DECATUR, Ala. — Terry Scroggins has a 3-pound, 15-ounce lead over Jeremy Starks going into Day Three of the Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts. And that lead could be bigger after today's weigh-in at Wheeler Lake.
But no matter what the deficit, Starks will remain confident that he can win the $100,000 first prize on Sunday. That's because Starks, in a highly-disciplined approach to fish management, isn't going to mine his sweet spot until Sunday.
Counting practice, Starks has caught 12 fish from this area, including three 5-pounders and a 7-pounder. During the two previous days of competition, Starks estimates he's made only 20 casts into the area — and those 20 casts have produced 36-11. The rest of the time, he's simply guarded his spot to make sure no one else fishes it.
"I feel like I can catch a 30-pound bag, if I can sit there and grind on it," Starks said Saturday morning.
"I don't care if I catch five that weigh 12 pounds, I'm not going to fish it anymore (today). I'm going to save it. If they stay, I'll find out tomorrow what it's got."
Saturday will be a long, hot one for all the 50 semifinalists left in this original 107-man field. The forecast is for a high of 94 degrees. The record high for June 7 in Decatur, Ala., set in 1953, is 96 degrees. A southerly breeze of 5 to 10 miles per hour is predicted, but the American flag was limp during the national anthem prior to today's 6 a.m. takeoff at Ingalls Harbor.
But the day promises to be especially hot for Starks and Scroggins, who aren't planning any long boat runs at 70 miles per hour to cool them off. The temperatures and the competition promises to be white hot on Wheeler Lake today.
Scroggins has accumulated most of his tournament-leading total of 40-10 off one spot, just like Starks. But Scroggins has shared his water with Kevin Wirth the last two days.
"I didn't say anything to him yesterday because I felt like he had the right to be there," Scroggins said. "He was there the first day. He left and I came in and caught what I caught (a tournament-leading Berkely Heavyweight bag of 22-3). He was trying to get a $10,000 check (for making the top 50) and I respect that.
"But I'm trying to win an event, too. It makes it tough when two of us are in there. I said I'd appreciate it if he'd give it to me (today). He said, 'Well, I don't have anywhere else to go.' I hope he doesn't show up this morning."
Wirth jumped from 60th place Thursday to 38th place Friday with a 13-3 five-bass limit. With a total of 23-10, he has some hope of moving into the top 12 for Sunday's final. The 12th spot in the standings after two days is shared by Kotaro Kiriyama and Jason Williamson with 29-2.
It will be interesting to see how that scenario between Scroggins and Wirth plays out today, especially as Scroggins estimated they have already caught 150 bass from the area, and the fishing has gotten noticeably tougher there.
"I feel like if I go in there today and catch them pretty good, I'll have a good shot (of winning on Sunday)," said Scroggins, a San Mateo, Fla., resident who has won over $1 million on the BASS tour, but never won an Elite Series event.
No one, however, knows what Starks is capable of plucking from his sweet spot, including Starks. And he's determined not to find out today.
"Today, I'm going to do it a little differently," said the 35-year-old Charleston, W.V., pro. "I'm going to start downstream, because I've caught some fish just playing around the perimeter of it. I'm going to try to work that and see if I can catch a limit without fishing it at all."
Starks was able to survive a four-hour vomiting session Thursday and bring 17 pounds to the weigh-in scales. He'd already caught his fish when suspected food poisoning took him to his knees.
"It was rough," Starks said.
But he was determined to guard that spot so nobody else would fish it.
"I found a (mussel) shell bed (during practice) on a Rattle Trap," Starks said. "Every time I threw in there, I'd get a wad of shell on it.
"I picked up a worm and it didn't ever hit the bottom. I threw back in there and it was the same thing. When you throw in there, every fish I've caught is running with it. They aren't sitting there holding it."
That's what makes Starks think the area is holding a big bunch of big bass. There is competition to eat the lure on every cast Starks has made into the area, even though that's been less than two dozen casts this week, counting practice.
"Half the fish I've caught have been hooked deep," he said. "They are just eating it so hard.
"Whether they leave (the area) or not, I don't know."
And no one will find that out until Sunday.
If Starks' and Scroggins' sweet spots fail to hold up, there is a crowd waiting to fill the gap, led by Shaw Grigsby (35-8) and Kevin VanDam (35-6).
Today's weigh-in begins at 4 p.m. ET at Ingalls Harbor.