Last chance for the Classic

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This last Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open of the season needs a nickname.

It could be the "Crippled Deer Hunter Open." Cliff Pace will compete on Lake Norman this week. It's his first B.A.S.S. tournament since his tragic fall from a deer stand last winter, which kept him from defending his 2013 Bassmaster Classic title.

And Gerald Swindle is here, after miraculously surviving a 22-foot fall from a deer stand a couple of weeks ago.

Both anglers/hunters are still feeling the pain.

"My leg still hurts," said Pace at Wednesday's anglers' meeting. "I'm still wearing a brace when I fish. I tried to practice without one, and I couldn't walk the next day."

(More on Swindle's fall later this week. It's quite a story, as it usually is with Swindle.)

Or it could be called the "Cliff Prince Do-Or-Die Derby." Prince hasn't fished the previous two Southern Opens, which you have to do in order to earn an automatic berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic with a victory.

But if Prince were to win here, he would earn just that — a Classic berth. That's because Prince is currently the "bubble boy" for a Classic spot based on the Elite Series standings.

Yes, it's complicated, but it boils down to this: If whoever wins this tournament has competed in the previous two Southern Opens and hasn't already qualified for the Classic, he will knock Prince off the bubble and out of the Classic.

Prince could solve his problems by winning, and thus keep another potential Classic qualifier from knocking him out.

But there are lots of other guys who could do the same thing for Prince by winning this event.

"I think there are probably a double handful of guys that would help me if they won," said Prince of the approximately 145 pro anglers in the field. "I've never been in a situation like this, not of this magnitude."

Or it could be nicknamed the Carl Jocumsen "To Catch A Thief" Special. As you probably know by now, the 30-year-old Jocumsen earlier this season earned an Elite Series invitation for next season — the first Australian to do so — by finishing third in the Central Open point standings.

This was going to be his week to fish pressure-free, before thieves ruined his mood and seriously complicated his life when they broke into his truck while he was stopped in Atlanta during the trip to Lake Norman.

Jocumsen now has a nightmare scenario of visa and passport problems to take care of. He could use the first-place prize more than anyone else in the field, just to get him back where he was before Jocumsen traveled to Lake Norman.

Ultimately, this might be called "The Turnover Tournament," as it will affect every angler in the field. It's an annual event at every lake, when cool fall temperatures begin the process of mixing the warm- and cold-water layers that have stratified over the summer.

It's going on here in a big way this week.

"Black water," is the term many anglers are using to describe areas where the turnover effect is in full swing. Turnover causes bass, and every other fish species, to roam in search of more highly-oxygenated water. In other words, if you catch 'em one day on Lake Norman, they might not be in the same place the next day.

Last, but certainly not least, are the Bassmaster Elite Series invitations that will be decided in the Southern Open Series. The top five in the standings after the three Southern Opens qualify for the 2015 Elite Series.

For example, Matt Lee of Auburn, Ala., is currently sixth in those standings, and he'd like to follow his brother, Jordan, to the Elite Series. Jordan finished second in the Southern Open point standings this season.

The consensus is that it may take only 13 pounds a day to win this tournament. Lake Norman has an abundance of spotted bass, but it will probably take a largemouth or two to separate yourself from the field.

And those haven't been easy to find, apparently.

No matter what you care to nickname it, the three-day Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman feels like one of these Major League Baseball Wildcard Playoff games. It's not quite win-or-go home, but it's awfully close.


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