Once teammates, now competitors

Tournament format shifts to every man for himself for a Classic berth.

BISMARCK, Ark. — So how do you think you would handle this situation: The teammate you've fished with for the past four days at DeGray Lake – two days of practice and two successful tournament days – now becomes one of your five foes for a Bassmaster Classic berth as the format shifts Friday in the Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship.

It's every man for himself now. It's the perfect scenario to create some hard feelings between good friends.

But the six anglers from the top three teams are predicting there won't be any problems at all. No way.

In fact, Brandon Gladish and Aaric Correll from Petersburg, Ind., think they might have an advantage fishing side-by-side in different boats in the area where they've caught most of their second-place team total of 23 pounds, 13 ounces the last two days.

"It's big enough for both of us," Correll said. "We've shared it with a bunch of people this week. That's when we caught 'em all today, when we had two boats within about 20 feet of us. After they left, we didn't catch anything."

Added Gladish, "We enjoyed them being there."

Gladish and Correll weighed a five-bass limit of 11-5 on Wednesday, and bettered that Thursday with another limit weighing 12-8. In a testament to how tough the fishing has been on DeGray, they were the only team in the top three that weighed a limit both days.

If you didn't realize it before, it became obvious Thursday that 16-inch-plus largemouth bass are the keys to success here. Flannagan Fife of Greers Ferry, Ark., and Royce Davis of Higden, Ark., won the team championship with 9 largemouth bass over two days totaling 26-8.

In a different way, Fife and Davis shouldn't have any personal problems with fishing territory Friday; they're fishing too many different spots, and not catching many fish, period, but definitely the right ones.

"We're grinding," Fife said. "We're running from point to point to point, throwing a shallow crankbait. We've got four main areas that we've got individual spots on.

"We've been trying to rotate them. But in the middle of our rotation, we're hitting some other places, trying to find some new stuff, just hoping you catch one somewhere."

Fife and Davis feared they were going to finish one bass short of a limit again Thursday. They had only four bites all day Wednesday, but those four largemouth weighed 13-1, good for second place on Day 1.

"Yesterday we hauled those four fish around from 11 o'clock and couldn't ever get that fifth one," Fife said. "Today we tried to get that fifth one from 10 o'clock at finally got it at 2:32 (p.m.)"

Their check-in time was 3 o'clock.

Davis estimated their biggest bass over two days probably weighed 3 ¾ pounds, but they had several in that class.

"We made a lot of adjustments, and tried a lot of different stuff," Fife said. "But we never could get another bite going. So we went back to cranking – what we've been doing – and just happened upon that last one."

It's statements like that one that make you realize all six finalists, fishing as individuals in separate boats now, have a chance at the Classic berth that will be determined Saturday.

Todd Massey of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Brandon Gray of Bullock, N.C., finished third with 9 keepers over two days totaling 23-0. They were one short of a limit Thursday. The 16-inch minimum length limit on largemouth bass has created some heartaches this week.

"We caught one on the last cast today that was 1/8th of a inch short," Massey said. "On the last cast.

"But it would have moved us up only one spot, so it didn't cost of the (team) championship.

"We've really concentrated on one area this week. But we stood on that area to the point that we don't know what's left there.

"It's going to be a shuffle (Friday). We're going to just go fishing. That's what we say when we're not sure what we're going to do. We're just going to go fishing."

So it's unlikely those teammates will have any conflicts fishing as individuals Friday.

But the truth will be revealed then. You just don't know until you experience it, whether your best friend for the last two days might get in your way Friday, when he becomes your foe.