KISSIMMEE, Fla. — It always pays to have friends: Someone to watch your back. Even a smiling face after a rough day. But during the Day Three of the Sunshine Showdown, presented by Allstate Boat Insurance, having friends for Brent Chapman and Ben Matsubu could spell the tournament title and its $100,000 payday.
Looking to claim his first Elite Series win, Chapman held onto the top spot again on Day Three with a 12-pound, 9-ounce day and 42-3 total pounds for the tournament.
Ben Matsubu returned to form after Saturday's action as well, with a 17-8 pound stringer boosting him into second place. Glenn DeLong now sits in third place with a 12-3 day, while Day One leader Bill Smith, Jr., slipped a few spots to the fourth spot. Rounding out the top Five was Bradley Hallmanm who now finds himself in fifth place after a 13-2 Day Three.
"I really owe everything here to Alton Jones," Chapman said from the stage Saturday. Chapman explained how he and Jones had shared some general notes all week long, and how it had paid off when both men identified one particular hole.
"It turned out to be an incredible spot," Chapman said.
Even though the Kansas native found the fishing there a bit disappointing on Day Three, it was enough to do the trick and he intends to return there early on Sunday.
Jones, who was fishing in the same general area, yielded to Chapman on Day Two once Jones had captured his goal of making the top 50 cut — a move which now qualifies him for the Bassmaster Classic in February. Jones, with just 2-8 on Day Three, admires Chapman for being a straight shooter, a rarity among the highly competitive Elite Series field.
"There are not many anglers out here that you can truly believe everything that they say," Jones said. "But with Brent, you can."
Jones, who failed to make the top 12, hopes to stay and root for Chapman on the tournament's final day.
Friendship and sportsmanship was also on display at another spot on the lake during Day Three which could mean the title for another Elite Series pro. Ben Matsubu and Takahiro Omori held a few general discussions on strategy and technique during practice earlier in the week. By the first day of the tournament, the two anglers found themselves sharing the same water at a spot full of heavy, hungry bass.
On Day Two, Matsubu "gave it away to Takahiro so he could make the Classic," Matsubu said. The angler who now makes his home in Texas prides himself on those unwritten rules followed by so many professional anglers. The favor was returned on Day Three, when Omori watched Matsubu crank and Carolina-rig himself into top 12 contention. Hooking into fish heavy enough to cement second place going into Sunday, Matsubu bettered the third place position he held after the first day.
But sometimes an angler prefers to be alone.
During this tournament, the loner has been Glenn DeLong. And he's absolutely fine with that. Isolated in a spot only one local angler has managed to stumble upon, DeLong needed no friends to re-qualify for next year's Elite Series season with a top five berth at Lake Toho. But DeLong says his work's not done quite yet.
"The fish in my hole moved out into a little deeper water," DeLong said. "There's really no pressure on the fish there and if I can get just five bites tomorrow, I should have a chance to win this thing."
Day Three wasn't as friendly for Bill Smith, Jr. In fact, it was downright cruel. With just 6-10 pounds, he slipped to fourth place, finding the fish even more finicky during his day on the water.
But perhaps the most evil blow came when Smith returned to the docks.
As he was transferring his limit of five fish into the weigh-in bag, a bass weighing close to two pounds jumped out, hit the deck — and flopped into the water.
Aside from that unlucky event at the docks, the fishing overall was tougher for Smith.
"There was no bite flipping at all and the topwater activity really dried up for me," Smith said. "But I know I've got to keep reeling that blue Roumba back in slowly, and that should be the key for me tomorrow." The wakebait mimics an injured bluegill, which Smith says are abundant on the hydrilla beds and shell shoals where he has been fishing.
Bradley Hallman likes his chances, too, after he found Day Three success.
"I was just going to get my check and get out of here tomorrow," Hallman said since he had planned on leaving Sunday for an OPEN tournament on Lake Amistad. But the fishing was good for Hallman, and he now remains encouraged with his chances to win outright.
"I had more opportunities today for an even bigger bag," Hallman said. "Now, that I'm just 6 pounds or so out of the lead, that's incredible. It's just one fish in this lake."
Other big movers on Day Three were James Niggemeyer, who caught the biggest stringer of the day at 19-1. He moved to 8th place to fish on Sunday. Scott Rook also took care of business, seizing the early morning bite which has rewarded him all week and moving into sixth position. Aaron Martens also slid into the last spot with an impressive 14-10 Day Three bag.
"I wish I could have fished this whole tournament like the way I fished it on the first day," Martens said. "But after the second day, my second spot was where it was at. And they're still there."
Now 12 pounds separates the leader, Chapman, from Martens, who is sitting in 12th place. With a 20-pound stringer seen on the tournament's first day and Day Three's 19-1, Sunday's final action could provide more shake-up than a bass trying to spit a lure.