MONTGOMERY, Ala.-- Four anglers remain in the hunt, with the top anglers from Friday, Ott DeFoe and Gerald Swindle, squaring off, while Edwin Evers and Casey Ashley battle it out for the other spot in Sunday's final.
Both pairings feature anglers focused on similar patterns, promising quite the showdown Saturday. Evers and Ashley are fishing shallow down south, while DeFoe and Swindle are the only ones running north and hoping for current to turn on the finicky spotted bass.
Let’s break down the semi-final matchups:
The matchup of the top two weights from Friday promises to be a good one. They are both running up the river and fishing current, and they are both catching spotted bass, although it is important to note that DeFoe caught a 5-pound spot that helped his bag out in a huge way.
For Swindle, his success thus far has come from one single decision and that was to commit to an area that he has had experience on. Despite moving around some on Day One, committing to that area doesn’t leave many options if it doesn’t produce.
“The toughest thing for me is that when I get up there, there’s nothing with it,” Swindle said. “It’s like eating peas with cornbread. When you get there and catch them, it’s a huge relief. I’ll probably fish there early and if the water moves, I’m going to catch them.”
With a formidable matchup looming, Swindle knows he has his work cut out for him in the semifinals.
“The bottom line is you gotta catch them,” Swindle said. “Ott’s had a sensational year and he knows how to handle the pressure. It’s a good matchup and I know I’m fishing against a guy whose on them, so you can’t let up.”
Swindle will likely spend most of the day on his key spot. He left there for a bit on Friday, but moved back late in the day and culled up to his match-winning weight between 1 and 2:45 p.m.. That decision proved to be the difference in a pairing that came down to a mere one ounce.
DeFoe won his match easily, but the big fish accounted for most of his weight, which might make a similar feat hard to duplicate tomorrow. He also scored a bonus by finding some active fish in the afternoon and catching his other bigger bass.
“That was something that was just the right timing,” DeFoe said. “I got to a point where I had caught a couple in practice and saw something bust ahead of me. I went up there and it was on. Up until that point, I was very worried. I had that big fish, but I didn’t have another fish over 2 pounds.”
With current so important to his fishing success, DeFoe knows that the next day of competition could go either way.
“I felt pretty lucky for it to happen today and I can’t rely on that tomorrow,” DeFoe said. “I have to catch at least 12 pounds to have a chance to move on. Looking at the numbers, if you make it to the finals having beat these last two guys, it’s almost downhill. Still, anything can happen in one day out here.”
The second pairing is a study in contrast from the first. Both Ashley and Evers are utilizing a shallow-water pattern down the river and both capitalized on a good early morning.
Ashley had his limit pretty quickly and then struggled to cull here and there as the hot Alabama sun rose over the river.
“I knew it would get tough on me when the sun came up,” Ashley said. “Tomorrow will just be another practice day for me. I’m going to go to that area and see if I can get five, but I’m not going to stay long. I’m just going to run around practicing after that.”
In a matchup against another low-weight winner, Ashley still can’t count on 8-10 pounds to keep him advancing. One right adjustment by his opponent could bury him if he doesn’t make something happen.
“It’s going to get tough 'cause everyone else is catching them better and learning more each day,” Ashley said. “Today, I learned my bite isn’t good enough.”
Ashley only caught a handful of keepers, while Evers, on the other hand, caught 25 to 30 throughout the day. His plan was to fish shallow until the current came on and then try to find something on the main river, but the shallow bite was easily the better on Day One.
He observed there was a higher water level than the day before, which should have only helped the shallow bite, but the fish were all small.
“I just didn’t get the big one,” Evers said. “I lost two good ones and I thought they were going to cost me, but they didn’t.”
As for his matchup with Ashley tomorrow, it will be an interesting showdown of the shallow-water specialists.
“I know without a doubt he’s fishing shallow for largemouth,” Evers said. “He has the potential to catch a 5- or 6-pounder doing that and he’s an excellent shallow-water angler. We’re both doing the same thing, so it should be interesting.”