PARIS, Tenn. — On Friday the water level dropped, the wind blew harder, but first-day leader Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., changed with the conditions to stay on top in the Bassmaster Central Open on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes in Tennessee.
Williams ended the tournament's second day with 34 pounds, 1 ounce, a slim margin against Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jami Fralick of Martin, S.D., who inched up from fifth place to sit in second with 32-15 going into the third and final day on Saturday.
"It was a lot tougher today, I had to struggle," Williams said. "It was a combination of the wind and the lake falling about 4 inches. I'm fishing 1 1/2 to 2 feet of water, so 4 inches is a substantial difference."
He said he returned to the sweet spot that gave up four big fish Thursday, but the fish would not take his jig again. He picked up a white spinnerbait, a change-up that ended with his biggest bass, a 5-14.
"I lost a couple of 3-pounders," he said. "The wind hurts when you're fishing that shallow. You drift with it and can't fish the spots the way you want to."
Fralick is weighing mixed bags of bass, including his second-day haul of 17-3.
"Each day I've had smallmouth and largemouth out of one little area, which seems to be replenishing," he said. "I'm fishing between 5 to 10 feet deep. It's ledge fishing with a mixture of grass and a few scattered big rocks. The fish are coming off the same places each day, especially from one clump of rocks."
Two other pros had bags in the 17- to 19-pound range: Ray Brazier and Billy Schroeder, who charged into third and fourth, respectively. Brazier of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., went from eighth to third on the strength of a 17-1 bag. Schroeder of Paducah, Ky., shot from 25th to fourth with the day's heaviest bag, a 19-1. Aaron Johnson of Bossier City, La., was fifth with his two-day total of 32-3.
They lead the field of 30 pros who made the cut to compete Saturday for the event's $45,000 first-place prize.
Pros also are earning points this week toward qualifying for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic and Bassmaster Elite Series. As the second of three events on the 2008 Central Open circuit, the Tennessee tournament will establish the points race front-runners going into the circuit's season-ender at Lake Texoma out of Denison, Texas, Oct. 30-Nov. 1.
The top 10 after the Texas tournament will be invited to advance to the Elite level; the top three will earn berths in the Feb. 20-22 Classic on Louisiana's Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City.
Williams came into the Tennessee event in third place in the points standings. With a high finish this week, he could earn enough points to earn a Classic spot. If he makes it, it wouldn't be his first Classic: He competed in the 1973 Classic, finishing 17th. He's entered many BASS events since, logging 40 top-50 finishes.
"Going back to the Classic on the Red River would be nice," said Williams. "The Red River fits the way I like to fish. If I go, I'll be putting everything I've got into it."
Going into the event in Tennessee, Billy McCaghren Jr. of Mayflower, Ark., was the points leader. on the strength of his season-opener win on the Red River — the 2009 Classic site. He ended in 33rd place after Friday, so he could be knocked from the top in the points standings by Williams or Fralick, who is 13th in the Central standings.
Besides Fralick, six other Elite pros made the cut for Saturday's finale. They include Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., in sixth with 30-1; Bradley Hallman of Norman, Okla., in 12th with 26-11; and Rick Clunn of Ava., Mo., in 19th with 23-15.
Purolator Big Bass honors of the day on the pro side went to Terry Bolton of Jonesboro, Ark., for his 6-6 largemouth. He earned a $1,000 bonus.