OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — After losing a 9-pound bass to start his morning, Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., kept his composure and weighed 15 pounds, 11 ounces to keep a tight grip on the lead at the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee.
Horton's three-day total was pushed to 71-14, which is more than 8 pounds ahead of second place — Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn.
Horton, who is hoping to win his fifth Bassmaster title, said it was a heartbreaking moment, and it wasn't the only big bass he lost during Saturday's competition.
"I had a perfect day on Friday, I didn't lose a single fish," Horton explained. "I knew I was bound to mess something up, and I did today. Twice. When you're in contention to win one of these tournaments, mistakes like that can cost you big time. I lost that big one early, then I dumped another 5-pounder around midday."
Horton's misfortune, while painful, didn't last long.
"I had two minutes to go and I caught a 5-13, which culled out a 13-ounce bass I had been trying to get rid of all day," he said. "I made it to check-in with one minute to spare. I'm so thankful I was able to catch that big fish late in the day. It gave me a much needed boost in confidence to start the final day, and that always helps."
Speaking of confidence, DeFoe ended the day with a total weight of 63-4, and he is sure he can do just as well, if not better, on Championship Sunday.
"I started out in the same location this morning where I have the past couple days," DeFoe said. "On Friday there was an increase in activity, but I didn't catch any big ones. Today, I caught one of the biggest fish in my limit right off the bat, and I think more fish are moving into the area."
On Thursday, DeFoe weighed the heaviest five-bass limit of the tournament so far, and he feels good about his plan for the final day of competition. But, another big limit will be required to have a shot at winning the derby.
"Anything less than 15 pounds just won't cut it," he said. "If Horton does the same as he did today, and I can find 20 pounds or better, I might have a legitimate chance. But then again, someone behind me could catch a monster bag and surprise everyone. That's the great thing about Okeechobee, a 5- to 8-pound deficit really isn't that much and a 30-pound bag could be just a few good casts away."
Another angler who made a last-minute upgrade was Cliff Prince of Palatka, Fla., who increased his three-day total weight to 62-12.
"I culled out a 13-incher with my last pitch of the day," Prince said. "I told my marshal to have a seat, buckle his life jacket that we were about to head in. I pitched my jig out, saw my line jump and I set the hook into a bass that weighed about 7 pounds."
Prince said the forecasted winds for the final day, which could be pushing 15 to 20 mph out of the north, will likely make the fishing more difficult for him.
"I've been catching my fish differently each day," he said. "And it looks like I'll be changing things up again tomorrow. All I can do is go fishing — on this lake anything can happen."
South Carolina angler Andy Montgomery weighed the heaviest bass of the day. The bass weighed 9 pounds and anchored an impressive three-day total weight 57-2, which earned him an opportunity to begin Championship Sunday in seventh place.
"I caught that fish at about 1 p.m. on the heaviest jig Strike King makes," Montgomery said. "That big one really helped. You don't catch bass like that in tournaments very often, and I'm sure thankful that I did today."
Tyler Carriere's 9-5 bass caught Thursday still maintains the lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award.
Rounding out the Top 12 are: Greg Hackney (61-2), Stephen Browning (59-13), Dean Rojas (58-2), Andy Montgomery (57-2), Fletcher Shryock (56-2), Adrian Avena (55-8), Dave Lefebre (54-7), Jason Williamson (54-5) and Bobby Lane (54-2).
The Top 12 anglers will advance to Championship Sunday and compete for the $100,000 first-place prize.
Competition will resume Sunday with takeoff at 6:45 a.m. at C. Scott Driver Park, and the final weigh-in will be held at 3:15 p.m. in the same location.
The event is hosted by the Okeechobee County Tourism.