Lucas wants to win Chatuge

I got to spend a few minutes in the boat with Justin Lucas this morning. He has the Toyota Angler of the Year title wrapped up, and yet he’s fishing with the same kind in determination he displayed on Thurs. and Fri. So why not head to the dock, order a pizza and relax?

“I promised Josh I was going to fish as hard as I can today to show him it would have been impossible to catch me.”

We’ll have more from this exclusive interview coming later

Catching up with Chris Lane

Chris Lane, 3rd, 29-8
After watching Jame Elam catch his sixth keeper and cull, the James (Overstreet) Gang has moved to Chris Lane, who weighed the biggest bag of the tournament on Day 2 with 18-5. Lane is trying desperately to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, and he's making a charge. He started the day in third place. He entered the tournament in 45th place in the AOY standings. But he's got a chance to gain one of the Classic berths awarded to the top 35 AOY finishers at today's weigh-in.

To do that, Lane needs to at least maintain his current place in the standings. It has him in 38th place in AOY, based on the Day 2 standings. Every point in valuable now. But even if Lane were to win, he needs a couple of anglers in front of him to falter today. 

Besides the tournament championship and the $25,000 check that goes with it, the 35th spot for a Classic berth is where all the action is today, And there are a lot of moving parts. Lane's fate ultimately is in the hands of anglers like Roy Hawk (37th), Bill Lowen (36th) and Wesley Strader (35th), who are in front of him entering the day, as well as the guys behind him, like Chad Pipkens (39th), Greg Hackney (40th), Greg Vinson (41st) and Jared Lintner (42nd).

It's complicated, and as Lane said this morning, "We're not going to know whose in until the last fish is weighed this afternoon. All I can do is take care of my business."

Lane is off to a decent start. He's got three fish weighing a total of about 9 pounds. His big bites Friday, including two 5-pounders, came after about 10:30. Lane is concentrating strictly with two lures - a River2Sea Top Notch and River2Sea Whopper Plopper.

The James Gang be broke down

Junior correspondent Gettys Brannon pulled on his trolling motor cord as we prepared to move with James Elam, and Brannon came back with the cord in his hand - snap!

We didn't have a spare, but Elam did. We're back in action now, heading out to find Elam, who tossed us his spare as he zoomed off out of sight.

Wheeler's wheelhouse

Jacob Wheeler is in his angling wheelhouse, which is dialing into bass holding on deep offshore structure. Usually that means “video game” bass fishing, or using front-deck fish-finding electronics to locate specific isolated bottom structure like a rockpile, and then putting a drop shot rig on the nose of the bass. 

This week he is doing the same thing in a reverse fashion. Wheeler is calling up bass using topwater lures. 

“The bass are suspended, not always on the bottom, because they are following the herring,” he explained. “A lot of times the bass are in 10 feet over a 40-foot bottom and you can call them up with a topwater.” 

Wheeler said the bass are holding on the bottom structure then moving up above it as the day progresses to feed upon blueback herring.

Wheeler is alternating between a jerkbait and topwater walking bait. A Storm Rattlin’ Saltwater Chug Bug is that choice. He also uses a Rapala Shadow Rap Deep Jerkbait with a running depth of 4-6 feet.

Palaniuk tips his cap to Lucas

In visiting with Brandon Palaniuk yesterday, he made an interesting observation about his situation last year, when he had to hold off Jason Christie at the AOY Championship at Lake Mille Lacs, versus Justin Lucas' scenario this year, when Lucas had Josh Bertrand nipping at his heels.

"Honestly, if we'd been here last year, I'd have been a lot more nervous," Palaniuk said. "We couldn't have been at a better place last year as far as a confidence standpoint for me."

A large smallmouth bass fishery like Mille Lacs' 100,000 acres was right in Palaniuk's wheelhouse.

"There were a lot more variables this year because of the type of fishery this is," said Palaniuk, referring to Lake Chatuge's small size combined with the roaming nature of the spotted bass in this blueback herring lake.

Palaniuk experienced the pressure of trying to close out an AOY title. He tipped his cap to Lucas for this year doing it under even more difficult conditions.

Elam's move pays off

James Elam left the spot where he caught his first four keepers this morning and moved within sight of the takeoff ramp. That's where he put No. 5 in the boat. Right after he put that one in the livewell, bass blew up about 10 yards from our boat, and Elam whirled around and made a cast right at us - to no avail. No. 5 appeared to be a 2 1/4-pounder. There is surface feeding activity all around Elam now.

Whitaker on the board

Rookie of the Year leader Jake Whitaker has just one bass in the livewell thus far. He’s running the same set of points he fished Friday, but conditions have changed dramatically. 

There remain large fog banks on the lake, and the schooling action has been scattered, at best. Whitaker is throwing a big topwater lure, but aside from the 1-pounder he caught earlier the bass have refused to bite. 

He’s still In command of the Rookie if the Year race, however. According to Basstrakk, Roy Hawk has yet to catch a fish.

Lucas on the board

After an hour and 20 minutes of fishing Justin Lucas finally landed his first bass. “It’s a toothpick,” said Thomas Allen, looking through his long camera lens. But hey, it counts. We have several spectator boats following Lucas this morning. They all clapped an hollered when he held up the little fish, as if it were a giant.

And really, the size of the fish doesn’t matter. It is an honor for all of us to watch this Champion close the deal today. Only 22 men over the 50 year history of B.A.S.S. have earned Toyota Angler of the Year trophies. Lucas, the California native who now makes his home in Guntersville, Alabama, will become number 23 today. That’s worth clapping about.

Elam’s pattern detailed

As you can see in the photo above, James Elam has been concentrating on a transition area that has both chunk rock, gravel and sand. It seems that Elam has found structure that is consistently holding these nomadic spotted bass in Lake Chatuge. His other primary areas are similar. Elam just put his third fish of the day in the boat, another two-pounder.

This structure may be the key to him catching 16 pounds-plus two days in a row. Elam is stroking ‘em this morning. He added No. 4 as I was writing this. The last two fish have come on a topwater, pencil-style bait. His one-two punch is a flutter spoon and the topwater lure. Elam is fishing in depths ranging from 10 to 30 feet.

The James Gang on the water

It's like old times, with a twist, today. Photographer James Overstreet and I have logged many a day in the boat together covering the Bassmaster Elite Series. But we are "senior correspondents" now - too old and fragile to do this every day.

So we're back to educate the next generation. That's the twist here - junior correspondent Gettys Brannon. We will attempt to bestow upon him our vast knowledge of on-the-water bass tournament coverage. You know, the tricks of the trade. It may be more than young Gettys can absorb. It's going to be coming at him like a tsunami today.

Just call us "The James Gang." And we're ganging up on tournament leader James Elam to start the day.