Local rookie rules Classic

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Boyd Duckett flew under the radar when Bassmaster Classic prognosticators began hanging the "favorite" tag on select contenders.

 Not anymore.

 The Demoopolis, Ala., rookie will have a big target on his back today when he heads into the second round as the leader of the world's most famous fishing tournament on nearby Lay Lake.

 The field cuts to 25 after today with the finals on Sunday. First place prize is worth $500,000 and the event will be televised tape delay on ESPN2.

 Duckett sacked 19 pounds, 14 ounces, including a behemoth 8 pound, 2 ounce bass among his five keepers, to take the lead Friday over fellow Alabamian Randy Howell who had 17 pounds, 15 ounces. Skeet Reese, at 17-5, was the only out-of-stater (Auburn, Calif.) among the leaders, as Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., was fourth with 17-5.

 Obviously, it helps to be familiar with the 12,000-acre lake that produced 46 five-fish limits in the 50-man field.

 "Catching fish is easy out there right now," said Kalamazoo's Kevin VanDam, in 19th place with 13-1. "But it's not easy finding the big fish — the 3 to 5 pounders. That's what you need to have a chance to win."

 Warming weather has drawn the fish relatively shallow but scattered them along the banks and flats. That's been an advantage for Duckett, who has fished several local tournaments on the lake over the years.

 Lay Lake is best known for producing large "spotted bass" that flourish in the Coosa River system. Spots dominated the catch of Howell, Reese and Horton

who fished the heavy current up river.

 Many pros sought the larger growing largemouth bass in the main lake but couldn't find the big ones they needed.

 Except for Duckett.

 "Most of the guys are fishing patterns that typically work here this time of year, but I'm doing something a little different," he said. "I'm one of the few not fishing for spotted bass, and that's giving me an edge because I know what to look for."

 Hoosier on a roll

 Terry McWilliams, a BASS Federation Nation angler from Greenfield, Ind., who qualified for the classic through the bass club program, led all of the amateurs in the field with 15 pounds, 9 ounces and was anchored in seventh place overall.

 Interestingly, McWilliams gave some of the credit to his success to South Bend native Greg Mangus who helped teach him how to work a tube bait on the bottom.

 "I used to fish with Greg at Lake Wawasee and he showed me how to shake a tube along the bottom with a spinning outfit," McWilliams explained. "That's kind of what I'm doing here, except I've modified the approach a little bit."

 McWilliams fishes what he calls the "Stupid Tube," which involves a Poor Boy's Mango Magic Tube and a Bite Me Jig head. McWilliams has a unique way of putting the jig head in the tube to make it weedless so that he can work it along the rocky, brushy bottom of the Coosa River.

 "It doesn't hang up and I'm fishing it in places most of the other guys wouldn't fish it," he added.