MANNING, S.C. — The weights dropped Saturday for several of the anglers trying to win the Santee Cooper Showdown presented by MotorGuide.
But the magic continued for Preston Clark.
The Palatka, Fla., pro caught a five-fish limit of 23 pounds, 15 ounces despite early rain and persistent wind that made sight fishing more difficult than it was during the first two days of action. Clark has a phenomenal three-day total of 92 pounds, 10 ounces and is less than 16 pounds away from breaking Dean Rojas' record for the heaviest four-day total in BASS history — a record that each of the pros practically conceded will fall tomorrow when the top 12 anglers compete.
But first things first. The final dozen's ultimate goal is winning here on the Santee Cooper Reservoir and claiming the $100,000 that will accompany the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series victory.
And Clark, who has nearly a 10-pound lead on his closest competitor, is clearly in the driver's seat for those spoils.
Things didn't start out very well for Clark, however. His trolling motor was malfunctioning and ran full speed whenever his boat motor was running. So as not to spook the fish he planned to target, he made the decision to move to different water.
"I didn't want to take the chance of going in and getting on one of these big fish and not being able to position myself right," Clark said. "So I said, 'I'll save this. I've got other fish I'll go to. This morning they weren't locked on because of the cloud cover and it got a little cool last night. After about noon today, they got locked on and it became fun."
Because the spot he planned to fish Saturday saw no action, it could be filled with large bedding bass on Sunday. Clark pretty much guaranteed that scenario.
"I've got more big fish to start out with tomorrow than I've had all week long," Clark said. "I've got one seven, two eights and one about 10 to go to in the first couple hours."
Now he just needs the wind to die down. Clark will be happy to know that forecasters are calling for a sunny day with temperatures reaching the mid 80s and (here's the kicker) only light and variable winds.
"They might have pulled off the beds just a little bit, but if it calms down a little bit this afternoon or tomorrow morning, they'll go right back," Clark said. "But where they're at the conditions have to be absolutely perfect to put them in the boat, because there are a lot of obstacles between me and the fish and I've got to work them through a lot of vegetation. And I didn't want to take the chance of messing it up, fighting the wind and the waves and everything else."
Skeet Reese, with a three-day catch of 83 pounds, 1 ounce, is the angler closest to Clark. Reese, who is from California, bagged 23-2 on Saturday to move from fourth to second place. He said the wind is the key to tomorrow's catch.
"If it calms down, you'll see some more 25 or 30-pound stringers possibly," Reese said. "Guys are in good areas. Most of my big ones today were new fish I just went and found. I'll probably wind up doing the same thing tomorrow. I've got nothing to lose."
Alabama's Steve Kennedy jumped from eighth to third with a limit on Saturday that weighed 27-13. He's one of the few anglers who hasn't relied solely on sight fishing and said that helped him when the wind stirred what had been extremely clear water. He realizes that even though he has exactly 83 pounds through three days, he's going to have a difficult time catching Clark.
"It's unlikely," Kennedy said. "We said he would have to stumble and I don't think what he did was stumbling. But anything can happen."
Rounding out the top 12 are Kevin Wirth (80-12), Terry Scroggins (79-14), Greg Hackney (78-7), Kelly Jordon (78-6), Rojas (77-11), John Crews (76-8), Aaron Martens (75-10), Mike Wurm (74-5) and Bink Desaro (72-4).
Hackney and Wurm jumped into the top 12 by producing the only 30-pound bags Saturday. Wurm weighed a sack that came in at 32-4 and Hackney caught a limit that registered 31-3 on the scales.
Wurm and Martens caught the largest lunkers of the day *#151; each at 8-13.
Jordon fell the farthest on Saturday — from second to seventh — after catching 14 pounds, 13 ounces.