Hartman with three

Hartman has three. I school of bass have been busting on a point all morning. They looked small. But Hartman finally had enough of it and slipped over there.

His third keeper, just a keeper, soon followed. But it does add about 2 pounds to his total.

The wind is Murray's friend

John Murray hoped the wind would blow again today, after catching the 23-7 big bag of Day 3. It is blowing, and Murray is loving it, landing three bass totaling 16 pounds and taking the lead this morning.

If you look at Murray's up-and-down daily weights in the first three days, you'll understand why the wind is Murray's friend. He weighed 17-13 on Day 1 in a brisk north wind and was in 13th place. Then he dropped to 34th place with only 11-7 when the wind didn't blow Friday.

When it did finally pick up late Friday, Murray thought he might have blown his chance to make the top 51 cut.

"With about four minutes left, I hooked a big one - 6 (pounds) plus," he said. "It was going to jump at the side of the boat. So I decided I was going to swing it on 12-pound line. It didn't jump. It just stuck its head up. I yanked and snapped the line with a bait I've had for 30 years, and I was really mad I lost. I was devastated. I finally had the wind."

As we now know, that treasured bait Murray lost was a Smithwick Rogue.

"I've been on a pattern for big bites all week," Murray said. "I've had a hard time boating them. It's a pattern I used to use 25 years ago on Elephant Butte (in New Mexico) when it was sort of a hot lake. I'm familiar with the pattern, and I love it. (Saturday) I finally executed."

And he's executing again today. Murray is targeting spawning bass that are on a flat in 5 to 8 feet of water. They're not feeding on shad, but targeting probably yellow bass, although Murray referred to them as white bass yesterday. Whatever the species, the key is bigger forage. It led to Murray having the big bass of Day 3, a 7-10, and 6-12 to go with it.

"Every day I brought in a white bass in my bag that had been spit up," Murray said. "So I didn't think they were eating shad. I tried to match the white bass. I think that's been the key for me."

Murray relying on experience

If you tuned into Day 3’s weigh-in, you may have heard Veteran John Murray mention, “There are times I believe my 25-years of experience doesn’t always help me out, but today was one of the days it did.”

This morning, he left the dock planning to throw a jerkbait at the prespawn fish he found funneling yesterday. Instead, Murray has tied on a Strike King 5XD crankbait — mimicking a white bass — dredging it from 5 to 12-feet of water.

The “gut-feeling” has paid off, but he is limited on crankbait supply and he is having some trouble dodging the stumps off the old house foundation he is fishing.

Murray weighed 23-7 on Day 3.

Let’s have a look at his Championship Sunday thus far.

7:32 a.m.: 2-0

7:47 a.m.: 6-0

7:48 a.m.: 8-0

Murray’s first B.A.S.S. win came on Toledo Bend in 2003. He is now unofficially in the lead with three fish for 16-pounds. 

Secret to success?

Hartman is about 30 or miles from John Murray, but still through the power of the "Bassmaster LIVE" word is filtering down here that Murray is on a tear with two giants.

Hartman has no idea and the fish are being talked about in hushed tones.

This is one of those situations that comes up in debate over whether anglers should be allowed to see the scoreboard during the day.

Right now they can't. For Hartman it might be a blessing. Two 7-pound class fish by Murray is the type thing that lifts the spirits of several, while having the chance of sucking the soul right out of others.

It could also be one of those motivators

Still Hartman has no idea but likely feels he needs to catch 20-plus to win. He's on that pace and for those of us watching the game unfold this is the type excitement we like to watch.

You can feel the excitement of a thrilling finish in the air already.

Murray's old school Rogue

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing John Murray for about the last 30 years. Back then I worked for Ranger Boats. John worked for the nation’s largest dealership in Phoenix.

We both shared a laugh when it came time to interview him for the Lures of the Top 12 story gallery.

This lure is about as old as my friendship with John.

 “I have five of these old school Smithwick Rogues,” he said. “I keep them in a box and brought it here with me.”

Ironically, the Rogue traces its history back to Toledo Bend, where it first gained notoriety. Jack K. Smithwick, from nearby Shreveport, La., made the first Rogue in his garage. He then expanded to a larger factory.

“There is nothing like the action and rattle of this bait,” he said.

For sure. Murray guesses this Rogue to be about 25-30 years old. Earlier this week he lost one of the treasures. Now he’s down to 4. Could this one be the lucky lure?

Hartman not wasting time

Hartman didn't waste any time putting on more pressure. He just added No. 2 to the well and it checks in at 3 1/2 pounds.

That gives him almost 9 pounds for two fish and likely provides him some wiggle room from some of the final 12 on down the ranks.

It's a good assumption that he will head into the weigh in with a limit. At it's smallest, his limit would be in the 15 pound range, creating a scenario where those under him will have to enjoy a day similar to the one John Murray had yesterday.

Hartman's culture shock

“I’ve been using a drop shot like we do in upstate New York, down South.”

Jamie Hartman said that to me this morning as I was interviewing the anglers for our Lures of the Top 12 story gallery.

Hartman’s statement, like his lure setup, is a case of culture shock.

The rig is comprised of a 6-inch Roboworm Special FX Straight Tail Worm in the M.M. II color. Roboworm is a California-based company recognized as the leading maker of hand pours worms. He rigs that with a 1/0 Owner Worm Hook.

On the opposite side of country, and his rig, is a new prototype drop shot weight made in Phoenix, N.Y., otherwise known as Upstate New York. He is using an i1 Baits Loudmouth Rattle Weight.

“We are about to launch it,” he added.

“I’ve laughed all week about this but it is funny that I’m using a northern technique in southern waters, where I’ve never fished before.”

Should Hartman win the small bait company, which also makes walleye lures, will be put into the spotlight, like it’s Upstate New York designer. 

Palaniuk back at the accident scene

Brandon Palaniuk was looking forward to getting back to the scene of his Day 3 accident. And apparently that anticipation was well-founded, as Palaniuk has jumped into the lead with an early - very early - limit.

In the excitement of a flurry of fish catches yesterday, Palaniuk made a cast with six fish in his livewell. B.A.S.S. rules require a 2-pound penalty for anyone who makes a cast without culling down to the 5-bass limit. It's the second time in his career that Palaniuk has made this mistake.

"The first time I did that, it was about halfway through the cast (when he realized the error)," Palaniuk recalled. "This time it was about halfway back through the retrieve. It was really a bad deal because I had a lot of momentum going. I was catching 'em good.

"I started in an area where I thought I could catch 10 to 12 pounds. I caught a limit, a 4 and a 5 1/2-pounder. I was on a pretty big high and just hit rock bottom. It's such a huge thing - where the weights are so tight - to give up two pounds on something I can control."

That's something to keep in mind today, and you know it won't leave Palaniuk's thoughts - the fact that he started today in 5th place, 6-6 behind leader Jamie Hartman, instead of 4-6 back.

But the good thing is Palaniuk discovered this spot he'd found in practice has bigger fish than he initially thought.

"I started there the first day of practice and had about 12 bites," Palaniuk said. "But I thought they were all two-pounders. I hadn't looked at it all week. I'm looking forward to getting back there."

It hasn't taken long this morning for everyone to understand his anticipation.

Hartman getting started

Hartman is starting his final day much like he started Day 3. He just hooked into and landed his first fish of the day and it tips the scales around 5 1/4 pounds.

Those kind of fish pay dividends at the end of the day in more ways than just weight. It allows Hartman a little breathing room and likely settles him down a bit.

He caught a 6 plus here yesterday to get him started and he built that into a 17 pound stringer. He'll need that again to stave off those clambering to catch him.

Palaniuk off to a quick start

If you are watching Bassmaster LIVE, you will see Brandon Palaniuk lighting up the screen. He is steadily reeling a swim jig through sparse grass.  It looks like Palaniuk is taking advantage of a school of fish he found in the first day of practice, in an area he described as being typically a “small fish area.”

According to LIVE, Palaniuk revisited the area yesterday and the fish were heavier than expected. Keep in mind Palaniuk had a 2-pound deduction in his weight for casting with 6-fish, which was a self-imposed penalty. The previous time Palaniuk forgot to cull before casting, he would go on to win the tournament — despite the penalty.

Palaniuk is using a 3/8 white, chartreuse, and black swim jig with a white Zoom super speedcraw.  

Though Palaniuk has no giants, he is catching the fish in a swift matter and already culling. 

BASSTrakk has him at 10-0, unofficially. 

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