CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Greg Hackney's frustration Friday at missing the top 12 by a mere one ounce paled in comparison to the dismay Takahiro Omori felt when the field was cut to six Saturday at the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Omori, who won the 2004 Bassmaster Classic here on Lake Wylie, tied hometown favorite Jason Quinn's sixth place total of 8 pounds, 6 ounces Saturday. But 2006 BASS Angler of the Year points were the tiebreaker, and Quinn became the last man in for Sunday's finale by being in 11th place to Omori's 28th place in the Angler of the Year standings.
Making matters worse for Omori, he very well may have caught a tie-breaking bass, only to put it back in Lake Wylie. Omori caught the big bass of the day, which weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces, but he was one bass short of the five-fish limit. Early in the day Omori caught a bass that barely met the 14-inch minimum length limit on Lake Wylie. Rather than risk being penalized for bringing a short fish to the weigh-in, Omori let it go.
"It was so close, I didn't want to take a chance," said Omori, who moved from Japan to pursue a bass fishing career 14 years ago. "Now I feel like I should have kept it."
Omori was consoled somewhat by the fact that the check he got for seventh place in the Bassmaster American put him over the $1 million mark in career BASS earnings.
Dave Wolak took almost all the drama out of the top of the leaderboard Saturday. The 29-year-old Warrior, Pa., angler weighed in a five-bass limit of 15 pounds, 6 ounces. He will go into Sunday's finale with a 4-pound, 15-ounce lead over Gerald Swindle, who is in second place with 10-7.
Wolak and his wife, Jessica, celebrated the birth of their first child — a boy named Jake — on July 18. Wolak was doing everything he could Saturday to avoid thinking about the huge lead he has in the race for a $250,000 first place check Sunday.
"I can't let myself start thinking about that, yet," said Wolak, who was BASS' 2005 Toyota Rookie of the Year. "I'm just trying to stay as focused and as positive as I can about (Sunday)."
Wolak only has to think back to Friday to remember how quickly fortunes rise and fall in pro bass fishing. He seemed a sure thing to make the cut to 12 after a second-place total of 15-6 (yes, the same weight as Saturday) on the opening day of the tournament. But Wolak caught only two bass weighing a total of 4-13 Friday and spent many anxious moments before securing the 11th qualifying spot for Saturday.
"I think I was just being stubborn," Wolak said of his Day Two failure. "I wouldn't leave the places where I'd caught fish the day before."
When the tournament switched to a six hole format Saturday, with each angler having 70 minutes in each hole, plus a final hour to fish anywhere on the course, Wolak had no choice but to move.
"I was forced to fish new water," he said. "I think I caught a fish in every hole."
He went back to Hole 6 for the final hour and caught his biggest bass of the day, a 3-3.
Wolak admits there was no pattern he found on the course Saturday that gives him a lot of confidence for Sunday.
"I'm just junk fishing," he said. "I hate to use that term, it's almost a cliché. But I'm doing a little bit of everything.
"I fished some pilings, I threw a frog in shallow water. I fished some docks. I'm just fishing, period."
But that may be the formula for success on Lake Wylie, where dozens and dozens of fans following the pros on the lake made fishing even tougher than it already was.
"There are so many boats on the water that it has changed the fishing," said two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam, who qualified fourth for the six-man final with 9-2.
"I learned a lot today about how to manage the spectators.
"Having so many boats on the water really hurts the topwater bite and offshore structure fishing. If you want to do that, you better do it early. When that boat traffic gets up, you've got to adjust."
Before Wolak came to the weigh-in stand with his 15-6 bag, Quinn predicted that Lake Wylie would be tough again Sunday.
"It's not going to take a lot of fish to win this tournament," said Quinn, who has years of experience as both a guide and tournament angler on the lake.
"It's going to take one big one."
But after Wolak's performance, it's going to take one big bass just to catch up with the leader.
Anyone with hopes of passing Wolak on Sunday will probably have to land two big ones. And that's something no one has accomplished all week.