Several stories unfolding

JASPER, Ala. -- With the final hours of the Southern Open No. 3 upon us, the 12 anglers competing today on Smith Lake have to be nervous.

Right? How couldn’t they be, with a possible berth in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on the line? There also are five Elite Series invites to hand out and the winner here is going to bring home a cash and a boat/motor prize package which is valued in the neighborhood of $50,000.

Several storylines are unfolding.

Does Jessie Wiggins have enough in the live well to maintain his lead and win yet another open tournament this season? Does Rick Morris have 2 ½ pounds more than Wiggins, which would vault him past the hometown favorite into the hot seat? Both already have secured Classic invites, so if either wins here today, Elite Series pro Steve Kennedy is first man into the 2018 Classic pool.

And what about the 10 other pros (five more Alabama residents and five guys from out of state) who would love nothing more than a come-from-behind win? For most of them, a victory here is the key to proverbial bass fishing kingdom.

Adding to the suspense is that the Smith Lake launch is an hour’s drive from today’s weigh-in site at the Bass Pro Shops in Leeds, Ala. I’ve often wondered what goes through the pros’ minds when they have to make a haul like that to reach the scales. For me, I’d be jumping out of my skin, but who knows? Maybe these guys use it as a chance to calm down before the real results take place later today.

It’s a beautiful day in north-central Alabama, so if you’re in the area, make your way to the Bass Pro Shops at 5000 Bass Pro Drive in Leeds. Whatever happens, it promises to be suspenseful.

Kennedy's game plan

Steve Kennedy has more to win or lose than anyone in this tournament. That is, unless a spoiler comes along and takes away his chance to qualify for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

The spoiler could be any one of eight anglers fishing today that have not already qualified for the Classic.

So far, Kennedy has fate on his side. We don’t use BASSTrakk in the Opens, so there is no way to track the progress of the anglers. However, Thomas Allen is the photographer following the current leader, Jesse Wiggins. Allen reports that as of 9:45 a.m. that Wiggins has about 7 pounds in the livewell. Twelve pounds is his goal. Rick Morris, another double qualifier, was in second place going into the final round.

Kennedy, who lives across the state in Auburn, would most likely be at home watching his fate unfold during the live streaming weigh-in this afternoon on Bassmaster.com. That is the plan with a twist. Kennedy, a graduate of Auburn University and avid football fan, will be sitting in the stands at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers play Mississippi State University with a 5 p.m. kickoff.

A Tweet on his Twitter page proves the point.

“I’ll be in the stadium. Phone out, ear buds in, watching Bassmaster.com!"

A triple for Wiggins in play

Cell service is spotty in the nooks and crannies of the hollows at Lewis Smith Lake. Even so, Thomas Allen is the photographer currently compiling a gallery of Jesse Wiggins’ day on the lake.

Allen reported that Wiggins just caught a 3.5 pounder and has another in the livewell. Guessed weight is 5 pounds plus a few ounces.

Wiggins told Allen that it’ll only get better. Cloud cover and some wind are the reasons and we’ve had neither thus far during the tournament.

What is most remarkable is what will happen should Wiggins win. He will triple qualify for the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. No other 2018 qualifier has such an honor and it is doubtful, few if any at all, have previously done so.

Wiggins won the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open of the season at the Harris Chain of Lakes in January. That automatically qualified him for the Classic before the Bassmaster Elite Series season even began. Then he qualified again after finishing 37th in the points for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. The triple will come later today if he wins the tournament.

What all that means for Wiggins is another trophy and the bonus winnings. What it means even more, and as I reported yesterday, is a Classic berth for fellow Elite Series pro Steve Kennedy. He is the last man out in the AOY standings after failing to qualify during the regular season.

Friday's storylines

Today is a pivotal day for many reasons. The tight gap between the low weights is a key reason why. 

Only five pounds separates the anglers in the 20th-place range with leader Shin Fukae. Fukae is no doubt leveraging his specialty, which is catching offshore bass using drop shot techniques. That is how Fukae won the 2014 Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Lake Champlain. 

Fishing is tough. Yesterday at the tanks I watched at least 6 bass go from the bump table to the live release boat. They were too short. The real downer was that in some cases, the short fish was all that was in the bag of the angler. Lots of zeros. At least 30 anglers never crossed the scales, either due to a short fish or not catching any at all. More of the same is possible, because the weather is the same as Day 1. 

Even bigger are the factors influencing a qualifying slot in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Some here want to win to qualify; others want someone else to win in the hopes they might qualify by default. 

Without going into more detail in this blog I will do that in a feature to be published this afternoon on Bassmaster.com. Be sure and come back and check it out. The feature will be all about the details of who and how will qualify for the Classic from this tournament, and next week at the final Central event on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.

Terrible timing

The abdominal pain was kidney stone. The nice people at Jasper Hospital got me in quickly, diagnosed my problem, got my pain under control and sent me out with meds to help pass. I actually passed stone within an hour of discharge. I'm good now. Terrible Timing but God is in control. I'd like to thank Chris Bowes of BASS for being available and handling the situation for my amateur (Charles Poland) this morning as best he could. I just feel terrible not being able to take him out. I'd also like to thank Marty Farmer and his wife Jennifer for getting me to the hospital and missing their son Chris's blast off.

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