MONETA, Va. — Friday was moving day at Smith Mountain Lake. Movement went both up and down, and more than half the anglers simply moved away, packing up and heading home after the top-50 cut in the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts.
The leaderboard changed drastically, but one thing didn't change a bit — the anglers who survived the cut are still chasing Boyd Duckett.
Duckett, the first-year pro from Alabama who won the Bassmaster Classic in February, slipped a little after posting Day One's heaviest sack. But the drop was more glide than slide, and he stayed atop the standings with a limit that weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces, giving him a two-day total of 33-14.
"I caught today about what I expected," said Duckett, who hasn't cracked the top 20 since opening his professional career by winning the sport's biggest event. "I have to believe that if I keep posting 14 to 16 pounds, I've got a shot of winning it."
One of Duckett's fellow rookies made the biggest move on Friday. South Carolina pro Casey Ashley rocketed up the standings after catching Friday's heaviest stringer, an eye-popping and crowd-pleasing limit that weighed 22-0. Ashley's total weight of 33-1 pushed him all the way from 49th Thursday to second.
"I just changed strategy altogether," said Ashley, who is rooming with Duckett this week. "I was lying in bed [Thursday night], and I told myself, 'The Classic is coming to your home lake next year, so you better straighten up.' "
The Classic will be held on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell, not far from 23-year-old Ashley's hometown of Donald, S.C. He came into this event ranked 22nd in the Angler of the Year race and third in the Rookie of the Year standings. The top 37 anglers in the AOY points and the Rookie of the Year earn berths in the 2008 Classic.
Ashley wasn't the only one on the fast track Friday. Several anglers made big leaps into the top 50 after finishing Day One in the bottom half of the standings. Mike Iaconelli ascended from 62nd to 24th, Peter Thliveros went from 67th to 26th, and Bradley Stringer made the move from 64th to 36th. Past Rookie of the Year winner Dave Wolak was inside the cut at 46th after Day One, but he's now in solid contention at eighth.
"Every minute that you're out there, you dial it in a little better," said Florida pro Shaw Grigsby, who moved from 21st on Day One to fifth on Friday.
Dean Rojas finished Day One in 17th and on Friday moved into third place, within easy striking distance of Duckett. Angler of the Year points leader Skeet Reese overcame 13 spots to land in fourth place on Friday.
"This is a very positive week for me," Reese said. "I'd like to stay in the lead [in AOY points] and even widen the gap."
Movement went the other way, too. Several anglers with strong Day One performances tumbled down the standings. Among the casualties were Rick Clunn (4th to 20th), Ishama Monroe (3rd to 30th) and Gary Klein (7th to 33rd).
Superstar angler Kevin VanDam barely survived the cut, posting a two-day total of 21-0 for 46th place.
"I don't get too worked up about it, but obviously I'm happy to have another day to have a chance to move up," VanDam said.
Friday's competition saw temperatures soar into the mid-90s, near record highs for this area in the Appalachian foothills of western Virginia, and the wind picked up from Day One.
But fishing conditions changed quite a bit for Duckett, who had to switch strategies Friday when his deep water bite dried up. He moved shallow to put together his limit and not much more.
"I have no idea why they wouldn't bite out there," he said. "I want to catch them deep because there are bigger fish out there. If those deep fish turn back on, I'll be right there."
Ashley also changed tactics to make his big move into second place. After fishing boat docks on the opening day, he moved out to deeper water along main lake points.
"I pulled up on one spot and caught a 4-pounder," he said. "A couple of minutes later I caught a 3-pounder, and that gave me the confidence to stick with that the rest of the day."
Ashley said he's targeting certain areas on the main lake, but the 23-year-old rookie sounded like a veteran when refusing to provide details about his strategy.
"You can't see it, but it's unique," said Ashley, who switched from a shaky head worm on Day One to a jig on Day Two.
More changes are likely in store for the final two days of competition. After hot temperatures and mostly sunny skies the first two days, a front is forecast to drop temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Saturday and Sunday. Lingering clouds could also be a factor on Saturday morning.
But the biggest factor may be boat traffic. Smith Mountain is a popular recreational lake, and anglers were already complaining Friday about the abundance of personal watercraft and other pleasure boats on the lake.
"It's brutal out there," Grigsby said. "And it's only going to get worse."
Saturday could be another moving day.