Connell comes to Wheeler's aid

It looks like Dustin Connell and Jacob Wheeler are fishing a buddy tournament in Connell's boat. After Wheeler's boat was disabled by a voltage issue, he talked to fellow first-year Elite Series angler and friend Connell, who came to the rescue.

If you've seen any of this on Bassmaster LIVE, you know the two young anglers are having a big time fishing side-by-side from the bow of Connell's boat. Wheeler started the day in second place, 1-6 behind leader Jesse Wiggins. BASSTrakk shows him in fourth place now, 3-9 back of the leader.

B.A.S.S. rules allow for one competitor to pick up another and continue to fish in this situation. And there's some interesting history of doing so. In 2013 when Keith Combs won the slugfest at Falcon Lake, Clark Reehm picked up Combs on Day 3, when Combs had only 4 bass in his livewell. Combs caught a 3-pounder while running the trolling motor in Reehm's boat to fill out his limit that day.

The anglers are required to clearly tag their fish and use one livewell each in this situation

From smallmouth to largemouth

The daily log from BASSTrakk proves as fact the narrow window of opportunity of success for the smallmouth anglers. That magic time is between 8:30-10:30 a.m. After that, the smallmouth catch falls off in examing the record of BASSTrakk.

Yesterday we witnessed the post-bite fallout when some of the smallmouth anglers got the jitters and moved upriver. Switching to largemouth proved a huge gamble but a good move as the conditions for largemouth fishing improve with the warming trend, cloudy skies, and incoming rain showers. 

Today we are seeing the same migration of anglers punting the smallmouth bite and heading north to catch largemouth. Leading that charge at the top is Ott DeFoe, who abandoned his smallmouth spot. Now, he's fishing with a crankbait, and plans to fish up the river. 

A key thought is the smallmouth bite isn't declining, it just remains short in time. On the flip side, the largemouth bite has the potential to continue improving. One prediction I'll make is more smallmouth anglers making the Top 12 might switch to largemouth on Championship Sunday.

The exceptions, of course, are Jesse Wiggins and Seth Feider, who just upgraded his catch. The smallmouth wizard will be around tomorrow, and we can look forward on Bassmaster Live of hearing the "big 'un dude" refrain from him. 

Window of opportunity

Friday's action, even with a different weather day, still set up for a solid morning bite. The window of opportunity for both Day 1 and Day 2 has been the 8:20 to 10:20 a.m. two-hour stretch. On Day 1, the two-hour period yielded 236 fish for the 110 Elite anglers and Day 2 was almost a replication of that.

8:20 to 9:20 a.m.107 fish with the biggest being a 4-0 caught by Hank Cherry at 8:46.
9:20 to 10:20 a.m.   105 fish with the biggest being a 5-5 caught by Randall Tharp at 9:54. (Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event so far.)

Anglers seem to get to their areas, settle in, and go to work just in time before the sun gets too high over the rocky hills and mountains here in East Tennessee. As soon as the sun gets high in the sky, the bait seems to scatter and disperse and the fishing gets much tougher. We've seen the flurries by anglers this morning and then the lulls that follow. With overcast skies and a slight breeze we will see if there is a more prevalent afternoon bite today. The weather seems to be taking a turn for the worse this afternoon and into the final day of competition. If largemouth play a factor this afternoon, we could see an impact on the final day by those bigger stubborn green fish.

 

Jordan Lee moves up, action heating up

After writing that Paul Mueller pulled in to third place according to BASSTrakk, he got knocked down to fourth before I could finish and click the publish button. 

Mueller started off slow with a fish weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces caught at 8:59 a.m. The action kicked up a notch when he began catching fish in the 3-pound range to fill his limit. That just happened. So did a flurry of 3-pounders caught by other anglers moving them up the leaderboard. 

Keith Combs with 13-8, including a 4-pounder caught at 10:15. Alton Jones with 13-4. 

A big surprise is Jordan Lee. Jesse Wiggins is rightfully getting the spotlight for his amazing achievements in recent months. Let's not forget the banner season enjoyed last season by Lee, one of the most consistent young anglers on the tour.

