OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Shaye Baker's 27th birthday party, which started Tuesday, has continued through Day Two. The youngster from Tallassee, Ala., added another one pound-plus to his Day One lead in the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card Tournament presented by Star Tron.
As any seasoned expert knows, with partying comes sleepless nights, and Baker will endure yet another sleepless night while camping in the back of his pickup truck. This time, a little less celebrating and a little more strategizing.
With a five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 6 ounces Friday, Baker has a 5-pound, 13-ounce lead over second place Chad Morgenthaler going into Saturday's finale.
"The pressure is on now," Baker said. "My main area has been beat to death. That's frustrating, but it's just how Okeechobee fishes."
No one came close to matching Baker's bag of 29-8 on Day One, when five other anglers had over 20 pounds. Only two men hit the 20-pound mark Friday, with Derek Remitz's 23-8 being the big bag of the day.
Arnie Lane matched Baker's big bass on Day One of 9-1, which helped him total 20-10 on Friday and make the top 12 cut in ninth place with 35-5.
It's bass like that one that will keep Baker awake all night. He's less than 24 hours away from reaching a lifetime goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic. But the number of 10-pounders in Lake Okeechobee makes any lead feel like it's not enough.
"It's possible to catch two 10-pounders on two casts," said Remitz, who was in 23rd place before jumping to eighth on Day Two. "This is definitely the No. 1 lake for doing that because of the amount of big fish here. That's why you're never out of it."
But realistically, only the top four Friday have a chance to win the wild card berth Saturday. Obviously, Baker has the best shot with his 5-13 lead over Mogenthaler. Jesse Tacoronte is third – 8-15 behind Baker – and Russ Lane is fourth – 9-8 out of the lead. The rest of Saturday's top 12 is at least 12 pounds behind Baker.
Baker has only two main areas he's fishing, including the one that's "been beat to death." But that can be an advantage on Okeechobee.
"If you've got 10 spots, you'll drive yourself crazy," Baker said. "The bite is so timing sensitive. You've got to hope you're in the right place when they start biting."
Lane, the older brother of Elite Series anglers Bobby and Chris, was a prime example of that Friday, when he worked one small patch of aquatic vegetation all day long.
Tacoronte, of Orlando, Fla., was one of the anglers that helped beat Baker's main area to death. He'll be back there Saturday.
"There were other guys there, but Shaye and I were the only ones catching fish," Tacoronte said.
The overall bag sizes were down Friday in the 49-angler field. Saturday is predicted to be a copy of the previous two days – a high temperature in the mid 80s with a slight breeze from the southeast at 5 to 10 miles per hour. Those conditions have sent more and more bass moving shallow every day.
"I caught 60 yesterday, and I bet I caught 100 bass today," said Greg Hackney, who is in seventh place, 12-5 behind Baker. "I just never had a big bite. Sometimes I was catching them as fast as I could get a bait in the water."
It's stories like that one that will keep Baker's eyes open wide all night. No lead is safe on Lake Okeechobee, especially when the bass are moving shallow and eating everything in sight.