Alton Jones has been here before — a year ago, in fact, on the same body of water and in almost exactly the same position.
At the 2011 Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River, Jones was leading by 7 pounds, 9 ounces. After two rounds on the same venue this year, Jones leads by 7-4, so if the view looks the same to him it's because he's looked out this same window before.
Seven pounds, 4 ounces is a prodigious lead. After two days of Elite competition, only seven other anglers have ever had bigger leads, including Jones right here in 2011. That's the good news for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion. The bad news is that he lost that lead and the tournament. It's the third biggest blown lead in Elite history.
Jones has led after two days in two other Elite events, but he's never taken home the hardware. No one else has come so close so many times with nothing to show for it. Still, Jones is exactly where he'd like to be — sitting on a big lead and going into the second half of the tournament. You've got to like his chances. To get there, Jones jumped 16 places in the standings, all the way up from 17th place. It wasn't nearly the biggest improvement on the leaderboard, but it was the most notable since he took over the top spot.
The biggest leap belonged to Florida native and fan favorite Shaw Grigsby, who overcame a dismal first day that found him in 88th place with just 7-11. On Day Two he came to the scales with a limit weighing 23-1. It was good enough for him to move up 73 places into 15th and well within range of making the cut to 12 for Sunday. So, if Jones and Grigsby were the good news of Day Two, who fell the farthest?
That was Clark Reehm, who slipped from right around the bubble in 53rd position all the way down to 89th, but the drops that really hurt happened to a couple of Elite rookies. Kevin Ledoux of Choctaw, Okla., was in 10th place after the first day, looking strong on his first day as an Elite Series competitor. Day Two saw him struggle with just two bass weighing 4-11. It dropped him all the way to 50th place, inside the cut by a single ounce. Fortunately for Ledoux, that ounce carries a big paycheck that will certainly help the rookie.
Ohio's Fletcher Shryock wasn't so fortunate. After getting a taste of top notch competition at the Bassmaster Classic, he was more ready than most for what the Elite Series would offer. On Day One on unfamiliar waters, he brought a very respectable 15-3 to the scales. It was good enough for 26th place, seemingly well inside the cut, but it didn't hold up. When he caught just four bass weighing 6-6 on Day Two, Shryock fell all the way to 59th, out of the cut and out of the money.
In all, half of the 10 rookies made the cut and will be fishing on Saturday. Palatka's own Cliff Prince is 23rd, Brandon Card is 26th, Casey Scanlon is 28th, Jamie Horton is 42nd and Kevin Ledoux is 50th. Rookies outside the cut include Shryock in 59th, Jared Miller in 75th, Kyle Fox in 76th, Michael Simonton in 74th and Chris Zaldain in 82nd.
After a very tough first day for the Florida residents, they mostly bounced back, largely on the strength of Grigsby's big catch. Terry "Big Show" Scroggins moved up from 35th to 10th and is still very much in the hunt. Matt Greenblatt and Bernie Schultz improved their positions, too, but finished outside the cut. In all, only three of the seven Florida residents are fishing on Saturday in a state where locals usually dominate.