MONETA, Va. — Three anglers made strong moves to make the top-12 cut on Day Three of the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl on Smith Mountain Lake. James Niggemeyer, Jeff Connella and Skeet Reese sit in ninth, 10th and 11th place respectively going into the final day and they each acknowledged that it would take a superhuman effort to erase Kevin VanDam's nearly 7-pound lead.
"There are some big fish in here, but realistically, I'm going to have to catch 20 pounds and KVD will have to stumble, and he doesn't stumble," Connella said. "I'm just excited to get out and try to figure them out. If they would pay for me to fish on Monday, I would."
Connella made his first final-day cut since Grand Lake in 2006 on the shoulders of his 15-pound, 4-ounce Day Three catch. Unlike many of the leaders, he has been doing something a little different that has helped him catch fish each day.
"The water I've been fishing had been off-colored, but it cleared up yesterday and Friday," Conella said. "I had been catching them on a Chatterbait, but today I might have to change up to a V&M swim jig or a crankbait because they won't put out as much vibration."
Many of the Elite anglers fishing this week commented each day that the next major wave of spawning fish could move up at any time, but Connella has been banking on that not happening. He's been fishing for pre-spawn fish and hopes that the bigger fish are still off the bank on Day Four.
"The bigger fish weren't on beds on Thursday," Conella said. "They might move up today, but they've been saying that all week. I've stayed away from that and been able to increase my weight and position each day."
Reese is also in a big hole and estimated that it would take at least 22 pounds to make a run at the title. Skeet wanted the wind to blow so he could throw a swimbait for better bites. At launch, the wind was notably absent, although spectator boats were still making waves around the lake.
"I lost a 6-pounder twice yesterday morning," Reese said. "I'll go back and see if she is there. If she's not, I'll move on. With the right conditions, I can catch 20 pounds, but getting them in the boat is another challenge. There are some freaky fish out here."
The big bite has been key for Niggemeyer, who boated the biggest bass of the tournament on Day Three, a 7-pound, 2-ounce largemouth.
"I've got to come across a big fish to have a chance," Niggemeyer said. "I'm having a tougher time catching the average quality that KVD and Herren are catching. I'm really hoping that some better fish will move up into my area, that today will be the day. I'm not expecting a big run of fish, just one here and one there."
The hopes of many of the top 12 anglers rests on just how many bedding fish remain and many have been hoping that more move up. That hope has remained since Day One, when most of the bigger fish were picked off, but the next big move hasn't materialized.
"It seems like they move in waves," Niggemeyer said. "It looked like last Sunday or Sunday night they pulled up because they were all over beds on Monday and Tuesday. It can be days or more before another wave moves up and that is what we have seen this week during the tournament."