PRATTVILLE, Ala. — When Mike McClelland landed a 17-pound, 12-ounce stringer on Thursday during the opening day of the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, he held a 3-pound lead over his nearest competitor.
But the first fish he caught Friday on the Alabama River system gave McClelland something perhaps more valuable.
Within the first 20 minutes of fishing on Friday morning, the Arkansas pro landed a 4-pound, 9-ounce lunker that not only further boosted his confidence, but allowed him to seek out secondary fishing spots. All this, of course, just in case his primary fishing hole isn't productive heading into the final two days of the Open Championship.
If his favorite spot does dry up, however, it would be the first thing that will have gone wrong for McClelland this week. So far, everything has fallen into perfect place.
McClelland followed his first-day bag with another five-fish limit on Friday that weighed 11 pounds, 4 ounces. His two-day total of 29 doubled up most of the field and gave him a solid lead over the other nine anglers who survived the cut to fish Saturday.
Rick Morris of Virginia is in second place with 26 pounds, 9 ounces. Arizona's John Murray (23-14) is third followed by Missouri's Chad Brauer (23-6) and Texas' Matt Reed (21-15).
McClelland stuck to his game plan early on Friday by throwing a variety of spinners and jigs. He expects to do the same on Saturday, but is open to change if necessary.
"I've really not tried to catch fish any other way than the way I have been catching them," McClelland said. "Maybe (Saturday) I might break something out of the box ... try to drag a crank bait through them or throw a Carolina rig."
McClelland said his largest fish was caught while flipping a 7/16-ounce jewel jig with a bald head. He said he wasn't afraid to use a finesse jig in the heavier current he's been fishing.
"It seems to me on these reservoirs that get a lot of pressure, rivers, whatever it may be, the first day or two, the bigger baits sometimes work," he said. "But as the tournament wears on and the fish get used to seeing those baits, the finesse baits sometimes really enhance your ability to catch."
Virginia pro Morris was in fifth place after Thursday's action, but vaulted closer to the top with a 14-pound, 9 -ounce limit Friday.
"They were all spotted bass," Morris said. "I had seven bites today and they were all good ones."
Murray landed an 11-pound, 7-ounce stringer on Friday — a virtual carbon copy of his total of 12 pounds, 7 ounces a day before. He threw jigs the majority of both days.
"The only thing (different) was it was a little bit later than on Thursday when it was 11:30 (a.m.)," Murray said. "Today, it was about 8:30."
Murray said the water level dropped near his fishing spot later in the day which made fishing difficult. He said he's looking for extremely swift current on this system which he has fished for three consecutive years.
"I know you need big current to catch those big spots," Murray said. "You need it so hard you can barely hold your trolling motor. I look for that instead of getting into the eddies."
Brauer vaulted 12 spots from 16th to fourth on Friday. His credited Thursday's larger haul (15-7) with having more time to fish Friday. Thursday's opening round was shortened by more than two hours because of fog.
"I was better able to utilize a couple areas," Brauer said. "I had two areas (I wanted to fish on Thursday) and basically spent all day in one. I didn't have any problem getting bit, I just didn't get any good ones. With the more time, I was able to go to my secondary area. It will probably be my primary area (Saturday.)"
Rounding out the top 10 anglers who will fish Saturday are Kentucky's Mark Menendez (21-1), the Alabama duo of Steve Kennedy (20-7) and Randy Howell (18-13), Jon Bondy (18-5) and Alabama's John Pollard (17-6.)
The top 10 anglers are scheduled to launch at 6:15 a.m. Saturday. The top five will advance to compete in Sunday's final round. Weights from all four days of the tournament carry over to the following day.
Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. — Andrew Canulette
Non-boater — Difficult day
Tough, horrible, pitiful and slow were just a few of the words the non-boater anglers used to describe their fishing on the second day of competition at the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in Prattville, Alabama.
Only eight limits of fish were brought in between the 90 non-boaters that fished in the second day of the tournament and not a single angler caught more than eight bass over the past two days of competition.
"It was extremely difficult on the water today," admitted Bill Beekman, the non-boater day one leader. "I thought I did one of these (grabbing his neck in a choking position), but I might just barely squeeze into the top ten."
