Pratt within striking range

RICHMOND, Va. – Kelly Pratt has had nearly a year to soak in his 2011 Northern Open victory, but he’d give everything to have an extra month. The difference between fishing the James River in June and July is like night and day, he said, and he’d be in better shape later in the year.

“Right now these fish are in a funk,” he said. “It’s June so they’re still shallow. The best one I had today was still spawning.

He continued, holding one hand above the other, just over a foot apart.

“All of them were this deep,” he said. “I’d much rather see them out on the drops.”

He said that today’s east wind “sort of messed everything up,” but believes that “tomorrow will be a better day.” That last statement should scare the rest of the field.

Despite his mild case of grousing, the day didn’t pan out too poorly for the defending champion. His five fish limit weighed 13-15, putting him in ninth place, just over 3 pounds behind leader Jim Dillard. He’s less than 2 pounds behind second-place contender Kevin Hawk. Perhaps most importantly, he’s eerily on pace to repeat last year’s winning weight of 42-6. Should he repeat today’s weight tomorrow and Saturday, he’ll fall just 9 ounces short of that mark.

Notably, second place last year was 37-1. Several anglers were able to weigh in big bags one day, but not two or three. Pratt consistently and steadily built an impenetrable lead. He hopes that 30 years of fishing experience on the James River system, with an average of 20 tournaments a year, will provide him with the library of knowledge he’ll need to make that happen again.

That will be especially important because he had to lay low during practice. While his skills have been recognized locally for decades, last year’s Classic-qualifying win earned him notoriety that cut both ways – respect, but also prying eyes.

“I got followed around a bit,” he said. As a result he had to lay off several of his best areas in practice, counting on the fact that they’d produce as reliably as the tides once the event started. He’s saved several of those areas for tomorrow and, he hopes, Saturday. While his current position is not where he wants to end up, it might be the perfect combination of stealth and positioning, allowing him to make his move if and when others stumble.

Steady wins tournaments, in June as well as July.

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