COLUMBUS, Miss. — The sun was shining on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Friday, particularly on Arkansas' Stephen Browning, who took the lead in the boater division at the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open Presented by Busch Beer.
Browning caught his second five-bass limit, bringing his two-day total to 19 pounds, 6 ounces. It all happened under clear, sunny skies and cool winds that most fishermen in the tournament regarded as less favorable than Thursday's overcast but relatively warm conditions.
"I caught them a little bit better today than I did yesterday and I was surprised," he said, adding that he caught them on a 5/16ths-ounce green pumpkin finesse jig.
Browning pointed out that the very low weights — "it's just a limit and a big bass" — take a little of the pressure off. There are also a few other things in his favor.
"It's this kind of river system; I grew up fishing river systems," he said. "On top of that, it's a tough tournament. I just feel kind of right out here."
Browning isn't lonely atop the leaderboard. Florida's Charlie Youngers is a short stride behind, with an 18-11 total that he caught using a crankbait to catch the spotted bass lurking around the plentiful stumps in one of the Tenn-Tom's creeks.
"I've never seen this place before and I went to work. I'm just fishing how I like to fish," he said. "I thought what was going to happen was that I'd run out of fish and I still may."
It's part of Youngers' new approach to success.
"In the past, when I fished the Tour, when I made the Classic in 2000, I was hellbent, for lack of a better word, on trying to force everything," he said. "This year, I was trying to fish with no help, not having to call anybody."
In addition to the $50,000 top prize for the boaters and $24,000 top prize for the non-boaters at this tournament, the Southern Open anglers are fishing with a view toward future rewards. At each tournament, BASS awards points to the anglers based on their finishes, with the winner receiving 300. At the end of the three-event series, the top 20 anglers in both the boater and non-boater divisions will compete in the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, where the top three boaters will earn berths to bass fishing's world championship, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. The top 15 Southern Division boaters at the end of the series will also qualify for berths in the CITGO Bassmaster Tour.
Friday was the last chance for the full field of anglers to compete. After the round two weigh-in, the fields were cut to the top 50 in both the boater and non-boater divisions.
In addition to Browning and Youngers, the boaters' top five includes West Virginia's Jeremy Starks (18-10); Tennessee's Dwayne Horton (18-0), who dropped from second; and veteran pro Rick Clunn of Missouri (17-8).
The non-boaters' top five includes David Kilgore of Alabama (10-10); Indiana's James Lamb (10-8), who brought in the non-boaters Purolator Big Bass of the Day, a 4-5 lunker worth $400; Georgia's Jeff Graham (9-11); North Carolina's Terry Chapman (9-8); Alabbama's Bill Logsdon (9-6).
Georgia's Curtis Reeves brought in the boaters' Purolator Big Bass of the Day, a 5-11 bass that earned him $1,000 from Purolator. It didn't overtake non-boater John Hudzinski's 6-3 lunker from Day One, which will be worth a $1,000 bonus if it holds out to become the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament.
Saturday's weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. and the launch will be at 6:45 a.m. at Columbus Marina. Both are free to the public.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats,Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau.