Game Day

ANDERSON, S.C. — Jeff Kriet is anything but confident going into the final day of the Bassmaster Classic. And that's in spite of moving from 23rd place Friday into fifth place Saturday, less than five pounds out of the lead at Lake Hartwell.

First of all, the weather threw the anglers another change-up. After 30-degree rain Friday, followed by sunshine and hitting 60 on Saturday, it was in the 30s again Sunday morning with overcast skies with little wind and an expected high of 53 degrees.

Second, all the bass caught this week, no matter what the weather, have been hard-earned.

"These fish are really finicky," said Kriet, who is fishing his fifth Classic. "These fish are the hardest fish to catch that I've ever seen. I think it's typical of all blueback [herring] lakes.

"You're about an inch from disaster and about an inch from being a hero."

In fact, two such moments probably separate first and fifth place. Alton Jones leads the tournament with 36 pounds even. Jones was able to catch a 4 1/4-pound bass Saturday, after it wrapped his line around a tree. It's his biggest fish of the tournament.

"I had that fish on for at least two or three minutes," Jones said. "That's the kind of fish you should lose, and I didn't. I was amazed."

Kriet, on the other hand, experienced a moment of disaster in his otherwise heroic move up the leaderboard Saturday.

"I had one about 6 1/2 pounds I lost," Kriet said. "He came up and jumped, then jumped again and he just came off."

It's those moments that will separate the winner from the losers today. And it should be understood that even the second-place finisher in the race for the $500,000 first-place check will feel like a loser. "Swing for the fences," and "there's no use fishing for second place," have been the prevailing mottos this week.

But it's also important to understand there's more than just luck in some of those hero and disaster moments. For instance, off-season preparation played a big role in Jones pulling that bass from a tree Saturday.

"I spent a lot of time in the off-season down at Lake Falcon," said Jones, who lives in Waco, Texas. "I've had more big fish hung up in trees than ever before. It's a way of life down there.

"I learned to just let them unwrap themselves, and a lot of times you'll catch them."

Jones may have an advantage today. Each of the previous two days, he's caught a big five-bass limit — 17-5, then 18-11 — by 10:30 a.m., then gone searching for new places with the kind of deep structure he's keying on.

"I've been saying all week that the one thing missing from my bag is the 5- or 6-pounder," Jones said. "I never saw a bite like that in practice, and I haven't seen it yet. I kind of feel like I'm due.

"And from talking to some of my fellow competitors, a lot of those big bites are coming in the afternoon. Today is the first day I'm going to be able to hunker down and see if there's a good bite in the afternoon, too."

Charlie Hartley, who is fishing in his first Classic, is known for being "Hyper Charlie," as he puts it. Hartley caught 21-1 to lead on Day One, then fell into second, 1-3 behind Jones, on Day Two. Even Hyper Charlie crashed last night.

"I just happened to put that beautiful [ESPN2 Bassmaster coverage] TV show on at 10 o'clock last night," Hartley said. "And the next thing I know it's midnight.

"I've never fallen asleep during a fishing show, let alone one with me in it, and I did. I'm pooped, and I never thought Hyper Charlie could be tired."

Hartley, 43, had his blood pumping again Sunday morning.

"I'm feeling every heartbeat," he said. "This is what it's all about."

Jones noted that if he wins today, Hartley, Cliff Pace (second place), Kevin VanDam (third), Kriet and Mike Iaconelli (sixth) will make him earn it. Iaconelli, who won the 2003 Classic, echoed that thought.

"There's lots of 5-, 6- and 7-pounders in this lake," Iaconelli said. "Somebody in this field will catch 'em. This isn't Pittsburgh."

Iaconelli was referring to the 2005 Classic at Pittsburg, which VanDam won with a record low weight of 12-15 for the three-day tournament.

No, this isn't Pittsburg. But on some days for some anglers, it might as well be.

Or, as Kriet puts it, "It's pretty easy not to catch 'em here."