GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -- Ralph Steve DeBord maintained his spot atop the leaderboard after Day Three of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series National Championship, but things are a whole lot tighter with one day left to fish.
DeBord landed his lightest limit of the week, 14.98 pounds, and his overall total of 53.54 pounds gave him a two-pound lead heading into Saturday's final round.
"It's getting harder and harder for me each day," DeBord said. "These other guys are really catching them. I'm getting lighter and these guys are going the other way."
One guy close on DeBord's heels after Day Three was Ryan McMurtury of Abbeville, S.C., who brought 19.05 pounds to the scales to finish with 51.43 pounds and second place. In third was Brent Anderson of Kingston Springs, Tenn., who landed 18.18 pounds, bringing his total to 48.70.
Rounding out the top five was Buddy Gross from Chickamauga, Ga., in fourth place with 46.95 pounds and Brandon Gray of Bullock, N.C., in fifth with 45.82 pounds.
DeBord opened the tournament strong and has been riding that big day ever since. His plan for the final day is to get a quick limit early.
"I changed up today and went to a different spot to get a limit," DeBord said. "I'm going to go get a limit first thing again tomorrow because you never know if you can get a limit out here. I might go out tomorrow and not catch anything."
With only one day left in the tournament, the prospect of the $100,000 first-place prize and a trip to the 2011 Bassmaster Classic is on the line and on the mind of all the top competitors. DeBord has been focusing on what he can control and not on the exterior distractions of what winning the biggest tournament of his life might mean.
"I'm just going to try to do what I do best," DeBord said. "Going to the Classic is just icing on the cake. I'm trying to keep things controlled. I've been weighing in an hour early each day to make sure I don't have any trouble. That's an older boat I'm running and I don't want anything to go wrong."
DeBord just needs to hold off the hard charge of McMurtury, who has increased his weight each day and is catching a multitude of keeper-sized bass.
"I think I could catch 100 fish a day if I wanted to," McMurtury said. "I caught 30 or 40 15-inch fish today. I had six band-aids on to start with today and I knocked them all off except for one."
What's even more remarkable is that due to boat trouble, McMurtury only got one day of practice and has had to rely on only the one spot he found. The area he has been fishing is loaded with bass and despite being surrounded by competitors, he's the only one who caught the numbers of fish that have helped him into the second-place spot.
"I'm doing something that works back home in South Carolina," McMurtury said. "I'm triggering them to bite. The boy with me struggled to catch his three-fish limit -- he didn't understand what I was doing. The boats around me didn't catch what I caught and they weren't using what I'm using."
McMurtury has been having such a great fish-catching experience on Lake Guntersville, that at times, he has caught two fish at a time. What should make the rest of the field nervous is that the fish have gotten bigger and bigger as the week has progressed.
On the non-boater side, Dennis McGouirk extended his lead to over 5 pounds after bringing in 10.70 pounds to bring his three-day total to 33.03 pounds. His second-consecutive double-digit limit pulled him well ahead of second-place Richard Peek, who sits at 27.73 pounds.
"I've had some really good partners," McGouirk said. "I've had to adjust each day, catching fish on different lures. If the sun comes out tomorrow, I think that will be a good thing for me, because from the back of the boat, you can hit different angles from your partner. That's how I've caught my best fish, just doing little things different."
Rounding out the top three non-boaters was Steve Sommer from Norman, Okla., who caught 8.92 pounds and finished with 25.19 pounds over three days.
The field was cut to the top 25 boaters and non-boaters who will fish on Saturday, launching at 8 a.m. ET from the Lake Guntersville State Park. The ABA Barbeque Cook-off starts at 4 p.m. ET, with the final weigh-in at 5 p.m.
Complete results can be found at www.abaproam.com.