KISSIMMEE, Fla. — There's a new sheriff in town at the BASS Federation Nation Championship. Jeff Freeman of Max Meadows, Va., has no plans to quit his day job as deputy sheriff in Wythe County, but the 35 year-old showed he can hold his own at the premier amateur championship event on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga as he leads with 18 pounds, 14 ounces, more than 2 pounds ahead of closest competitor, Darin Doll of York, Pa.
Both Freeman and Doll are in the Eastern Division of the event, showcasing a tough battle for a coveted Bassmaster Classic berth heading into the event's final day. A total of six Classic berths will be awarded to the top performing angler in each of six divisions, which are based on geographic criteria.
Fishing fans can catch all of the action among the 55 amateur anglers Saturday, Feb. 16 at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Fans can also watch live, streaming weigh-in footage at www.ESPNOutdoors.com. and access real-time leaderboards on the site.
"There is a lot of stress in both," said Freeman, when asked to describe the similarities between police work and fishing.
"I just wish the weather would stabilize because it's been very erratic. Making the Classic would be a dream come true and right now I can almost taste it."
Freeman was casting to precise areas and has identified three such areas that he visits throughout the day. He said he lost two significant kicker fish over the past two days which would have aided his weight significantly.
As it stands, Freeman is optimistic about his chances tomorrow, suggesting that a limit weighing 7 to 8 pounds is well within reach. In addition to the Classic berth, the champion of the event will take home a Triton boat package valued at $50,000 in addition to a berth in the Bassmaster Elite Series.
After fishing the Federation Nation level for years, this is the first time he has progressed to the championship level. Freeman does, however, have a BASS win to his credit, earned as a co-angler at a Bassmaster Elite Series event in June on Smith Mountain Lake, a home lake for Freeman.
"I'm confident about tomorrow but you never know how things will go," said Freeman, who also finished second as a co-angler at a Bassmaster Open event on Smith Mountain. "I'm going to be looking to get my limit early and this time around, I'm going to need to land that kicker fish."
Doll, who totaled 16 pounds, 11 ounces, is within striking distance of the lead but will need the weather to cooperate Saturday. He is looking for calm conditions and a lack of wind.
"I'm gambling bit time," said Doll. "I just need everything to remain calm tomorrow and I can make this Classic. That's my whole goal."
Doll was using finesse baits, mainly a centipede in junebug color, throwing to clear water. Like Freeman, he missed some kicker fish that would have impacted his weight.
While Freeman leads the Mid-Atlantic Division, five other anglers are leading their divisions with a good shot of landing Classic berths. They are Chris Loftus of Bloomfield, N.Y., with 16 pounds, 3 ounces (Eastern); Jamie Laiche of Gonzales, La., with 14 pounds, 14 ounces (Central); Mike Baskett of Salem, Oregon, with 14 pounds, 4 ounces (Western); South Africa's Richard Watson with 12 pounds, 12 ounces (Southern) and Brent Haimes of Mazeppa, Minn., with 8 pounds, 6 ounces (Northern).
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