GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — Only four Bassmaster Elite Series pros have made all eight top 50 cuts so far this season. Three of them have well-recognized names and are in the thick of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race — Todd Faircloth, Mike McClelland and Skeet Reese.
The fourth pro to earn at least a $10,000 check each week is Bryan Hudgins, a 28-year-old, second-year Elite Series competitor from Orange Park, Fla.
Hudgins' streak has hung by a thread several times this season — he's got two 50th-place finishes and a 46th, plus he was the 45th-ranked angler in Friday's top 50 cut at Kentucky Lake in the Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.
But no matter how close he's come to missing the cut, the fact is Hudgins hasn't missed it once with only two events left in the season.
"I've been fortunate enough to get a couple of key bites when I needed them," Hudgins said.
Friday was another example of that. He was well down in the standings after his 13-pound, 10-ounce limit Thursday. But he rallied with 16-14 Friday to get into the top 50.
Hudgins' results from his rookie year don't provide an indication that he would be so successful this season. He finished 78th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and eighth among the 12 Elites Series rookies in 2007.
"In pre-fishing, I changed a little bit as opposed to last year," Hudgins said. "The experience from last season was important — fishing out West and fishing up North, which I'd never done before.
"This year I'm still learning invaluable amounts of stuff. I'm beginning to apply it to a lot of different lakes. That's made a big difference."
As someone who grew up fishing Florida's shallow waters, Hudgins didn't have much experience reading sonar electronics or contour maps. He's made a point of getting up to speed in those aspects.
"I attribute a lot of this to doing a lot of research before these tournaments," Hudgins said. "It's basically like being able to pre-fish a tournament — studying the Navionics chips and maps.
"I'm also getting a lot better at a lot of different techniques I've never used before. Drop-shotting has saved my butt in a couple of tournaments when I needed a fish or two."
The other key for Hudgins? A good night's sleep.
"Last year a lot of us rookies would go out and about, or stay up late messing with tackle," Hudgins said. "Getting a good night's sleep is valuable. It gives you a clear head to go out and fish real hard the next day."
Hudgins has made only one top 12 cut — in his native Florida on the Kissimmee Chain, where he finished eighth. But, obviously, he's been fishing with a clear head all season.
Friday the 13th haunts Reese
Skeet Reese dropped from 10th to 14th during Friday's competition at Kentucky Lake. But it was evident when he came to weigh-in stage that factors other than a few less bass had figured into his day. It was Friday the 13th, after all.
When emcee Keith Alan asked the defending Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year which of the remaining two tournaments this season he was most excited about, Reese said, "I'm more excited about getting back to the hotel and getting these dirty, wet drawers off.
"I won't go into the details here, but it was not a good day to be Skeet Reese."
Reese started getting a hint that Friday, June 13th was going to be a bad day for him when the two biggest bass he hooked — a 6-pounder and a 5-pounder — threw the lure before he could land them.
That afternoon, "right when the fish started biting," Reese landed a 4-pounder, and on his way from the front of the boat to the livewell, stepped into a couple of inches of water in the lower boat deck by the console.
"We were filling up with water," Reese said. "We had some type of line breakage. Nothing was working — the bilge pump, the (livewell) aerators.
"We got it back to a boat ramp, put it on somebody else's trailer and got it out of the water."
Both Reese and Mike McClelland drive Champion boats. McClelland's uncle and aunt, Don and Jolen McGuirt, travel with the Elite Series tour and pull a spare Champion boat to each event.
Thanks to Don, Reese was able to fish again Friday, if only for about another 20 minutes. Reese quickly topped out his 15-2 limit before having to make the long, rainy boat run back to Kentucky Lake Dam Marina.
"That was the highlight of the day," Reese said of those final fish catches. "I left all my rain gear and my Save Face mask in the other boat. With all the hail, rain and waves, it just kind of added to the type of day it was for me.
"It was not a good day."
Jordon and the Lake Fork Spoon
Kelly Jordon's name was mentioned several times as the possible winner in a pre-Bluegrass Brawl survey of Elite Series pros. As Paul Elias said after picking Jordon, "He's hell with that spoon."
Added Jeff Kriet, "He knows how to do that better than anyone else out here."
The Mineola, Texas, pro struggled on Thursday, weighing only 12 pounds, 14 ounces. But he zoomed into a tie for 14th place Friday with a 21-11 limit, that was later reduced to 21-7 after a dead fish penalty.
Jordon became semi-famous in a 2005 "Ultimate Match Fishing" event on Kentucky Lake when he used a Big Joe's Lake Fork Spoon to catch over 20 pounds of bass in less than 10 minutes.
A Big Joe's Lake Fork Spoon is a big piece of hardware: It comes in 5-inch and 6-inch sizes. The solid brass lure has various finishes in chrome and gold. It also features a treble hook that has some Flashabou synthetic strands tied around it.
Jordon used the big spoon to make his move Friday.
"Kelly Jordon, the man with the salmon spoon," said Gerald Swindle it. I feel like I'm throwing my mother's silverware out there in the lake.
"There's a rhythm to it. You just can't be out there waling around with it."
Jordon just smiled, then said, "I've actually had them pick it up off the bottom."
But bass usually hit the spoon when Jordon rips it back to the boat after a long cast. He'll rip it and let it fall, before repeating the process.
Jordon regretted not sticking longer at his first stop Thursday. All he could catch were small bass on the spoon there, so he moved to another spot. He went back to it Friday, caught another small bass, then hooked a 4-pounder and realized his mistake from the day before.
"I had no confidence they were that deep," Jordon said. "They were like 25 to 30 feet deep.
"In the next hour I had 21-11."
Jordon favors one of the chrome Big Joe's Lake Fork Spoon models for Kentucky Lake.
"Getting a good night's sleep is a big deal." — Bryan Hudgins, in describing the secrets to his success in making eight straight top 50 cuts this season
"It was Friday the 13th. Nothing seemed to go right. Every big fish I hooked came off." — Skeet Reese, detailing his miserable Friday on Kentucky Lake
"(Friday) was an eventful day for me. I got to drive through a couple of these thunderstorms." — Gary Klein, who had a two-day total of 30-6 and tied with James Niggemeyer and Pete Ponds for the final spots in the top 50 cut
"One-hundred-and-fifty miles of riding and half of it was in the rain. It was a rough day." — Terry Scroggins, describing his Friday, when he moved into seventh place with a 36-4 total
"Yesterday I started in Kentucky (Lake) and then went to (Lake) Barkley. Today I just went to Barkley." — Jami Fralick, on the adjustment he made to catch 21-5 Friday and move into 16th place with 34-4
"He helped me in this one. I'm going to give him a big ol' kiss tonight." — Jeff Kriet, talking about his roommate, Mike McClelland, after Kriet moved into 33rd place Friday