he said. "I just want to apologize to my sponsors …"
At that point, he broke down in tears as the hometown crowd showered him with applause.
Skeet Reese continued his improbable run toward a shot at the top prize. The California native, who claimed he had no legitimate plan going into competition, followed up his 17-8 first day with a solid 14-14 and is good shape to make a a run at a first Classic title.
"I was one bite away today from having a 17-pound bag," Reese said. "I'd say I need an 18-pound bag for me to have a chance."
Reese indicated that he's fishing around Tommy Biffle and is basically following the same path as Friday: covering lots of water and fishing to his strengths.
"There's good fish there," he said. "How many are left? I don't know."
Terry Scroggins said coming into the Bassmaster Classic that there was only one way he had a chance to win. The shallow flipping bite has been effective enough to put him in striking distance — his 14-14 on Saturday put him in third place with 32-6.
"Everything I'm weighing right now is coming from flipping out of grass," Scroggins said. "I tried fishing for spotted bass this morning and it just didn't work out. It's just something that I feel like I excel at and have a lot of confidence in."
Scroggins is concerned, like most, about the storm system that will hit Lay Lake overnight. He's not sure how it will affect the fish, but he remembers he didn't like last year's heavy thunderstorms: "I'd just as soon get it over with tonight."
Consersely, VanDam said he welcomed the storm as clouds and wind should improve his bite.
Timmy Horton made the most of his opportunities Saturday to make a major move with 12-6 to move to 29-11. The Alabama native took two solid fish on his second cast this morning on a lipless crankbait, then struggled for the next much of the next seven hours before landing his biggest fish of the day.
"After those two fish (on the same cast), I really struggled," he said. "I caught two little largemouths until the last few minutes. I was fishing a laydown with the wind blowing up against it and got a 3 ½ pounder at 3:13. I was due in at 3:20."
"The wind can really make things happen, and I'm really gonna concentrate on it tomorrow," he added. "I'm gonna have to have two big bites tomorrow and I'm really going to have to mix it up on the largemouths. They're just not doing what I need them to do."
Randy Howell, who checked in at second place after the first day, got the water movement from Logan Martin Dam he needed to catch the big spotted bass he landed Friday for his 17-15 total. But his plan was foiled by an equally strong flow from Lay Lake Dam, dropping the water 8-12 inches and making conditions tougher.
"I've seen it happen before and it makes it tough, but you can usually get enough to bite," said Howell, who totaled 9-9 with only four fish, knocking him down to 10th. "I didn't want to run down the lake just to get that fifth one. I went the last two-and-a-half hours without a bite."
Texan Gary Klein took a step toward capturing his first Classic title with a 17-5 Saturday for a 28-11 total. Klein's approach was in stark contrast to the shallow bite many had predicted the Classic would require.
"I'm fishing in 15 to 18 feet of water in more of a main lake kind of thing," Klein said. "The key to my fishing is the jig that I'm fishing with. It's a ¾ oz football jig I poured myself."
Klein said he settled down on a stretch of water early Saturday morning and caught about 13 pounds in about 45 minutes.
"The fish turn off at about 10 o'clock," he said. "I almost passed over it after catching one, but turned around and worked them over a little bit.