SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In 2008, Terry Butcher tried to qualify for the Classic through the Central Opens. Heading into the last event, he had a long shot, but focused on winning the tournament. Butcher did just that and led every day, but still finished two points outside of the final Classic berth.
Fast forward to 2009 and the final event of the Elite Series season. Butcher entered the Ramada Champion's Choice in 50th place, once again needing a near-perfect tournament at Oneida Lake. After two days, he hasn't been perfect, but he's put himself in position to make the Classic.
In 38th, one spot out, he's only 1 point behind Bernie Schultz. Both Schultz and Butcher will fish Saturday's Day Three with the Classic on the line.
"I know there are quality-enough fish there to win the tournament, if I can keep them buttoned up," Butcher said. "I know I lost at least five 3- to 4-pound smallmouth and that hurts. Coming in, I figured I would need to win the tournament to have a shot at the Classic."
With a 14-pound, 1-ounce bag, Butcher sits in 10th place at Oneida while Schultz moved up to second place. The good news for Butcher is that he still has room to move up, while Schultz needs to hold that high finish to make the Classic.
Both anglers are looking strong to fish on Sunday, so more restless nights are likely in their future as the Classic berths might not be wrapped up on Day Three.
Butcher wasn't the only angler making a big move on Friday. Cliff Pace entered the season finale on the bubble to make the postseason, but slipped one spot to finish Day One in 13th. After Day Two, Pace leapfrogged a few anglers to grab a 36-point cushion in 11th after putting up another 13-pound bag.
"I approached this event with a plan to catch a solid bag of fish each day," Pace said. "The guys fishing for largemouth can catch a big bag one day and then stumble the next. I decided to go for smallmouth and yesterday was awesome. Today was tougher but I still caught 13 pounds. I'm around the fish to make it to the postseason — it will be close."
Close doesn't even begin to describe the situation that Bobby Lane found himself in. After the disqualification Thursday, Lane started the day in 52nd in the TTBAOY points because he received zero on Day One. That was a freefall from 22nd and he was in jeopardy of missing the Classic.
Lane was so dejected after the way his week has went that he decided to come in early on Day Two to get his fish on the scales.
"There was no reason to stay out any longer, something could have gone wrong," Lane said. "I would have a better chance of breaking a rod or falling in the lake than catching a good bag."
Fortunately for Lane, the few fish he did catch have him within the Classic bubble after the day ended. He sits in 34th place in the standings and would need four people to make significant moves on Saturday to knock him out.
While much of the focus for the TTBAOY race centers on the race for the 12 postseason berths, there is still a battle at the top of the leaderboard to get into position heading to Alabama. Alton Jones is at the center of the battle, trying to close the gap between himself, Skeet Reese and Kevin VanDam.
"Right now we are all catching them," Jones said. "That makes it hard to close the gap. One of us will get the right bite tomorrow and that will make the difference in the TTBAOY race."
The man getting the right bite thus far has been Reese, the current TTBAOY leader, who stumbled slightly on Day Two and now has a mere 15-point lead over VanDam. The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year picture will become much clearer on Saturday, where the 50 angler left will vie for a shot at the top 12, in both this tournament and the postseason.