BRANSON, Mo. — Mike McClelland, an Ozarks lakes angler since he was 8 years old, took his time this week before he stepped into the limelight in the April 3-6 A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Table Rock Lake.
After the first day of competition, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Bella Vista, Ark., was in 12th place. In Friday’s second round, McClelland found surer footing — and a better size of bass. He pushed up into fourth place.
And then he made his biggest move. McClelland grabbed Saturday’s lead by weighing 17 pounds, 9 ounces for a three-day total of 49-13 and an almost 4-pound lead.
“It was fine for me to start in 12th. As a ‘local,’ you’re going to get so much more attention if you are leading,” McClelland said. “I kind of like to stay behind the scenes as much as I can and just let it happen.”
Aaron Martens, the first-day leader who dropped to third on Day 2, inched back up into second place on Saturday. Martens brought in 12-14, which took his three-day weight to 45-14.
Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., shot up from 37th into third place after producing the day’s heaviest bag of bass, 19-7, which included the day’s largest single bass, a 7-8 largemouth. His total was 45-7.
Day 2 leader Mark Davis slipped to fourth. His three-day total was 45-7, the same as VanDam’s, but the tie-breaker of heaviest single-day catch was applied.
Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., secured fifth place at 44-11 after starting the day at 15th place.
Those five led the 12 finalists for Sunday’s championship round for a first-place prize of $100,000 and a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
McClelland has won six Bassmaster events in his career, including three Elite competitions, but not one on Table Rock. He’s trying to make this “the one” by tapping into his Table Rock encyclopedia of knowledge.
“I could see (in practice) what these fish were trying to do,” said McClelland, who has a hot pattern going that he can apply to many of the areas of Table Rock — and knows just where to go to find where that pattern works best.
He said he looks for one thing: a bank with a specific characteristic, which he declined to describe.
He said he also has been watching for gizzard shad up shallow.
“I get in an area with a lot of gizzard shad around, I know without a shadow of a doubt there are some giants in that area,” he said.
The bass seem to prefer crawfish now, he said. The shad serve as easy meals when the crawfish cupboard is bare.
At one point early Saturday morning, with no bites, he switched gears. He picked up a swimbait and boated two bass.
“One was a good fish. That made me relax because I knew I had a decent start,” he said.
But he returned to his primary pattern, which as for most of the anglers, needs some wind given the clear Table Rock water; bass can be easily spooked in clear water when the surface becomes glassy. The wind dropped considerably from Friday’s breezes in the teens to Saturday’s 4 to 6 mph.
McClelland culled several times to end up with a mixed bag of two smallmouth and three largemouth, including a 5-3, his largest of the day.
Martens, a California native who now lives in Leeds, Ala., weighed 12-14 Saturday. His bass were all about the same size, 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 pounds, he said.
“I just never got the big bite today,” he said.
He said the 3-15 McClelland has on him isn’t a show-stopper.
“McClelland’s smokin’ them, but he could have a bad day tomorrow,” Martens said. “I’d like to be 4 pounds ahead, but I like the excitement. That’s why I fish.”
VanDam was pleased to make the top 12 cut.
“It’s been a couple of years since I made it,” he said. “This is a lake that I know real well, so I was disappointed after the first two days. I was very fortunate to get the bite today. Hopefully I can get some more tomorrow.”
The lake is set up right now for his style of fishing, VanDam said.
“You can easily catch 25 pounds out here when the fish move up (toward spawning beds). Your timing is everything,” he said.
VanDam’s 7-8 was the largest of the day, but Martens’ 8-0 of Thursday held on as the top candidate for the Carhartt Big Bass award of up to $1,500.
VanDam’s 19-7 narrowly missed overcoming Cliff Prince as front-runner for the Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500. Prince, of Palatka, Fla., had 19-10 on Day 2.
Davis won the Livingston Leader Award of $500 for being the Day 2 leader.
Sunday’s takeoff will be at 6:30 a.m. at State Park Marina (300 State Park Marina Drive, Branson, Mo., 65616).
Sunday’s weigh-in will be at the Bass Pro Shops location at Branson Landing in Branson, Mo. Weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 3:15 p.m. CT. At the same location, the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon. Activities include contests, giveaways, product displays and free demo rides in Nitro, Triton and Skeeter boats powered by Yamaha and Mercury engines.