Wheeler working by memory now

Jacob Wheeler wanted to make certain he got started on the right foot in his first Elite Series season. He spent a week here in December and another week in January before Cherokee Lake went off limits.

As we close in on the final hours of Day 2, it looks like Wheeler's time was well spent. BASSTrakk shows him in 11th place with 29-3. He was tied for fifth after Day 1.

"I graphed the whole lake," Wheeler said yesterday. "I know every rock, every stump, every brushpile. For me, that's the main thing. If I didn't have those Lowrance electronics, I would not have a bass right now."

Speaking of now, Wheeler is working from memory today. Somehow between yesterday and today he lost all of his waypoints on all four units. 

Wheeler thought he might have discovered some "sneaky spots" that no one else would find, but, "these guys found a lot more of those than I thought they would."

Yesterday he thought he had at least one or two left that nobody else had found, maybe three or four. We'll see how good his memory is. The loss of waypoints didn't seem to upset Wheeler too badly. "Who cares," he said today. "Got to go to work anyway."

Crochet's mood

You could really tell the slow, unproductive morning was wearing on Crochet. He wasn't taking much at all.

He just put his second keeper in the boat, which looked to be in the 3-pound range, and it really perked him up. A slow grind can really take you out of it, and a single fish will completely change your outlook.

He's now about 10 pounds out of the lead while still needing three more keepers. That's a very attainable goal, especially when you consider what he weighed yesterday.

Fritts in position to make Saturday cut

When I talked to David Fritts six weeks ago for a story about his return to the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, he didn't sound too terribly excited about the schedule he'd be facing.

And let's face it, the schedule doesn't exactly set up just right for a crankbait specialist like Fritts.
But more than half-way through the second day of his first Elite Series event, BASSTrakk has the the 1993 Bassmaster Classic champion in 30th place, which means he would easily qualify for the Top 51 and move on to Saturday's semifinal round.

That's a good start for a 60-year-old angler who hasn't won a tournament with B.A.S.S. since the mid-1990s. As someone who covered Fritts during his glory days with B.A.S.S., it's been nice seeing his name back on our leaderboard.

Is this the Bassmaster Rookie series?

There are 110 Elite Series pros competing on Cherokee, but a small percentage of anglers are taking the spotlight. Overall the 11 rookies have performed well. Currently the Top 3 are all rookies and are flexing their muscles this year. This could possibly be the first time we've unofficially had three rookies sitting 1-2-3 on BASSTrakk.

Jesse Wiggins and Jamie Hartman did the majority of their damage early on Day 2, while Skylar Hamilton has been slowly climbing and, when he caught his fifth keeper, jumped into the bronze position so far. If this is any indication of how tight the Rookie of the Year race is going to be, then strap in and stay tuned as 11 newcomers look to separate themselves from their peers.

Admiring the beauty

While I've been chasing Cliff Crochet around today, I have been admiring the beauty of this northeastern Tennessee lake. Having the opportunity to catch spotted bass, largemouth and smallmouth in a setting like this makes for a pretty special fishery.

Crochet is still looking for his second keeper, and is staying on the move for active fish. It can all change in a few casts—he's far from out of it.

Locals gaining steam

It's a pretty good notion that the three local anglers congregated near the top of the standings are probably doing something similar when they all make furious jumps and go through synced flurries. Tennessee anglers Skylar Hamilton, David Mullins and Ott DeFoe are all in the Top 10 right now. Ott DeFoe has landed 12 fish so far, which is more than the other two anglers, meanwhile Skylar Hamilton has landed just five keepers today. They both have similar livewell weight at 15-12 for DeFoe and 15-0 for Hamilton, which tells me every fish Skylar catches is a good keeper while DeFoe is culling through some small ones as he works his way to a bigger bag.

David Mullins is smushed in between the two as he has boated nine fish today and has roughly a 13- to 14-pound bag. From the looks of the four fish he has culled, they were all in the low 2-pound range. Fishing seems to be picking up and the consensus is that this sun could help keep the shallow bite alive if it heats up enough.

Feider adds Nos. 3 and 4

Bassmaster LIVE took its mid-day hiatus at 10 a.m. and Seth Feider only had two fish in the boat. He roughly caught a 2 1/2- and a 3 1/2-pounder while also missing out on another chunky 3+ pounder when it surged to the surface and came off as Feider went to grab it. Since LIVE took a break, Feider has added numbers 3 and 4 to his livewell, which were 2 pounds and 3 1/2 respectively. He now has four fish and is looking to get his limit before LIVE returns in the next 15 minutes.

He's returned toward the top of the standings, where he started the day, and is unofficially in 6th with four fish for 11 pounds approximately.

Day 1 fish catching trends

Day 1 conditions of competition on Thursday were somewhat different from what anglers experienced today when they left the dock to traverse Cherokee Lake. Thursday featured a consistent wind that blew from takeoff to check-in and it also presented cloudy conditions. Day 1's temperatures ranged from 35 degrees at takeoff with intermittent snow to high 20s with the added windchill factor. It slowly got colder from start to finish.

Meanwhile on Day 2 the conditions anglers faced were altered. It was still miserably cold, colder than Day 1 at takeoff, but there was no wind and the morning brought clear skies. The cloudless sky will allow the sun to heat up the water, cover and anglers today, but the bluebird skies present post-frontal conditions, which are seemingly feared by most of the field. Post-frontal fishing can be the toughest days; meanwhile people on land would claim it would be a beautiful day for fishing.

With the weather changes, fish catching could be altered as well and we may see a decline in numbers at least in the ultra cold morning to mid-morning time frame.

Day 1 featured fish catching trends as follows:

7:15 to 8:15 a.m.50 fish with the biggest being a 3-8 caught at 8:07 by Jesse Wiggins
8:15 to 9:15 a.m.123 fish with the biggest being a 4-4 caught at 8:35 by Marty Robinson (4 fish were caught at least 3-8 during that hour)

9:15 to 10:15 a.m.
113 fish with the biggest being a 5-0 caught at 10:03 by Mark Daniels Jr. (Phoenix Boats Big Bass on Day 1)
10:15 to 11:15 a.m.68 fish with the biggest being a 4-8 caught at 11:01 by Kelley Jaye (2 other 4+ pounders were caught as well. Lowen/Crochet)
11:15 to 12:15 p.m.               84 fish with the biggest being a 4-0 caught at 11:26, 11:38, 12:15 by Jordan Lee, Jacob Wheeler and David Fritts respectively.
12:15 to 1:15 p.m.77 fish with the biggest being a 3-12 caught at 12:27 by Dustin Connell (multiple 3-8's also caught)
1:15 to 2:15 p.m. 60 fish with the biggest being a 3-12 caught at 1:55 by Brian Snowden
2:15 to 3:15 p.m.41 fish with the biggest being a 3-6 caught at 3:12 by Skylar Hamilton (a part of a four-fish flurry for Hamilton in 15 minutes)
3:15 to 4:15 p.m.             20 fish with the biggest being a 4-8 caught at 3:18 by Russ Lane (Boats began checking in at 3:20 so full field wasn't competing for the last hour.)

Day 2 has had its flurries thus far, but after today we will see how the numbers match up as well as the possible size difference.