Elite Analysis Day 2 – Wheeler Lake

Get an in-depth analysis of Day 2 of the Whataburger Elite at Wheeler Lake.

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, but Cliff Prince certainly hopes his career ends up resembling that Classic fable. He’s leading at Wheeler after Day 2, with two more days of competition left to go.

This is his one hundred forty fifth Bassmaster tournament and he’s yet to hoist the winner’s trophy. The closest he came was back in 2009, when he finished 2nd in an Open. In Elite competition, he’s finished 3rd once, 4th three times and 5th twice. Those earned him good points and decent checks, but not the brass ring.

Of course, he’s in good company. Two-time Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle won an Open in 2011, but has been the bridesmaid eight times at B.A.S.S. – three of them in Elite competition – without hoisting the blue trophy. Prince’s friend Bernie Schultz has put together a remarkable four decade career in professional fishing, and still has ample coverage to justify wearing a visor, but he too has fallen just short. Like Prince, he’s led Elite events before, but hasn’t been able to quite close the deal.

Meanwhile, those longtime stalwarts of the bass wars have to watch newcomers enter the scene and make it look easy. There’s Justin Hamner (2nd place, 37-3), less than 2 pounds behind Prince, who seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate this year’s Classic. Three spots down the list sits John Garrett (5th, 33-13), who won the third Elite event he ever fished. Rounding out the Top 10 is Jay Przekurat (10th, 31-9), who hoisted a blue trophy before he needed to shave every day.

It’s not necessarily fair, but in the end it’s what you put on the scales that matters, the paying of dues be damned.

Today the longtime buzzword “grind” once again got a workout, and in that spirit I’m going to quote an overused tournament fishing cliche: “When it’s your time, it’s your time.” If everything goes according to the long-gestating plan, on Sunday the Prince will become a King.

Here’s what I thought, saw and heard from my air-conditioned bunker as 99 dudes sweated it out on Wheeler:

Old School — On a day when the tournament computer overheated, I was reminded that in the pre-computer days, B.A.S.S. used to have a giant whiteboard on the premises with all of the competitors’ names listed, and someone would write their daily weights with a magic marker.

Big Bags – Yesterday there was one 20-pound-plus bag, the 22-2 that John Cox (3rd, 34-13) collected. Today there were two – 20-8 from Justin Hamner (2nd place, 37-3) and 20-7 from Cliff Prince (1st, 39-11). Prince is the only angler to top 17 pounds both days.

Rookie Roundup – Six of ten first-year pros made the cut to Saturday, with John Garrett (5th, 33-13) and Wesley Gore (8th, 32-11) sitting inside the Top 10. If they can hold those positions, it’ll be Garrett’s third Elite Series Top 10 and Gore’s second.

Sweet Home Alabama – Ten of 14 Alabama pros made the cut. Two Alabama pros are in the Top 10, four are in the top 20, and three are in the bottom 15.

What’s the Cut? – The Day 1 cut weight was 12-10. The weight required to make it to Sunday fell beneath expectations at 24-2, which is over a pound less than double.

Redwine’s Best? – This is Alex Redwine’s (7th, 33-3) 34th Bassmaster event. Prior to Wheeler, his best was 6th place last year at Champlain, his sole Top 10. He’ll need to move up two spots to beat that. His best finish this year so far has been 11th at the St. Johns.

Justin Time – Justin Hamner’s Classic win was no surprise, as he led from wire-to-wire, but he’s been remarkably sneaky about the AOY race and seems poised to make a move at the turn in the schedule. Amidst Trey McKinney’s heroics, the Johnston brothers’ consistency, and the Patrick Walters/Jordan Lee predictions from pundits like me, Hamner’s surgical efforts have largely flown under the radar – the Classic notwithstanding. Nevertheless, despite a brief 55th place detour at the St. Johns, he’s never otherwise been out of the top 26, and that trend looks likely to continue here at Wheeler. Obviously it’s too early to predict accurately, or reliably, but a Classic and AOY title in the same year would propel him from relative unknown to a rare echelon of competitors in the course of just about six months.

The Cox Report – Compared to the Decatur Flats and other main lake areas, it looked like John Cox was competing not just on a totally different body of water, but in a completely different hemisphere. “He’s fishing in the Amazon now,” Thom Abraham reported. Later we heard gunfire in the background – it turned out he was not far from a shooting range (and apparently not in the line of fire) but no one will be surprised if he someday takes his Crestliner far enough up a tributary to end up in some sort of border dispute or war zone. I hope the local warlords take MaxScent Generals as bribes.

Rick Clunn (69th, 20-14) on why he typically doesn’t discuss his sponsors on stage – “Most of you can read.”

Bryan Schmitt – “We overcomplicate things.” Yesterday he mixed it up and weighed in five bass for 5-14. Today he pared the arsenal down to little more than a Hayabusa Swim Jig with a Missile Baits trailer and added 13-13, moving from 96th up to 76th.

Ben Milliken — “It’s one of those days, driving into the boat ramp, you’ve got a lump in your throat, you want to throw up.” He weighed in a limit for 7-8, and fell from 42nd to 72nd.

Heat-Addled Tyler Rivet (59th, 23-10) — “We’re gonna go drink some food.”

Luke Palmer (87th, 17-6) — “It was very trying. I guess you’d say it that way.”

Brad Whatley (28th, 28-0) – “I like grinders.” He had back-to-back top tens at the Harris Chain and St. Johns before finishing 92nd at Murray. He’ll need to move up 18 spots to earn his third top ten in a season for the first time in his career. That’s a lot of real estate to gain, but he’s only about 3 ½ pounds back.

Brandon Palaniuk (22nd, 28-14) – “I’ve got the Cut Ice Cream hat on today and it paid off.” He’d uncharacteristically missed two of the prior three cuts, finishing 53rd at Murray and 94th at the Harris Chain.

Did You Know? – The Minnesota twins have a relief pitcher named Cole Sands. His namesake caught 16-3 today to move from 29th place to 12th.

Davy Hite on Weekend Boating Strategies – “If you see a pontoon that says on the side, ‘Pontoon Rentals,’ steer clear my friend. Steer clear.”

Self-Described “Bulbous Canadian” Dave Mercer on his Whataburger dinner choice — “Today it’s a little toasty for the patty melt. I think I’d go straight cheeseburger.”