KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Florida bass are fickle. Just ask Daniel Lanier. Yesterday, he was the King of the Kissimmee Chain. Today, Rich Howes of nearby Oviedo took the throne. He leads 198 professionals with 32 pounds, 8 ounces going into the final round of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. For Saturday, the field will be cut top 12 professionals and top 12 co-anglers.
Howes rode a limit catch of five bass weighing 20-2 to grab the lead. He ended Day 1 in 29th place with 12-6 and credited “better execution” for his success. “I lost an 8-pounder yesterday,” he said. Today he fished “clean,” making few errors and losing no key fish.
“I’m flipping and pitching isolated cover with soft plastics,” Howes said. “Most of my fish are coming from 5 to 7 feet deep.”
Howes believes the prognosis for the final round is good. “I only made one pass through my key area today, so I think I have a real chance at another 20 pounds.” His catch today was the only one that eclipsed 20 pounds.
If Howes stumbles, virtually all of the other 11 pro anglers competing on Saturday are within striking distance. Two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and former Open champion Tracy Adams of North Carolina is just 14 ounces back with 31-10. Brandon Lester is third with 31-9. The 12th place angler — Bradley Jones of Georgia — has 27-4 and is just 5-4 off the lead.
Yesterday’s leader, Lanier, fell to sixth after weighing in two small bass for 2-11; after two days, he has 30-6. “Mother Nature messed me up,” he said. “It got cold, and I wanted to fish shallow. The water temperature dropped 10 degrees in my area. I went there for an hour and didn’t do anything, so I left. I thought I could go somewhere else and catch five and hang onto the lead. It didn’t happen. I won’t make that mistake again in the finals.”
Two Elite pros — David Walker and Derek Remitz — qualified for the finals in fifth and seventh place, respectively. Walker, for one, thinks he can move up. He caught a giant in practice that weighed well over 10 pounds.
“I had a limit (5 bass) with four good fish today for 17-2,” he said. “Usually, you need an 8 or 9 pounder to have a good day here, and I didn’t get it today. If I can get that bite tomorrow and have several other good ones, I’ll be in business.”
Remitz found the bass a little more lethargic today than on Day 1. “They were less aggressive and not eating the bait as well,” he explained. “I think I missed my first five bites. Then I let them have the bait a little longer before setting the hook and I was able to catch them.”
The biggest bass of Day 2 weighed 8-12 and was caught by Bob Grosso of Odessa, Fla. the top co-angler heading into the finals is Brian Kelly of Liverpool, N.Y. with 22-9.
The pro angler winner will earn $10,000 plus a Skeeter boat and Yamaha motor combo. Also at stake are critical points toward a spot in the Bassmaster Elite Series and a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic for a champion who competes in all three Southern Opens this season.