EVANS, Ga. — Getting in contention at Elite Series tournaments has not been a problem for Jeff Kriet. But finishing them has been a different story. Kriet, of Ardmore, Okla., has a knack of putting himself in the mix and then falling short at the last minute. This week, buoyed by a little birthday magic -- he celebrated his 41st Wednesday -- Kriet is hoping to break the curse at the Pride of Georgia on Clarks Hill Lake.
"I turned 41 years old Wednesday and by now, you would have thought I would have won one of these," said Kriet, who does hold a BASS victory -- albeit in the Invitational format. "But I'm getting close and I can taste it."
Kriet torched the field Thursday, amassing 18 pounds, 4 ounces, by capitalizing on an early bite. Terry Scroggins, of Palatka, Fla., executed early and late to post a 17-1 total. In third was shallow-water expert Tommy Biffle, of Wagoner, Okla., with 15-13. Two Alabama pros rounded out the top five with Matt Herren (14-15), of Trussville, besting Steve Kennedy (14-14), of Auburn, by 1 ounce.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Pride of Georgia on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, June 6, at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
Clarks Hill has showed its true colors in past Elite tournaments -- yielding 68-plus pound winning totals the past two events. But this week, something is off and most anglers agree that the blueback herring spawn -- so critical to the bite -- has ended and rising water levels have spread the bass out. The bite was so tough that white-hot Skeet Reese, of Auburn, Calif., couldn't even muster up a limit, settling for 78th place.
But Kriet relishes a tough bite and was able to milk three offshore spots for all of his weight. Like many in the field, the six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, was rotating spots. His stay at each spot was determined by how quick he could entice a bite. If he couldn't quickly, his stay was ultra-short -- not even 15 minutes sometimes -- and he would move to the next area.
While Kriet didn't divulge full details of his pattern, he did say he caught fish on a jig and a spook. His first bite came quick and his last bite occurred at 1:27 p.m., translating into more than two hours of fruitless competition time.
"The rule of thumb on this lake is the shallower you are, the bigger the fish are," said Kriet. "But I know I can catch them a little bit deeper in some places. It's really tough out there. I mean, 10 pounds is a pretty good day. There just aren't a ton of keepers to be had."
While Kriet is pining away for his first Elite victory, he is also posing a threat in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. He was 13th in those standings heading into this week and with Reese and others in the top positions struggling, Kriet is making a case for sticking around.
Taking advantage of an early starting position, Scroggins paired the typical early Clarks bite with a strong late bite. The five-time Bassmaster winner scoured points -- where he ran into plenty of other Elite company -- and was able to boat an early limit. Where Scroggins was really able to make hay was late in the day when he landed two 4-plus pounders in 15-20 feet of water.
His bite was non-existent from 9 a.m. to noon and he felt most of his success came as a result of his dedication to do things differently than most in the field.
"It could be a different story [Friday]," said Scroggins, 41, who will have the tables turned and start in a late position Friday. "I'll just have to fish what's available early in the morning. I hope I can get on the deep bite again late."
With three events, including this one, left in the AOY regular-season race, crunch time is here for Elite pros. With Reese showing signs that he is human, the time is now for an angler to make a run. Reese's closest competition in the AOY standings, Edwin Evers and Dave Wolak both failed to capitalize, posting sub-60th place finishes.
Along with the top prize of $100,000, the Pride of Georgia awards valuable points in the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. The top 12 pros in the AOY standings at the end of the regular season will advance to the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series postseason, in which the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be determined. The top 36 will qualify for the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
The tournament will run through Sunday with the top 47 qualifying for Saturday's competition and the top 12 moving on to Sunday. Defending champion Kenyon Hill, who won in 2008, was in a tie for 14th.
Clarks Hill is a 71,535-acre fishery, an impoundment 39 miles in length located 22 miles north of Augusta. It forms part of the border between Georgia and South Carolina and is renowned for its topwater fishing.
The public is invited to attend the Pride of Georgia's daily launches at 6:10 a.m. ET at Wildwood Park, 6212 Holloway Rd., Appling, Ga., 30802. After Day 2's competition Friday, the field will be cut to the top 50 anglers for Day 3. Only the top 12 will go on to compete in Day 4. Also free and open to the public, the daily weigh-ins are set for 3:30 p.m. at Wildwood Park.