EUFAULA, Ala. — Shane Powell thought it might take a two-day total of 24 pounds to win the Classic Fish-Off portion of the Bassmaster Team Championship.
It might take less.
Powell, who hails from nearby Dothan, Ala., took the Day 1 lead of the fish-off Friday with five bass that totaled 10 pounds, 2 ounces. It certainly wasn’t a heavy load, but it was enough to give him an edge over the other five anglers that advanced to the fish-off portion of the championship on Lake Eufaula on the Alabama-Georgia border.
David Lowery of Milledgeville, Ga., is in second place with four bass weighing 8-9 and Randy Tolbert of Rome, Ga., is third with a five-bass limit of 8-4. Gary Thompson of Dallas, Ga., is fourth with two bass for 4-14, James Murphy of Columbus, Ga., is fifth with three bass weighing 4-6, and Tim Fox of Meridian, Miss., is sixth with one bass for 1-12.
Powell, Tolbert, Thompson and Fox represent the Alabama Bass Trail. Lowery and Murphy fish with Berry’s Tournament Trail. The six anglers were members of the Top 3 tandems in the team competition that ended Thursday, and now they’re battling individually in a two-day showdown for the final spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk to be held March 4-6 on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell.
Powell, 32, knows Lake Eufaula as well as anyone, having fished the storied impoundment of the Chattahoochee River since he was a boy. But difficult weather conditions, including temperature swings, fog and heavy rain, have thrown the bass bite for a loop this week. It has left Powell and the rest of the field scratching their heads, wondering when and where the biggest bass bites will occur.
“The way I’ve been fishing, sun would really help me, and we just haven’t had any,” Powell said. “That and the pressure of all the boats out there earlier this week have taken a toll. A lot of people have been fishing the same stuff I am. You catch one, maybe two, and they just leave. Or you just don’t get a bite from the get-go.”
Still, Powell was able to stitch together the heaviest bag on Day 1 of the fish-off. He and Fox paired to finish second in the team portion of the championship, and the former Auburn University angler said the fish-off is anyone’s to win, considering less than 8 1/2 pounds separates first and last place.
“I figured I’d be behind after what I caught today,” Powell said. “I’d much rather that than being in first. But it is what it is. I’ve been rotating through a couple of spots and it doesn’t take me very long to do it. So, I’ve been spending hours looking for something good. I just haven’t found it.”
Lowery has had similar issues. Like Powell, he grew up fishing Eufaula, but the lake has left him guessing this week.
“I had six bites and I caught four of them,” Lowery said. “I had another one that I felt was about a pound and a half, but it pulled off under the water. That would have put me at about 10 1/2 pounds. But I can’t look back. I was just fortunate to catch the ones I did.”
Lowery said he was expecting sun on Friday, so he headed south on Eufaula hoping to throw a jig to boat docks. The sun never broke through the gray blanket overhead, though, and Lowery lamented he didn’t try a different approach.
He said he won’t be as conservative on the final day of the Bassmaster Classic Fish-Off.
“I’m going way up (the lake), almost as far as you can go,” he said. “I’ll either be going to the Classic or I’ll be going home.”
Tolbert teamed with Thompson to catch 28-14 over two days and win the Bassmaster Team Championship on Thursday. Mustering only 8-4 on Friday could have been a disappointment, but he too knows everyone remains in the hunt for the fish-off title.
“No one’s out of this with the weights down,” said Tolbert, who fished the Bassmaster College Series while at the University of Georgia. “Obviously, Shane has set himself apart a little bit because two pounds is a lot right now. But tomorrow is a different day. They may bite better tomorrow, and two pounds may not be a whole lot.”
Tolbert and Thompson already claimed a $20,600 cash prize when they won the team championship. Powell and Fox were second with 27-4 and Lowery and Murphy teamed to finish third with 26-6. In all, a total of 179 tandems from around the U.S. and Canada competed in the team championship, with the Top 35 pairs sharing a total purse of $91,600.
The final day of the fish-off will begin Saturday at 6:15 a.m. CT from Lakepoint State Park. Weigh-in is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. and the final competitor in the 2022 Bassmaster Classic will be known shortly thereafter.
The Eufaula-Barbour County Chamber of Commerce is hosting the Bassmaster Classic Fish-Off.