ORANGE, Texas — It was a short workday for Todd Faircloth on Friday.
By noon, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Jasper, Texas, had a five-fish limit. He decided they weighed enough, and they were all he should take from his prime fishing area on the Sabine River system, so he called it a day.
He was right: At the scales, his fish weighed 16 pounds, 8 ounces, bringing his two-day total to 26-15. It was enough for the Friday lead in the Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues in Orange, Texas, the season opener of the Elite Series.
Enough, yes, to jump over first-day leader Dean Rojas, but by only 7 ounces. Rojas, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., had a two-day total of 26-8. He slipped to second place after his Day Two catch of 10-14 was almost five pounds lighter than his big Day One bag of 15-10. Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., is third with a two-day total of 25-0.
Faircloth said he left his area after he caught his eighth keeper and had culled for his best five. His largest, a 4-6, was his first keeper of the day.
“I had a long boat ride back, so I kind of took it easy to make sure I got them (the fish) back safely,” he said.
His decision to return to the same area he worked Thursday was a tough one for him.
“I didn’t know how it was going to go. I was kind of reluctant to go back, after I’d fished there all day yesterday and caught only six keepers,” Faircloth said. “I left again today to save my fish. I don’t know how many are in there, but I do know that there’s more fish coming in there.”
Faircloth said the area is marshy. He’s keying in on shallow spots where the water is clearest. His fish are in various stages of spawning, he said.
“I’ve caught some that have spawned, some that still have eggs. That tells me there are more coming in,” he said.
Faircloth is confident that his large area holds the winning fish.
“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “But this is fishing; you never know.”
Rojas lost his lead, but he wasn’t at all puzzled over the reason.
“It was a 6-pounder,” he said, referring to his 5-15 kicker of Thursday, the day’s largest bass. It didn’t happen for him Friday.
“Yesterday’s was a gift,” Rojas said. “There are some big ones there. They didn’t show themselves today, but they will Saturday or Sunday.”
In fourth place Friday was Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., with 24-5. Slipping from second place to fifth place was Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., with 22-3 over two days.
The day’s largest bass was a 6-1 brought in by Scroggins, making him the top contender for the $1,500 Carhartt Big Bass bonus. Faircloth’s Day Two bag of 16-8 made him the leader for the event’s Berkley Heavyweight bonus of $500.
The field was cut to the Top 50 for Saturday’s competition. Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., was the last man in with 10-0; Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif., was the first out with 9-15.
The Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues continues Saturday when the 50 pros who survived Friday’s cut will launch at 7 a.m. CT from the City of Orange Boat Ramp at 1000 Simmons Drive and Harry Reed Road. The anglers will weigh their catches at the same location beginning at 3:15 p.m. CT. After Saturday’s competition, only the Top 12 will return to the water Sunday for a final charge at the first-place prize of $100,000 and an instant entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. The winner will also take the lead in the points race to become the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.