ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — No matter what level of tournament you’re fishing, things are always better when your equipment works right.
It certainly made a difference for John Davis and Payton McGinnis on Lake Martin Friday.
The team from the University of Alabama suffered a 2-pound penalty Thursday for being late to the weigh-in because of a dead cranking battery and finished in 140th place with only 6 pounds, 2 ounces. But on Friday, everything worked right and they brought 19-8 to the scales to rocket into the lead at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops.
Their two-day weight of 25-10 placed them just ahead of three other in-state teams at the top of the standings. Luis McMurphy and M.J. Vihnanek (South Alabama) are second with 24-4, followed by Ryan Hayse and Jake Staley (North Alabama) with 23- 8 and Cole Burdeshaw and Travis Culbreth (Auburn) with 23-2.
“Today was definitely a different day than yesterday,” Davis said. “We didn’t have any equipment trouble like we did yesterday, and we ran to a different part of the lake that we had found in practice. For whatever reason, the big ones just showed up in there today.”
The 214-boat field awoke to temperatures in the high 20s this morning, and many of the leaders from Day 1 found the fishing much tougher. But Davis said it was last week’s unseasonably warm weather that could have actually made the difference for them.
“I think the warm weather leading into this cold front might have put them in the right place for us,” he said. “I don’t know if we can catch another 19 1/2-pound bag tomorrow, but I think we can go back and catch some more good fish.”
McMurphy and Vihnanek also made a big move Friday, but it had nothing to do with equipment issues.
After placing 130th on Day 1 with only 6-9, the University of South Alabama (USA) pair decided to abandon their strategy of fishing for spotted bass and keyed exclusively on largemouth. The decision led to a five-bass limit that weighed 17-11 and pushed their two-day weight to 24-4.
“We sat down last night and put something together, and we were able to pull it off today,” McMurphy said. “We were catching a bunch of 3-pounders during practice, and we figured we could go out and do that when the tournament started. But it didn’t pay off.
“We made a change today, and we had our weight by about 12:30.”
The USA seniors said they had one spot that paid off for much of the day Friday.
“We stayed in one creek for a long time, and it finally slowed down a little bit,” McMurphy said. “So we moved to another creek to let that spot rest. When we went back there, the fish were back.
“My partner missed a 3 1/2-pounder, and I threw right back in there and he ate it.”
Hayse and Staley were in 102nd place after Thursday’s first round with only 7-6 — and they didn’t exactly get off to a fast start on today. But they managed to put their first keeper in the boat around8:30, and then things got exciting.
“It was really cold this morning, and it started slow for us,” said Hayse, who often fishes Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River. “I think the fish are kind of moving up on the rocks once the sun gets up. So we just went out and fished like we fish on the Tennessee River.”
The University of North Alabama team’s two-day weight of 23-8 placed them 6 ounces ahead of Burdeshaw and Culbreth — an Auburn University pair that has been one of the more consistent teams in the event.
After catching 11-8 Thursday, Burdeshaw and Culbreth managed 11-10 Friday for a two-day mark of 23-2.
“Consistency is the name of the game on this lake,” Burdeshaw said. “I honestly don’t know if largemouth can hold up on this lake for a three-day tournament. All of our pre-fishing and all of our practice has been for spotted bass.
“We feel like we can consistently catch 10 or 11 pounds of spots, and that’s what we’ll try to do again tomorrow.”
The Top 26 teams will advance to Saturday’s final round, with take-off scheduled for 6:30 a.m. CTat Wind Creek State Park. The weigh-in will be held at 3:30 p.m. at Central Alabama Community College.