Fairest of them all

LA CROSSE, Wis. — In the Mississippi River Rumble on Friday, a 5-pound bass was worth its weight in gold. Probably more.


“That’s the key here. I had a 5-pounder today and that makes a big difference when you’re talking about mostly 2- and 3-pounders,” said Todd Faircloth, as he took the Day 2 lead in the Bassmaster Elite Series’ sixth event of the season.


“When you catch a fish like that in an event like this, it takes all the pressure and load off you,” he added.


The Jasper, Texas, pro’s big bass was actually a 5-3. It anchored his 17-pound, 14-ounce, bag for a 32-14 total to lead the 98-angler field.


The high value of a 5-pounder in the event wasn’t lost on Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., either. Just like Faircloth, he weighed a 5-3 game-changer. Butcher built a 16-13 sack for second place with 32-2, just 12 ounces behind Faircloth.


“I was on cloud nine when she hit,” Butcher said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, don’t be a pike.’ She was wadded up in grass, and I just grabbed everything and got it in the boat.”


Faircloth and Butcher led Friday’s leaderboard shuffle. Faircloth popped up from eighth place, Butcher from a tie at sixth place. Jamie Horton of Centreville, Ala., moved from a tie at 39th place into third with 31-10, thanks to the day’s largest bag, 18-4.


Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., slipped from second into fourth with 31-2. Four-time Bassmaster Classic champ Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., also had 31-2, but took fifth place after a tie-breaker was applied.


Faircloth said he returned to the same spots he fished on Thursday, but ventured out further, where he found his quality bites. He said he’s using a variety of baits.


“My smallest was 2 3/4, so I had some solid fish to go with the 5-3,” he said. “I’m not catching a bunch of fish there, but the potential is there to catch big ones.”


Water level had Faircloth concerned about Saturday. Fluctuating water levels might help him in one spot, but hurt him in another, he said. One of his key areas is already very shallow.


“I have plenty of water to fish. I’m not going to be scratching my head about where to go next,” he said.


Butcher said Friday started much faster than did Thursday for him. He had a limit early, including the 5-3, which took his bait on the first cast he made to one of his best spots.


“That kind of put me at ease, because I had a decent bag pretty quick,” he said. “Then I was able to comb the area and I found a couple other deals that will help me out in the long run.”


Butcher said he is locking out of Pool 8, the starting point. The time needed to lock through is only about 10 minutes, but he said, but he still needs to watch the clock so he doesn’t get caught on the wrong side of the lock.


The pair of 5-3’s shared honors as the top candidates for the Carhartt Big Bass award of the tournament, worth up to $1,500.


First prize in the Rumble is $100,000 and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. The pros also are fighting for points to earn a qualification for the 2013 Classic. Those near the top of the points standings are in contention for a postseason entry and the 2012 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.


The Rumble will continue through Sunday at Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse. Takeoff is set for 6:15 a.m., and weigh-ins will begin at 3:15 p.m. The Bassmaster Elite Series Family Festival will open at noon on Saturday and Sunday.


All Bassmaster fan activities are free and open to the public.


Bassmaster.com will provide extensive daily coverage, including daily streaming of the weigh-ins as they happen, real-time leaderboards, photo galleries, results and standings. Saturday and Sunday, the Bassmaster Elite Series War Room will present updates from BASSTrakk, a catch reporting system relayed from the water, plus in-depth interviews and analysis. Hooked Up! segments will be presented Saturday and Sunday. Access is free to all Bassmaster.com pages and features.


The local host is the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.ExploreLaCrosse.com).

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