LANETT, Ala. — Based on his performance Friday, you would have never known that pro angler Mark Menendez was laid up in a hospital bed just four months ago.
Menendez, who is leading the pack after Day Two of the West Point Lake Southern Open, had made a full recovery from his week-long battle with meningitis and is back on the circuit, ready to take a win.
Menendez leads with a commanding margin of 4 pounds, 4 ounces over Georgia's Michael Johnson.
In February, at a BASS tour stop in Lake Guntersville, Menendez was stricken with meningitis and spent more than a week in the hospital. And with his health, Menendez' professional fishing career also suffered. He was forced to give up his Elite 50 spot and missed every chance to qualify for the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic (Pittsburgh, Penn. July 29-31).
Still, after bagging a second consecutive limit of 14 pounds, six ounces on Friday, it appeared Menendez was making a comeback.
"I caught two large fish very early and it's been so long since I had that feeling," said Menendez, who earlier won a BASS tour stop in 1998 on the Pickwick and Wilson Lakes in Alabama.
The Paducah, Ky., native caught all of his fish on a Strike King spinner bait. He started off early in search of the shallow bite and moved deeper as the day progressed.
Although Menendez spent considerable time keying in on a pocket of spotted bass, he ended the day with an entire bag comprised of largemouths.
"I had a great area yesterday and I felt the fish would continue to hold there if conditions remained the same," Menendez said. "I was really keying in on spotted bass because that is what I caught yesterday. I guess the little guys left and the largemouths took over."
Trailing Menendez by a 4-pound plus margin is Georgia's Johnson (22-04). He bagged his second consecutive limit of 11 pounds, 10 ounces using a run and gun approach similar to the style used by the leaders on Thursday.
"My favorite bait today was a small plastic jig that I worked slowly," Johnson said. "It got so slow that I forgot I was fishing at times."
In third after Day Two is Kevin Langill of Gastonia, N.C. Langill tied Menendez for the biggest bag of the day (14-6), yet still trails the leader by more than 4 pounds.
Langill had experience on his side, as he fished a similar pattern utilized two years ago on the same lake. He worked top water and buzz baits early to bag a few fish and then changed strategies later in the day as the deeper bite took off.
The Purolator Big Bass of the day and an extra $1,000 went to Cherryville, N.C. pro Guy Eaker. The 5-15 bass was taken on a Shaky Head jig with a 5-inch Berkley Power Worm.
It is an Alabama trio leading on the non-boater side. Jason Nixon (17-11) bagged a limit of 11 pounds, one ounce to storm into the lead by two pounds, 14 ounces over Terry Nunnelly (14-13). In third and trailing the leader by three pounds, seven ounces, is Steve Graziano (14-04).
Nearly matching Eaker's big bass was a 5-13 lunker taken in by Georgia's Allen Burkhalter, who is in 4th place. The fish will earn him Purolator Big Bass honors for Friday and an extra $400.
Only the top 50 non-boaters and boaters will move on to fish Saturday's finale. The winner on the boater side will receive a fully rigged Triton boat plus $15,000 in cash. The winner on the non-boater side also will receive a fully rigged Triton boat.
The next stop on the Southern Open schedule is Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Ala., Sept. 22-24. The Southern Open will close on Oct. 27-29, on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
BASS last visited West Point Lake in 1987.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Open Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).
Local sponsors include the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce.