Elite Analysis – Day 2 at Harris Chain

Maybe they should give them an extra day off more often.

After yesterday’s weights at the Harris Chain made the sandbaggers look like liars, today it felt like much of the Elite field fell back to earth in windy conditions. After seeing seven 20 pound bags cross the stage on Day One, today we didn’t see one until three quarters of the weigh-in was done.

That day’s best bag, Ed Loughran’s 20-9,  would’ve been good for 7th place yesterday.

It was the day’s only bag to hit that magic mark, which means that no one topped 20 both days. In fact, other than leader John Garrett (43 pounds 15 ounces), who missed the 20 pound mark by 3 ounces today, no one topped 19 both days.

Further down the line, though, the decline may have been a bit illusory. There were 20 bags over 15 pounds today, exactly the same amount as there were yesterday, and there were 64 bags over 10 pounds, as compared to 72 yesterday. Things flattened out a bit, which resulted in a bit of flipping and flopping around the edges.

Despite the apparent stagnation, the rookies didn’t know they were supposed to struggle. In addition to Garrett, first years JT Thompkins (4th, 36-12), Trey McKinney (5th, 35-0) and Tyler Williams (7th, 34-11) are all inside the top 10.

Here’s what I saw, thought, heard and surmised in between flying palm fronds today:

Categorical Denial – As noted above, the top ten features four rookies. That shouldn’t surprise anyone based on early season results, but what really shocked me is that the top ten includes no past Anglers of the Year, no Classic winners, no Florida residents and no international anglers.

Loughran Comes Alive – With a late-in-the-day 8-pounder, Virginia pro Ed Loughran (3rd, 37-12) jumped 12 places from yesterday’s 15th place slot. It’s a demonstration of how unpredictable and potentially fragile Elite life can be, and how talented the field is top to bottom. After fishing the Classic in 2021, Loughran suffered through 62nd, 83rd and 75th place finishes in the AOY race and was in danger of being relegated out of the Elite Series. Now he’s potentially on track for a $100,000 payday. If he makes it to Championship Monday it’ll be his first Day Four appearance since 2020, when he had three of them. Sixth place finishes at Champlain and Fork are his best Elite results to date.

The Apopka Question – Several anglers indicated that with little to lose they’d make the long run to Apopka tomorrow after staying away the first two days of competition. Scott Martin threw a little bit of cold water on that idea. Not only did his trip down there today result in him dropping from 43rd to 70th, but he said that nearly everyone else who made the long haul suffered similarly. Nevertheless, there are a lot of anglers in the top 50 who likely have no chance of making it to Sunday without throwing a bit of a Hail Mary. Expect the lock to be in use.

Heading Back to Normal – Mike Iaconelli enters Day Three in 20th place after missing a virtually unimaginable six straight Elite Series cuts.

Falling Floridians – Koby Kreiger added 19-14 to his Day One catch of 6-9 to rise from 95th to 31st. The rest of the Floridians did not fare as well. Bernie Schultz remained in 98th, and the rest of them all fell, by an average of over 20 places. John Cox, who dropped from 2nd to 19th, was the only other one who will get to compete tomorrow.

Rookies Pitching a Perfect Game — Four of this year’s 10 Elite Series rookies have made the cut to Day Three in all three events this year: AOY leader Trey McKinney, Tyler Williams, JT Thompkins and Kyle Patrick. Patrick also made the cut to Day Three at the Classic, giving him one form of bragging rights over the rest of them.

Compared to 2022 – While there’s some sort of amorphous feeling that this tournament is fishing tougher than the one that Buddy Gross won here in 2022, the numbers don’t necessarily bear that out. Garrett’s two-day weight of 43-15 is 3 ½ pounds more than what then-leader Gross had at the same point. At that same point, however, three other anglers had more than current runner-up Brad Whatley’s 38-13. Gross went on to win with 77-11. Garrett will need to average just under 17 pounds a day the next two days to hit that mark.

Lure on the Rise – It’s not a new or unknown soft plastic by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d guess that between JT Thompkins and Tyler Williams, the Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog has gotten more press this year than it has in the rest of its prior existence.

Happy to be Here — There’s not supposed to be any cheering in the press box, but there was nevertheless quite a bit of cheering from that direction for John Cox (19th, 29-12) today. “I want to be in his brain,” Dave Mercer said. “Life is good for John Cox.” Davy Hite, Ronnie Moore and the rest of the studio crew likewise expressed their admiration and interest. It’s a bit of the “Taku Syndrome” – fans (and press) gravitate toward anglers who seem to relish their jobs – guys like Steve Kennedy, Charlie Hartley, and of course Taku and Cox.

Speaking of Cheering – No one can be mad that Rick Clunn (22nd, 28-13) made the cut, except perhaps Clifford Pirch, who missed fishing on Sunday by a mere ounce, despite his protestations that the scale was off. It’s Clunn’s first Day Three appearance since Lake Oahe in 2022. If Clunn holds his current position it’ll be his best Elite finish since he came in 21st here at the Harris Chain in 2022.

Cut Weight Math – Yesterday the 50th place angler (Matt Arey) weighed in 12-2, which means that utilizing the traditional cut weight math of doubling that and adding a pound would’ve meant that it would require 25-04 to make it to Day Three. The field fell short of that mark. Indeed, the 23 pound cut weight was the rare occasion where doubling the first day weight and subtracting a pound still would’ve been a little bit high.

David Gaston – “I crashed and burned today.” After catching 20-3 today, he caught a little over half of that today — 11-5 — and fell from 7th to 16th, which means he has a chance to clean up the wreckage tomorrow.

M-I-C — Taku Ito (93rd, 16-9):“I will go to the real Disney World tomorrow.” He was smiling, but it probably wasn’t his preferred outcome.

K-E-Y — Cody Huff (28th, 27-1) will not be joining Ito there:“It would probably be fun with Taku, but I’m going to have to pass.” He weighed in immediately after Taku, and was projected to get to fish on Sunday, which 86ed any amusement park options. He dropped 13 spots but was still safely inside of the cut.

Bryan New (86th, 17-3) — “I need to get me one of those jobs where you can make the wrong decisions and still get paid.”

Greg Hackney (32nd, 26-6) — “Any time you’re in Florida it’s like being on vacation.”

Ed Loughran (3rd, 37-12) — “I had plans to do one thing and I ended up doing the exact opposite.”

Ben Milliken (100th, 10-9) – “I’m ready to hurt some next week.”

Kyle Welcher – “I embrace the grind.” The reigning AOY rose from 72nd to 63rd to salvage some valuable points.

Happy Gilmore Approves – Recently-crowned Bassmaster Classic champ Justin Hamner (27th, 27-8), upon collecting his big fish check from Lake Fork: “I like these giant checks. Can y’all just keep giving them to me?”