GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Davy Hite knows what it's like to be in the zone.
There was a time when Hite, a two-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, was rewriting the BASS record books and consistently contending at tournaments. But the Ninety Six, S.C., veteran has had a tough go of it the past year, failing to notch a top-10 finish.
Conversely, Skeet Reese, dripping with mojo, has entered new territory, seeking his fifth consecutive top-five finish in Elite competition. And Reese was all set to take his second Elite victory in 2010 as he maintained a lead through the first two days on Lake Guntersville.
Until Hite, who toted 28 pounds, 6 ounces to the scales Saturday, threw a kink in Reese's plans. Hite, the 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion, built his three-day total to 79 pounds, 10 ounces, good enough to take over the top position from the red-hot Reese at the Synergy Southern Challenge.
Buoyed by a 7-14 brute, Hite was able to register his second consecutive day of more than 27 pounds. With changing conditions on Guntersville — Saturday brought wind with no current — Hite has been able to keep pace by finding success with multiple patterns.
"This sport is just like any other sport," said Hite, 44. "You get on a roll and you can't explain it but you know when it's happening. Everything gets easier.
"About six or seven years ago, I was able to string together wins consistently and for some reason, it stopped happening. It's been a bit of a dry spell recently. So, it just feels great to be back in contention."
Hite's versatility included a finesse pattern mixed in with a crankbait, an obvious choice on Guntersville. He was less forthcoming with his other lure choices but said that he feels confident whatever the conditions present Sunday.
The windy conditions Saturday caused Hite to eliminate the finesse pattern from his arsenal and look to his other options. The crankbait proved key for the seven-time Bassmaster winner as it landed the 7-14.
While Hite lauded modern-day electronics, in the same breath, he said has been able to locate road beds using his own instincts. Some of these areas, Hite said, have made the difference and allowed him to pinpoint where the schooling bass are located.
"I'm just happy to be able to have a shot at winning one of these," Hite said. "I'm not going to take it for granted this time. I'm going to enjoy every last second."
While the windy conditions and lack of current didn't affect Hite in the least, Reese, of Auburn, Calif., was left scrambling and settled for 21-10. Still, if not for a lost bass early in his day — one he estimated would have upped his total to 25 pounds — Reese would be connected with Hite.
But with Hite taking off, Reese is seemingly just hoping to hang on as most of his areas that were so productive for the first two days have been rendered ineffective due to the conditions. Thusly, he said he would "punt" Sunday and put together a different plan at launch.
"The fish just aren't positioning like they were, and it's really affecting me," said Reese, the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. "That big one cost me right off the get-go. Clearly, there is something that is working out there. I just haven't figured it out yet but I know a 30-pound bag is out there."
Regardless of finish Sunday, Reese can take solace in the fact that he will have a tremendous lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. His closest competitors struggled this week and Reese is looking to make the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason — where he relinquished his lead to Kevin VanDam on the final day last year — irrelevant.
The success is bittersweet, though, for Reese as he narrowly missed out on victory at Clear Lake in March and could be set for similar disappointment here.
John Crews of Salem, Va., who edged Reese by an ounce on Clear Lake, moved up 17 places to third with 71-3. In fourth, nearly 13 pounds behind Hite, was Mark Davis of Mt. Ida, Ark., with 66-15.
Moving up to fifth and in position to notch his best finish of 2010 was VanDam, the 2009 TTBAOY winner. He has been in a relative funk thus far in 2010 but is capable of making a run and qualifying for the postseason — only the top 12 from the regular season AOY standings move on.
Only the top 12 in this week's standings will move on to Sunday's final day of competition. Notables who qualified include Morizo Shimizu of Osaka, Japan (eighth) and 1989 Bassmaster Classic champion Paul Elias (11th).
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Southern Challenge on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, May 16, at 10:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2 (re-airs Sunday, May 30, 11 a.m. ET.