Dean Rojas continued his ascent of the Alabama Charge standings Saturday, weighing 20 pounds, 13 ounces, to post the heaviest limit of the tournament and move into 7th place.
It was a huge turnaround from Day One, when Rojas struggled to catch a little more than 10 pounds and found himself in 83rd place.
The Arizona pro moved up to 30th on Day Two with 18-14, and Saturday's big sack put him just more than 2 ¼ pounds off Skeet Reese's 52-3 leading weight.
"I keyed in on them more today," Rojas said. "I've just figured them out a little more every day. Now I know where to go and what to do."
He's using the bait for which he has become famous, the Spro Bronzeye Frog, a hollow-bodied plastic frog that Rojas designed several years ago.
Cloudy skies can be productive days for topwater baits such as the frog, and Rojas attributed his Saturday success to the clouds.
"Clouds are ideal for what I'm doing," he said. "If the weather stays like this Sunday, it should be good again."
Race to the hot spot
Aaron Martens caught 16 pounds, 8 ounces, Saturday and stayed in third place on Day Three of the Alabama Charge on Pickwick Lake. But he said he struggled to put together the limit.
"Honestly, it was tough out there," he said. "I've been whacking them better than anybody, but I struggled [Saturday]. I was really behind the eight ball, but the five-pounder I caught really helped me."
Martens has been fishing in traffic throughout the tournament, sharing an area with several Elite Series pros as well as local recreational anglers. It hadn't been much of an issue the first two days, but Martens said the traffic affected him Saturday. On several occasions, Martens said, other boats would be beat him to a spot where he was heading.
"There were probably seven or eight of our guys in there and another seven to 10 other boats," Martens said. "I wasn't taking the right lines, and they'd get there before I could. It just wasn't clicking today. It was getting to be like a little race."
Martens wasn't complaining about the traffic, just making an observation.
"It's open water," he said. "They're not the enemy or anything. It's just the way it is."
Weather shortens weigh-in
Spectators were leaving Saturday's weigh-in before it even started, scurrying for their cars and trucks as rain started falling just before 3 p.m. Their departure may have been hastened by the storm warning sirens that were sounding off over Florence, Ala.
Bassmaster Elite Series officials decided to start the weigh-in early to try to complete it before more serious weather moved into the area. Scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m., the weigh-in started at 3:14 p.m., just as soon as the first group of anglers returned to the marina.
"We've got to get this thing in as soon as we can," tournament director Trip Weldon said. "There's some nasty looking weather headed this way."
Announcer Keith Alan reminded fans that the weigh-in site at McFarland Park, a wide-open area along the banks of Pickwick Lake, wasn't a safe place to be during inclement weather.
Still, several diehard fans remained, even as rain started pouring about halfway through the weigh-in.
Alan rushed anglers across the stage, and only a handful of the 47 pros who fished Saturday were allowed to hold up fish for the sparse crowd to see.
Saturday's weigh-in only lasted 27 minutes.
Saved by the storm
A monster storm pummeled Florence, Ala., all day, with tornado sirens sounding during the weigh-in. With that threat looming on his day, Brent Chapman chose to stick close to the launch and it paid off big time to the tune of 18 pounds, 4 ounces.
"I totally changed up what I was doing and stayed close to the ramp," Chapman said. "I really needed today for the boost of confidence and the points."
His 14th-place showing was just a pound out from the top-12 cut and a few mistakes on the first day cost him the chance to fish Sunday.
"The first day I should have had 18 pounds, but I didn't capitalize on all my opportunities," Chapman said. "I never left sight of the ramp all day today and found a sweet spot that I would give anything to get back to tomorrow."
Bad things come in threes
Jeff Kriet experienced the worst of luck Saturday and it all happened in the last few minutes before he had to check in.
"I pulled up to a log a few minutes ago and on my first flip in there, a big 'un picked it up and I broke it off," Kriet said. "I retied and pitched it back in there and boom, had another one, but it buried me up in there and broke me off."
Shaken but not deterred, Kriet reached down and picked up another rod to make a last cast to the fateful log.
"I throw back in there and sure enough, another one eats it and I break off my third in a row," Kriet said. "They were all big 'uns."
Had he landed any of the three fish, he would likely be fishing Sunday. He ended the tournament as the last man out of the top-12 cut, in 13th with 46 pounds, 12 ounces, just over a pound outside of the cut.
"I am surprised." -- Tournament leader Skeet Reese upon learning he held the Day Three lead
"I have no clue what I'm going to do [Sunday]. I'm just going to go out and try to get the big ones to bite. Maybe they will, and maybe they won't." Kevin Short, who fell to fourth place Saturday after leading the first two days
"Cloud cover is killing that smallmouth bite." -- Aaron Martens, who sits in third placed with 51 pounds, 12 ounces
"I need three or four big bites instead of two. A 20-pound bag is the only chance I have to win." -- Mike Iaconelli, who's 10 ounces off the lead in fifth place
"I'm getting out of here." -- Eleventh-place angler Rick Morris as he ran off the weigh-in stage in the pouring rain