EVANS, Ga. — With Clarks Hill churning out a tough-as-nails bite this week, it's no surprise that a local angler would be in the catbird's seat as the Pride of Georgia winds down.
Enter Jason Williamson: a Wagener, S.C., rising pro who cut his teeth on the sprawling reservoir. Williamson, a one-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner, dug deep into his bank of intimate, local knowledge, improving his haul each day of competition to finally overtake the lead with a 45-pound, 12-ounce, three-day total.
Williamson started the event in 23rd Thursday, moved up to fifth Friday, and seized a relative sizable margin — more than 4 pounds — after toting 19 pounds, 2 ounces, to the scales Saturday. The early bite has been key for Williamson — ditto for the entire field — and Saturday's early flurry produced a 7-12 brute, the biggest bass of the tournament, within Williamson's first 10 casts.
The 29-year-old said that he has a 30- to 40-minute window to compile his weight once he arrives at this spot first thing in the morning. With a long run upriver, it takes Williamson that long to get to his spot.
"It means everything in the world to be able to do this in front of the hometown crowd," Williamson said. "It's just incredible to be able to cast such a big fish right off the bite. But it's going to be hard to duplicate, especially if it gets sunny Sunday."
Sunday will be the final day of competition and only the top 12 anglers qualified. Williamson's closest threat, Elite rookie Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., has exhibited consistency in building his three-day total to 41 pounds, 9 ounces, but still has significant ground to make up.
While most in the field have given up on the productive blueback herring spawn, Williamson noted that it hasn't tinkered out quite yet. That has been evident in his spot, which is an area that he found in his formative fishing years.
Although Williamson is hoping for clouds Sunday, he feels that he can catch fish in any conditions. Good thing, too, as the weather forecast is calling for constant sunshine throughout Sunday.
Heading into his sixth tournament, Williamson has had a feast-or-famine year in his 2010 Elite campaign. He tiptoed around scoring a victory at Smith Mountain Lake, the fourth event of the season, eventually relenting to Skeet Reese, who was in the midst of his unprecedented run. But he has also missed the cut in the three other events.
Add it all up and Williamson was outside the Bassmaster Classic qualifying cutline, in 46th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, heading into this week. All that will change, however, Sunday no matter how Williamson closes.
Crochet, too, has had an up-and-down rookie campaign. Crochet kicked off the year with a disappointing 78th place. But he has showed his true chops since, making three of four cuts and contending this week. He headed into this week in 56th in the AOY standings, 10 spots behind Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky. Based on a top finish Sunday, he has the potential to overtake Roy in the Rookie of the Year race.
Paired with the typical early bite, Crochet is also relying on a later bite each day. His lull, from 9 a.m. from 12:30, is testing his patience, but Crochet is dealing with it like a veteran.
"You can't let things affect you out there," said Crochet, 26. "I'm staying positive and that's about all you can do."
Crochet, a sheriff's deputy with the Assumption Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office, indicated he is using a frog in shallow areas.
Day Two leader Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., slipped to third after failing to execute the two biggest bites he enticed Saturday. His 39-12 total put him more than 3 pounds ahead of Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., who posted 36-11.
Ashley is in the same area with Williamson but both are working cordially. Rounding out the top five was Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala., with 35-15. Remitz has moved up one spot in the standings after each day of competition.
Other notables in the cutline were brothers Chris (seventh) and Bobby (10th) Lane. By way of a three-way tiebreaker, Matt Reed of Weatherford, Texas, took the last qualifying position. Considering Reed's luck with past tiebreakers – he has been the last man out of the Classic on two occasions – the news was welcome.
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.
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.
Defending champion Kenyon Hill, who won in 2008, finished 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 final-day launch at 6:10 a.m. ET at Wildwood Park, 6212 Holloway Rd., Appling, Ga., 30802. Also free and open to the public, the final-day weigh-in is set for 3:30 p.m. at Wildwood Park.