Elites chase Butcher

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — When someone stakes himself to nearly a four-pound lead during the first day of competition, his fellow anglers will typically pull out at all stops to catch up.

 Fortunately for the 107 Elite Series pros trailing Terry Butcher, they're fishing on a perfect spot to do just that.

 Lake Guntersville, a 69,000-acre fishery in northeast Alabama, is renown for presenting a multitude of angling options, whether you're strength lies in deep-water cranking, flipping or sight fishing. With that in mind, the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator figures to be a wide-open race heading into the second day of competition.

Butcher, however, put himself in good position Friday during the opening round of this tournament, which has been shortened to three days because of foul weather earlier in the week. Butcher caught a five-fish limit that tipped the scales at 26 pounds, 3 ounces, which put him well ahead of South Carolina's Jason Quinn, who sits in second place with a 22-10 total.

 Kevin VanDam is in third place with 21-4, Terry Scroggins is fourth with 21-2 and Pete Ponds is fifth with 20-7.

 Butcher, who caught an early limit on Friday, knows that no matter how well he performed, the field is on his heels.

 A comfortable position?

 "No, I'm not comfortable with it," he said. "But I'm on a couple different patterns and everything worked for me yesterday. Hopefully, it will be the same way today."

 Quinn is hoping luck will be on his side again, as well. He caught the majority of his fish on Friday working grass beds in approximately six feet of water.

 "I think fishing should be even better today," he said. "The weather is a little more stable. I'll be mixing it up."

 VanDam, who is one of the tour's premier power fishermen, is working the offshore structure that makes Guntersville such an intriguing fishery. It's one of the Michigan pro's favorite stops on tour and previous results on the lake show why.

 "It's very much like where I live at home," VanDam said. "It's got a lot of grass on it, a lot of humps, milfoil and flats. Our natural lakes are a lot like that. I grew up doing a lot of fishing like that and it's something that I'm very comfortable with here."

 Mark Tucker, who made the top 12 last year on Lake Guntersville, is currently in sixth place with 19 pounds, 12 ounces. He said it's essential to stay away from boat traffic for him to land his best fish.

 "This time of year you have to understand which fish you're going after," Tucker said. "Last year, it was spawners. This year, I'm in the same area, but I can't see them … (Because of that) you have to pay attention to where other folks are. I'm trying to fish areas where I don't see boats."

 Shaw Grigsby is in 12th place with 18-12. Since the tournament began, he's preached consistency as being key to surviving the cut to 12, which will take place after Saturday's weigh-in.

 "I still think anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds should be pretty easy," he said. "But you never know. You've got local pressure, you've got wind … You don't know what you're going to catch … I'm always shooting for a goal, a target weight. I think I need 18 pounds to stay in the cut and I'm targeting 20."

 Weigh-in is scheduled for 3 p.m. CST at the Guntersville High School football stadium. 

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