GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Alton Jones visited one primary fishing spot to take the lead heading into the third day of the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Challenge presented by Berkley.
He plans to head back to that location this morning in this Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Guntersville here. And perhaps a bit surprisingly, he relished the drizzle and slight winds that greeted the 50 remaining anglers competing for the tournament title.
"Confident is an interesting word in fishing because you never know what you're going to catch or not catch in a day," Jones said. "But I like the pattern I'm fishing. I'm going to go off the conditions that we have. I'd like to have some rain. I'd like to have some wind.
"There are some big fish around, but I've got a real short opportunity to catch them. So any sort of adverse conditions that can prolong that bite could potentially work in my favor."
Jones has been targeting post-spawn fish using a Booyah spinnerbait and a Booyah jig. His two-day total of 41 pounds, 7 ounces gives him a 2-pound lead on
Todd Faircloth (39-7). Michael Iaconelli (38-13) is third, Kevin VanDam (38-9) is fourth and Timmy Horton (35-15) is fifth.
So far, less-than-ideal weather conditions have worked in Jones' favor. The rain is expected to end later Saturday morning, however, with sunshine projected for this afternoon. Jones said that makes his first few hours of fishing critical.
"The fish will be on the spot whether the conditions are good or bad," the Texas pro said.
"They just don't feed as aggressively if there's not cloud cover or some wind. On a clear morning, I've got until about 7:30. Yesterday, I had until 9:30 or 10 o'clock. So (inclement weather) really expands my window and allows me to upgrade my position a little bit."
Jones has been on his game in recent weeks. In addition to leading the first two days of the Southern Challenge, he also was in second place after the first day of the Santee Cooper Showdown three weeks ago.
But Jones was disqualified from that event after BASS officials determined he received assistance sighting fish during a practice session. Jones said sitting out the remainder of that tournament increased his motivation to do well on Lake Guntersville.
"I think I have a little extra motivation," Jones said. "Points-wise, the ordeal at Santee Cooper put me in a little extra hole. I'm trying to qualify for the Classic and make points in the (CITGO) Angler of the Year race. So I've got some points to make up.
"Adversity can have different effects on people. It can make you clam up and shy away or it can light a fire under you and provide motivation.
"The most growing times in my entire life have been times of adversity and I think this will be the same."
Like Jones, Faircloth has met his greatest success early in the first two days of the tournament. He has targeted a mix of spawning and post-spawn fish using a Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko worm in about 6- to 9-feet of water. After the spot helped him to within two pounds of the lead, it's not surprising that's where he plans to head again Saturday morning.
"I'm going to spend a lot of time there today," Faircloth said. "I just hope we can get a good start this morning and catch them early, then settle down and add to the bag. I think it has the ability to replenish. I've got spawning fish and post-spawn fish. I think that's a good thing rather than just fishing one stage of fish right now.
"The only thing that kind of bothers me is that it's a pretty popular area, so there's going to be a lot of local traffic there today. But hopefully they'll give us a little break and we'll be able to get it done."
Iaconelli jumped from 22nd to third after catching 22 pounds, 1 ounce on Friday — the biggest sack of the day. He also thinks versatility is key to winning this tournament.
"I looked at the weather this morning and it's the kind of day where you might need to do a lot of things," he said. "To start out in the morning, it seems like it's more conducive to my pre- and post-spawn pattern. I'm going to do that. By noon, they say it's going to get sunny and bright. If it does, I'm going to go sight fishing.
The biggest thing for me today is to stay open-minded and not get locked into one thing. I said yesterday, 'Let the fish talk to you.' And that's the biggest thing. You get out there, and they'll tell you what they want. I just have to keep my ears open."
Horton, who is from Alabama, was considered by many a pre-tournament favorite on Lake Guntersville. He's put himself in position to warrant the praise now that he is less than six pounds out of the lead.
"I didn't get the big bites yesterday," he said. "If I can get the big bites and make up two and half pounds or so, I'll be in good shape for the final day. That's the goal — catch me about a 20-pound bag."
The top 12 anglers after Saturday's action will advance to the final round on Sunday. At stake is a $100,000 first prize.