CHARLES COUNTY, Md. — The heat is rising and his magical dock seems to be cooling off a little.
But despite catching only 12 pounds, 15 ounces during Saturday’s semifinal round, Alabama pro Justin Lucas is in position for a wire-to-wire win at the Bassmaster Elite at Potomac River presented by Econo Lodge.
Lucas’ Saturday catch — easily his smallest of the week — pushed his three-day total to 53-1. He will enter Championship Sunday with a lead of almost 6 pounds over Indiana pro Bill Lowen (47-3).
Both anglers were covered with sweat backstage after Saturday’s weigh-in, with the heat index rising above 112 degrees.
“I had 10 pounds for a long time today,” Lucas said. “I don’t know why things slowed down the way they did. But I’m very fortunate to be where I am with this kind of lead.
“This all started from Day 1 of the tournament. I had no idea what lived under that dock — never even had a bite there in practice.”
A California native, Lucas has been using the kind of finesse tactics that West Coast anglers are known for. He’s caught a couple of fish on a stickbait and a couple on a swim jig, but the majority have been caught on spinning tackle with a drop shot rig.
He’s fishing one back-channel dock on the upper end of the river. He said it’s 5 to 8 feet deep on the end, and aquatic grass grows right up to the edge of the dock. But because the dock is so low to the water, it creates enough shade to keep grass from growing under the dock.
“There’s a grassline right against the dock,” Lucas said. “There are old pilings all around there. Then there’s shade and current.”
The idea of pulling big bass from under docks on light spinning tackle would make some anglers nervous. But Lucas said he’s really only had one tense moment all week.
“The first morning, the second one I hooked was a 3 1/2-pounder, and I had it wrapped around one of the pilings for five minutes,” Lucas said. “I could still feel it pulling, and it finally just wedged its way out.”
Then Lucas learned the key to landing fish around the dock.
“Once I could see that there were these crossbars under the water, I never had another problem,” he said. “That second fish, I didn’t even know what I was throwing to. I was just throwing under the dock, and I just happened to throw over one of the crossbars.”
The dock surrendered 20-4 on Thursday and 19-14 on Friday. Despite the drop-off to 12-15 on today, Lucas said he still considers the spot the best he’s ever found during a tournament.
“It’s really the only time in my life that I’ve ever stumbled onto a hole like this where there were so many fish in one stretch — and I’ve had it to myself,” Lucas said. “These are the best locals I’ve ever seen. They’re keeping their distance — just really, really good guys.”
With nearly a 6-pound lead over Lowen, Lucas believes he needs to catch at least 12 pounds Sunday to secure the win.
Despite fishing what he described as the “hottest conditions he’s ever fished,” Lowen brought 16-0 to the scales Saturday to push his three-day total to 47-3. As usual, he’s fishing super shallow in a small canal that he said is “narrow enough to flip both sides.”
“It’s fun — I mean it is, but isn’t,” Lowen said of the heat. “I’m in a little tiny creek. I had about five bites in there in practice, and that was the best spot I had.
“I don’t know how many fish are left in there. I really don’t understand how there have been this many in there all week.”
The other anglers who qualified for Sunday’s Top 12 include: Brent Ehrler (45-9), Jason Christie (45-6), Keith Combs (45-1), Clifford Pirch (44-10), Andy Montgomery (44-7), Gerald Swindle (42-6), Brett Hite (41-13), Jordan Lee (41-11), Fred Roumbanis (41-8) and Randall Tharp (41-6).
Pirch took over the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass with a largemouth that weighed 6-11. Swindle maintained a comfortable lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Sunday’s take-off will be at 6:15 a.m. ET from Smallwood State Park, and weigh-in will be at 3 p.m. at Indian Head Pavilion on the Village Green.