Beekman only caught one fish that weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces, but that was not only enough to squeeze him into the top ten but secure a second place finish with a two-day total of 10 pounds, 11 ounces.
After two days of competition the field of 90 non boaters is cut to the top ten anglers with the heaviest two-day total weights.
The first- and second-place finishers from day one simply switched places in the standings, and five out of the top ten anglers from day one remained in the top ten after the weigh-in concluded.
Jack Farage from Discovery Bay, California took the lead after weighing in a single large-mouth bass that hit the scales at a whopping 4 pounds, 1 ounce. So the top two anglers from day one caught a total of two fish but remained on top of the leaderboard at the end of the second day, amazing.
"I'm not getting a lot of bites, but they just happen to be all of the right bites," stated Farage. "I dropped a 4-pounder yesterday and it really hurt me, but apparently not too bad."
Farage was Carolina Rigging when he caught his big keeper and when questioned where they were fishing on the Alabama River Farage replied, "I have no earthly idea where we were."
Farage estimates that he will need at least 6 pounds and a little bit better fishing tomorrow if he wants to win the tournament.
Dow Cox from Tennessee finished in third place with 10 pounds, 1 ounce, followed by Nathan Borque out of Louisiana with a two-day weight totaling 9 pounds, 11 ounces, and rounding out the top five is Teb Jones who resides in Mississippi with a total of 9 pounds, 6 ounces.
The final five qualifiers in the non-boater division are: Bradley Dorch, Alabama (9-3); Stanley Chandler, Florida (8-7); Joe Lee, Texas (8-4); Rommel Bagay, California (8-1); and Jim Kline, Maryland (8-0).
These ten anglers will be vying for a first place boat and motor package from Triton and Mercury valued at more than $38,000. The top five finishers will also receive three boater entries into next year's Northern or Southern Opens. — Scott Cooley
Mike McClelland is leading the Citgo Bassmaster Open Championship after two days of competition, but he's worried about his spot holding up for him.
"Other than yesterday, I really haven't had a lot of good bites. Today I caught one that was 4 ½ pounds and then four other small keepers. The current just didn't cooperate for me. Plus I put a hurt on them yesterday, so I don't know how long my spot will last for me. I looked at some new areas today – I think I can catch five keepers tomorrow."
"One more chance!" was the phrase Randy Howell used to describe how he felt today. The Trussville, Ala., pro is gunning for a Citgo Bassmaster Classic berth and he has a good feeling about his chances.
"I started getting that good feeling this morning. I caught seven keepers….five good ones. It can be so frustrating on this river because you never know it you are going to catch them good or not depending on the current."
"If they run three turbines tomorrow like they did today, I'll be okay. A lot of times, they don't generate on Saturdays though. I'm fishing a shallow running a crankbait and I need that current."
"But I do have a great feeling about this tournament. Maybe it's going to one of those things that just is supposed to happen. I really want to qualify for the Classic."
When asked about how he did today, John Murray had a pretty simple answer.
"Same spot, same everything."
Murray caught 12 pounds, 7 ounces on the first day and 11 pounds, 7 ounces on day two.
"I had my fish by 8:30 this morning and they quit running water. If they don't run it tomorrow….I'll be hurtin'. If they move the water tomorrow, I can do it again."
Murray won the 2004 Bassmaster Open Championship on Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana
Phoenix, Ariz. professional Brett Hite disqualified himself from the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship after realizing he was fishing too close to a dam without his life jacket.
Alabama law states that when a boater is within 800 feet of a dam he must have a life jacket securely fastened. There were shades of Mark Menendez from the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Elite 50 Series in Paducah, Ky., when he called tournament director Chris Bowes to tell him he was fishing close to Walker Bouldin Dam without a personal flotation device.
To add insult to injury, Hite returned to his tow vehicle to find that it wouldn't start and required a tow of it's own.
"I called a tow truck and then the service dealer. When they asked for my name and I told them the guy immediately asked if I was related to Davy Hite. So at least I know I'm in good hands if a fishing fan works at the dealership."
No current, no problem
Chad Brauer may be one of the few anglers not relying on current in the Alabama River.
"I need a bright sunny day just like today."
The forecast for day three of the Open Championship calls for partly cloudy skies with a chance of rain. — Steve Bowman