EVANS, Ga. — Clarks Hill Lake has confounded, confused and discombobulated the Bassmaster Elite Series field this week at the Pride of Georgia, the sixth Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season. But Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., has put together enough pieces of the puzzle to survive the battle of attrition on stingy Clarks Hill to hold a 1-ounce margin over his closest competitor, Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla.
Despite holding the top position with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 7 ounces, Scroggins sunk like a rock Friday as he was only able to tote 12-6 to the scales after posting 17-1 Thursday. With a steady rain pounding Clarks Hill the majority of the day and constant cloud cover, anglers were forced to scramble.
Scroggins couldn't connect with the deep bite that had produced two 4-plus pound bass Thursday and didn't register a fish after 10 a.m.
"It's just extremely tough out there," said Scroggins, who has earned more than $1.2 million in BASS career earnings. "It lasts for about two or three hours early in the morning and then it stops. After 10 a.m., you might as well put your rod down because it's impossible to catch them."
While Scroggins was prone to hyperbole after a tough day, most in the field agreed that pickings are slim after the early flurry. As is, the early bite — always a big part of Clarks Hill — has become the only crutch for most anglers.
On Thursday, Scroggins was able to entice his late bass with a worm but that isn't a factor for his early fish. Scroggins is working about 15 different points — saturated by competitor's boats — with a variety of baits.
"When you get the bait in the right areas, you can get them to bite," said Scroggins, 41. "It's more important to be in the right spot. When you get in the right little spot, they come get it."
While the bite is tough as nails this week, perhaps it is just what the doctor ordered to turn Scroggins' subpar season around. The seven-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier was mired in a relative slump, sitting in 53rd in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings heading into this week.
Of the first five Elite events, Scroggins had managed only one Saturday cut. Still, he hasn't done enough to prevent him from notching his seventh consecutive Classic appearance, a constant goal for him. A top finish this week would put him right in the mix for the Classic cut — the top 36 will qualify — with two regular-season events remaining.
Like Scroggins, Biffle is playing it close to the vest on specifics of his pattern. He is exhibiting a bit more consistency than Scroggins as he posted two days of 13-plus pounds.
"I'm fishing the way I like to fish," said Biffle, a shallow-water expert. "It's so tough out there, I have just been lucky to run into a few big bites."
Biffle, a four-time Bassmaster winner, felt he was hampered by the gloomy conditions Friday. With that, he mixed up his lure selection. He is scouring one area for all it's worth and has little company. He feels that it should hold up the remainder of the tournament and as such, has no back up plan.
Behind Biffle in third was Elite rookie Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., with 27-5. Crochet's total was boosted by the biggest bass of the tournament, a 6-2 brute landed Friday. In fourth was Mark Davis of Mt. Ida, Ark., with 27-1. Davis still stands as the only angler to win the Bassmaster Classic and Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year in the same season. He accomplished the feat in 1995.
Rounding out the top five was local favorite Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C. Aiken is a stones throw away from here and Williamson considers Clarks Hill a home lake.
Qualifying for Saturday was the top 47 anglers. Notables included 2006 AOY Mike Iaconelli (14th), Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kansas (26th), Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. (38th) and five-time AOY Kevin VanDam (43rd).
Thursday leader Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., battled mechanical problems and faltered to eighth place. Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., finally showed he is human as the hottest angler on the planet struggled to a 59th place finish and missed his first cut of 2010. By virtue of his unprecedented start, he will still hold the lead in the AOY standings — albeit by a decreased margin.