EVANS, Ga. — Sundays on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour have provided some big surprises so far this season: They began in the first tournament of the year, when Mike McClelland came from 10 pounds behind to top Brian Snowden on the last day of the Sunshine Showdown at Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes. Three weeks ago, Todd Faircloth moved from eighth place to first on Sunday to win the Battle on the Border at Texas' Lake Amistad.
So no matter what happens in today's Pride of Georgia tournament presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, it shouldn't be unexpected.
However, one thing is certain to happen during today's finale — Kenyon Hill will be wearing a smile.
"I'm going to go out, first and foremost, and have some fun," said the 43-year-old Norman, Okla., pro. "I'm going to enjoy the day for what it is."
Hill has a shot at making it a special day. He's in second place, just 1 pound, 3 ounces behind leader Edwin Evers' three-day total of 51 pounds, 1 ounce. And Hill thinks he left some actively feeding fish near the end of Saturday's session on Clarks Hill Lake.
"My gosh, I jacked 'em there yesterday," Hill said Sunday morning, just prior to the 6:30 a.m. ET takeoff. "I left 'em biting. I found a couple of new areas yesterday afternoon, and that one was pretty awesome.
"I'm going to start there (Sunday). If they are biting at all, it's possible to win the tournament in 20 minutes."
The list of those making the top 12 cut for the chance to win today's $100,000 first prize reads like a "Who's Who" of professional bass fishing: It includes Kevin VanDam, Denny Brauer, Skeet Reese, Alton Jones, Davy Hite and Timmy Horton. Between them, that group holds five Bassmaster Classic championships and eight BASS Angler of the Year titles.
With Evers, Faircloth, Hill, Pete Thliveros and Casey Ashley also in the final 12, you've got the winners of 13 of the 32 Elite Series events held since its creation in 2006; the group also represents 108 Bassmaster Classic appearances.
Hill has won two BASS events in his career, but never an Elite Series title. A win today would be important, but not as important as simply enjoying the day. Legendary bass angler Guido Hibdon first emphasized that life principle to Hill years ago, a lesson driven home recently by the declining health of Hill's father, Dr. Loren Hill.
"Back years ago, when the Hibdon family (Guido and son, Dion) used to fish this trail, we'd be pre-fishing somewhere," Hill recalled. "We'd all be waiting for Stella (Hibdon) to cook us breakfast, and Guido would look around and say, 'It's a great day to be alive.'
"Guido had polio as a child and had some illnesses in his life and challenges. He just appreciated each day better than the rest of us do.
"I didn't realize what he was saying until it hit home with my family."
Dr. Hill, a longtime professor at University of Oklahoma and inventor of fishing-related products, like the Color C Lector, is suffering from both dementia and esophageal cancer. The doctors have told Hill his father is living "on borrowed time."
"So now I get it," Hill said of Hibdon's words. "Now I get it."
Hill thinks understanding that life lesson might be why he's fishing better this year. Sunday marks the third time in the five Elite Series tournaments this season he has made the 12-man cut — whether that has anything to do with it or not, Hill isn't going to forget how to enjoy each day.
"Worrying about catching numbers of fish or big fish does nothing for you," Hill said. "I'm just going to go out and have a good time.
"We'll joke and have fun with the guys who caught 'em, and rip the guys who didn't."