COLUMBIANA, Ala. — Keith Carson’s positive attitude was put to the test Friday, but perseverance paid big dividends as the Florida angler took the Day 2 lead in the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lay Lake with 35 pounds, 4 ounces.
After placing second on Thursday with a limit of 16-10, Carson added 18-10 Friday — the tournament’s heaviest catch. He anchored his Day 2 limit with a big 7-3 largemouth.
Making his first appearance at Lay Lake, Carson followed his Day 1 performance by saying he would enter Friday’s second round focused on enjoying the day and keeping an open mind. After a tough start, he admitted he was starting to doubt that perspective.
“Yesterday, I had all my fish by 9:36; today, at 9 a.m., I didn’t have a single fish in the boat,” he said. “I started to get a little worried. I was like, ‘I guess I’m just not going to catch ’em today.’
“I said, ‘I still have a lot of time,’ so I just kept moving. I fished a particular bank, I hit a log and caught a 3 1/2-pounder. Then, I went up about 20 yards and caught that 7-3. I had over 10 pounds with two fish, so I was like, ‘Okay, now let’s get the ball rolling.’”
Carson caught his early fish on a deeper grass edge with a Berkley Frittside 5 crankbait. After that, his day turned into a grind with sporadic productivity.
“I never really ran into a good group of fish like I did yesterday,” he said. “I would go like two hours without a bite, and then I’d catch two or three in a half-hour period. Then I’d go another two hours without a bite, and then I’d catch a few.”
Carson said his day ended with a last-minute flurry that gave him the weight he needed to take the top spot.
“I had no time left because I was 30 minutes upriver and I made it back just in time,” he said. “I made three culls on back-to-back casts. I pulled up on a point and I caught two good largemouth and a spot and I culled out all of my smaller ones.”
After his early grass bite fizzled, Carson targeted rock, bridges and wood. His late-day culls came off a large stump near a grass edge in about 12 feet of water. He caught them on a Texas-rigged Berkley Havoc Pit Boss in the watermelon candy color.
“Today, it was just about letting it happen and believing,” he said. “It was my first time here, so I put in four and a half days of practice.”
Clint Miller of Jemison, Ala., moved into second place with 31-13. After placing third on Day 1 with 16-3, he gained a spot with a Friday limit of 15-10.
After catching his Day 1 fish around shallow brushpiles, he had to move off the bank and fish a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a green pumpkin worm around rock and wood in 12 to 15 feet.
“I ground it out all day and finally got 12 pounds in the boat,” Miller said. “At 2 o’clock, I went to a spot where I’d caught largemouth, but never a big one.
“It was just a slick bank with good bottom in 15 feet. I fired in there, set the hook and caught almost 6 pounds.”
Day 1 leader Jacob Walker slipped to third with 30-4. The pro from Alabaster, Ala., struggled with more fishing pressure in his key areas today and ended up adding 13-0 to the 17-4 he weighed Thursday.
“I still felt like I was around the fish I was around yesterday,” Walker said. “I had the opportunities to have a bag like I had yesterday, but a lot of the guys who fished downriver yesterday decided to come up the river today.”
Walker caught his fish by pitching a jig and throwing a spinnerbait around shallow wood.
Carson is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 7-3.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., leads the co-angler division with 15-8. Adding a big Day 2 limit of 10-13 to his first-round score of 4-11 moved him up from 40th place.
“It was when they had the water running in the first hour or two hours today when I caught my fish,” he said. “You’d get bit like once every 45 minutes, but it was a big fish. I capitalized on three big bites and that was pretty much it.”
Przekurat caught a limit comprised entirely of spotted bass on a jerkbait, swimbait and a jig.
Michael Elrod of Cropwell, Ala., holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4-5.
Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., leads the Eastern Open standings with 765 points, followed by Joshua Stracner (752), Pat Schlapper (728), Justin Atkins (711) and Scott Martin (696).
Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 1,329 points.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:15 a.m. CT from Beeswax Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 2:15 p.m.
Fans can follow the final-day drama on Bassmaster.com by streaming Nationwide Bassmaster Opens LIVE presented by Grizzly as camera boats provide coverage of the leaders.
The tournament is being hosted by Discover Shelby, AL.