Here he comes again. Lee just moved from 35th on the leaderboard to 12th in BASSTrakk. 

Yesterday Lee told me he'd need 16 pounds to make it into Championship Sunday and the Top 12. He's just a 3-pounder away from that goal. 

What does all that mean? We can't base it on a handful of anglers but the warming, cloudy conditions could be stimulating the bass action, with better fishing to come. 

Hartman and Lee

Jamie Hartman has continued to move quickly, and it paid off as he just put his third keeper in the boat. It looked like a carbon copy of his other two, about 2 pounds.

He's seemingly in survival mode just looking to fill a limit, which will be critical if he wants to fish tomorrow.

Hartman and Jordan Lee are sharing a spot, along with about 15 other boats in the area. But with it being moving day, everybody is working to maintain their position or to move up.

Wheeler's pre-scout paying off

Jacob Wheeler came to Cherokee Lake on an aggressive pre-scoutinug mission in December. The time is paying off. 

Wheeler struggled early until finally finding a groove. To find it took a lot of work. 

"I used the Navionics app and marked about 400 spots on my phone." he said. 

Going mobile allowed him to study the entries and systematically delete unproductive areas as eliminated on the water.

Even with all those spots he intensified his search. Once finding a productive area he searched for obscure, specific objects on the bottom too small to be on a map card. When he found it the object, or rock, got marked on the GPS.

Wheeler is now getting an unplanned bonus for all the hard work. Cloudy skies and warmer tempertures have the potential to stimulate smallmouth activity and make the fish migrate into shallower areas. As they do, Wheeler believes the fish will become more concentrated and easier to find, and catch. 

 

Hartman hopping spots

After working his initial area pretty thoroughly, Jamie Hartman is moving from place to place looking for active fish. He is spending about 10 minutes before picking up and relocating.

Did he run out of fish? Too much pressure? Weather not ideal? Probably a combination of each, but one thing is for sure, he's struggling today.

One-spot wonders are leading

Leader Jesse Wiggins isn't the only angler who has caught all of his fish from one spot over the last two-plus days. Ott DeFoe moved up the leaderboard from 31st to ninth over the first two days, and BASSTrakk currently shows him in second place behind Wiggins, after catching a 13-12 limit so far today.

"I've got one place that's been good to me, and that's it," DeFoe said yesterday. "I leaned on it a little harder today. I didn't want to burn it yesterday. I got a little more weight off it today. But I just couldn't get anything going after that."

It may be that one spot will hold up for Wiggins and DeFoe over four days. If so, it might be a first-time occurrence at Cherokee Lake. There's only been one other B.A.S.S. tournament here and that was 35 years ago. There has never been a four-day B.A.S.S. tournament here. Due to it's reputation for inconsistency, most anglers at Cherokee try to have plenty of waypoints to explore each day.

"I thought coming in that there was the potential to win off one spot, but four days is tough off one place here," DeFoe said. "I've seen three-day tournaments won off one place here, but four days? It's got to be a place where fish are coming to."

Surprising absence from Top 51

Cherokee Lake is certainly a different fishery to start off the Elite Series season compared to most years. Past seasons the first event is usually on a grassy, southern fishery, but with the diverse fishing on Cherokee has thrown some anglers for a loop as they targeted winter/prespawn fish.

There have been some anglers that are sitting at home which will surprise fans. Some notable anglers that didn't make the Top 51 are as follows:

53. Jacob Powroznik
56. Edwin Evers
62. Kevin VanDam
64. David Walker
68. Brent Ehrler
88. Dave Lefebre
92. Drew Benton
97. Skeet Reese
99. Chad Pipkens
100. Justin Lucas
101. Brett Hite
102. Chris Zaldain
105. Chris Lane
107. Brandon Card

We saw in a graphic on Bassmaster LIVE that only one Angler of the Year champion in the last 10 years has started the season worse than 40th and that was Aaron Martens in 2013. Last season we saw Gerald Swindle start with a 40th on the St. John's River and he never finished worse than that the rest of the 2016 campaign. It can be done as Martens logged a 85th to start on the Sabine River in 2013, so we know it can be done, but there is no room for a another slip up for most of these anglers on the aforementioned list.

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