MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Brent Chapman is on a tear.
Saturday, the reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year led the four-day Alabama River Charge presented by Star brite for the second consecutive day.
Chapman also came close to tearing up his bass rig. During a stomach-churning run upriver against Coosa River rapids to reach the big spotted bass in Jordan Dam tailwaters, his boat struck a rock.
“Where I’m fishing, my Triton-Mercury isn’t supposed to go,” said Chapman on the Bassmaster Elite Series stage as he weighed in 18 pounds, 3 ounces, enough for the Day 3 lead by 1 pound, 3 ounces over Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla.
“I didn’t rip anything off, but I’ll have it checked out,” said Chapman, who brought 59 pounds, 4 ounces to the scales over three days, much of it from his sweet Coosa set-up.
It might dry up on him on Sunday in the event’s final round. The water level of the entire Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system is dropping. That means the boat-eating rocks might be too close to the surface to make a run to the dam come Sunday morning.
“I’m going to go as far as I feel I can safely go, and that’s where I’m going to start fishing,” the leader said. “There’s still good, fishable water up there in many places. And there’s still some great fishing down here (near Montgomery). If I have to go fishing, I’ll go fishing.”
In bass-speak, “go fishing” is the equivalent of starting over.
Chapman had company on the Jordan Dam tailwaters. On the way up Saturday morning, he and Jared Miller of Norman, Okla., met near the first set of rapids. After a consultation, Chapman said he’d lead the way. They both got through, and then Miller took the point. Chapman pulled up to his spot, and Miller crept closer to the dam. (Waiting on land, Bassmaster cameramen shot Miller’s wild ride as he tried to navigate the churning water below the dam. See it here.)
The risk paid off for Chapman. He hooked into a 3 1/2-pounder almost immediately. Then the bite slowed down, so he backed off, but soon returned to the same spot for his largest of his day, a 5-pounder. After his third fish, he decided the risk of staying wasn’t worthwhile.
“I got nervous. I figured I could idle back and work my way slowly. It was scary,” he said.
Chapman filled his limit downriver, continuing to key in on the current, the one factor almost every Elite angler has searched for throughout the Charge to land spotted bass.
Miller stayed longer, but his gamble didn’t pay. Although he weighed 13 pounds Saturday, he fell short of the 12-cut to advance to Sunday’s final round. He was the first man out, 1-2 behind the pro who took the last seat, Randy Howell of Springville, Ala.
Evers, who weighed 22-6 Saturday for a total of 58-1, said he lost two bass, made a small adjustment and then “ended up catching them pretty good.”
He declined to reveal what that change was.
Evers said he has two to three different areas where the current could hold up despite the decreased flow from the two dams of the river system.
“I figured out quickly how the bass were positioned, and a bait that they would bite,” he said.
Like the others in the Top 12, Evers said he’d have to see what the river conditions are before he decides what his final-day game plan would be.
Evers and Chapman aren’t out of reach. Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., in third with 55-0, was only 4-4 behind Chapman. The 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion, Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas, was fourth with a total of 53-14, 5-6 behind the leader. In fifth place was Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., with 51-0.
Those five head up the Top 12 after the first prize of $100,000 and a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
All Elite pros are trying to amass points toward a Classic qualification and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Evers led the points race going into the Charge. A strong finish in Alabama will strengthen his bid for his first AOY crown. He has a chance to reverse his disappointments of 2010 and 2011, when he finished second in points to AOY winner Kevin VanDam.
VanDam didn’t help himself in Alabama in his quest for an eighth AOY crown. After his 32nd-place finish on Saturday, he might end up slipping further behind Evers, who still has a shot at widening his lead in Sunday’s final round.
Another of the Charge’s finalists in the AOY hunt is Skeet Reese. Third in points coming into the Charge — eight points behind VanDam — Reese could climb closer to VanDam and even to Evers, depending on how Sunday’s final round plays out.
Pros also are competing for several bonuses to be earned at the Charge. One, the Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500, could go to Chapman for his Day 2 bag of 23-5, the largest after three of four days.
David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., weighed Saturday’s largest bass, a 5-2. But the 6-4 largemouth of Day 1 brought in by Texas pro Kelly Jordon still led the Carhartt Big Bass competition for a $1,000 bonus plus $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt apparel at the time of the catch.
Fans are invited to watch Sunday’s takeoff and weigh-in at Riverfront Park in downtown Montgomery. The pros will begin at the Riverfront docks at 6:30 a.m. CT. The weigh-in will be under the park’s Union Station Train Shed (300 Water St., Montgomery, AL 36104), starting at 3:30 p.m. CT.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo, which features products and activities by Elite Series sponsors, will open at noon Sunday. The Expo includes free demo rides in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines, and much more. See Bassmaster.com for a full list of Expo features.
All Bassmaster events are free.
The Elite Series’ competition out of Montgomery marks a return to the birthplace of B.A.S.S., owner of the Elite Series. Ray Scott, who founded B.A.S.S. in 1968 in the Capitol City, made an appearance on stage in front of the hometown crowd.
The local host of the event is the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, http://www.montgomerychamber.com.
Bassmaster.com will continue through Sunday with its extensive coverage of the event.
ESPN2 will air coverage of the Alabama River Charge presented by Star brite on June 2 from 8-9 a.m. ET on The Bassmasters TV show.