Rojas leapfrogs Iaconelli

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A confident Dean Rojas continued his pursuit of a first Elite Series victory by improving his catch for the second straight day at the Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide. He believes neither Mother Nature nor fishing pressure will do anything to hurt his areas.

"Whatever (the weather) is going to throw at me is fine," Rojas said, "(and) there's nobody in my area."

Tomorrow he'll only have 11 other Elite Series anglers on the water with him, which should free him up to expand his water even more. Today, he hit areas he hadn't fished the first two days and disproved the widespread prediction that the largemouth bite would get worse as the tournament progressed.

The 18-03 limit Rojas carried to the scales today brought his three-day total to 50-10. The only angler to weigh in a heavier limit was Mike Iaconelli, who blew by the 20 pound mark yesterday.

But that was then … this is now.

"I have four or five key areas that I'm catching them in," Rojas explained. "It was really neat. Today, I fished very relaxed, because there was less pressure."

He hasn't notched a BASS win since 2001, when he won two events in a row. Despite his obvious excitement, he didn't want to get ahead of himself.

"I am so ready to win," Rojas said. "But I still have to catch them another day to win."

It's well known a large part of Rojas' success on the Elite Series trail is attributable to his prowess with his namesake frog. He's using a variety of SPRO frogs to get the job done and occasionally supplements them with several other lures he declined to name.

Yesterday's leader, Mike Iaconelli, couldn't duplicate the monstrous 20-pound limit he brought to the scales Friday, but he managed a very respectable 14-04, and sits less than 4 pounds behind Rojas.

Iaconelli doesn't think the lead is insurmountable, but he experienced a tougher day today than yesterday, saying both the number of fish and the ferocity of the strikes declined markedly.

"Yesterday, I had over 30 keepers — and today, I had 10," Iaconelli said. "The way I'm fishing, you'd think the sun and still water would be to my advantage, but it was not.

"Yesterday, when you'd flip the bait in there on the drop, they would thunk it. Today, you had to shake it. They never hit it on the first drop, and then when they hit it, it almost felt like bluegill bites."

While he has proven he can catch a good bag under any weather conditions, Iaconelli believes his best chance for victory will exist if yesterday's overcast conditions return.

"If there's rain and clouds, I could have a giant bag," he said.

North Carolina's Kevin Langill held steady in the third spot. He weighed in 14-10 today for a three-day total of 45-14.

Unlike the two anglers ahead of him in the standings, Langill is targeting smallmouths exclusively. While the species remained the same, his tactics had to change, though declined to specify exactly what those changes were.

"They were quite a bit tougher today," Langill said. "I had to do a lot of running around. I switched it up a little bit."

He's confident if the largemouth dry up, as some have predicted, he can take advantage of any missteps by Rojas and Iaconelli to claim the victory.

"I feel really good," Langill said. "I found a school of fish this afternoon and I caught a 3 1/2-pounder and then another 3 1/2-pounder with 10 minutes to go. That's where I'll start."

He'll pursue smallmouth until it's time to come in, regardless of what he has in his livewell.

"I haven't even tried for largemouths this week," Langill said. "I haven't made a cast toward the bank."

Dustin Wilks, like Langill, a resident of North Carolina, vaulted from 15th place to fourth on the strength of a limit of bass weighing 15-13.

After missing two years of competition with a medical exemption, Wilks has come back with a vengeance, qualifying for the Classic and generally fishing pain-free. But the opportunity to fish tomorrow has special meaning.

"I'd really like to make the top 12," he said, immediately after weighing in. "That would top off the year. I've gotten nine checks, but I haven't made a top 12."

Now he'll get his wish. He "pounded on them today," but is confident there are more quality fish in his key areas.

Reigning Classic champion Alton Jones rounds out the top five. He added 15-13 to his catch and remains almost 7 1/2 pounds in back of Rojas. His bag was boosted by the Purolator Big Bass, a 5-10 largemouth that is the biggest fish of the tournament so far.

"A fish like that is really hard to come by here," Jones said. "I had some decent smallmouths, but I knew that if I stayed, I was giving up a chance to win — so I went to new water I'd never even been to. I've fished for largemouths some over the past few days and never got that big bite. Today, the law of averages finally caught up with me."

After suffering a tough morning bite, he decided to use Day Three as if it were a practice day a decision that paid huge dividends.

"Maybe I found a few more pieces of the puzzle," Jones said. "I learned where the largemouths are positioned. A lot of times, they're not too far from the smallmouths."

He's considering fishing for smallmouths part of the day tomorrow, on the theory the largemouth bite may be declining, but he knows in order to make a move in the standings, he'll probably have to put some green fish in the boat.

"As far as I'm back, you have to have a quality largemouth bite," Jones said. "A quality bite or two will go a long way."

Mike McClelland, who moved up from 69th to 13th yesterday, continued his climb today and currently occupies sixth place. He has averaged over 16 pounds a day on Days Two and Three.

Had he matched that average on Day One, he'd be between Rojas and Iaconelli, with a meaningful opportunity to notch his second Elite Series victory of the year — but all he could manage the first day was 10-03.

"I'd absolutely like to have that day back," McClelland said. "I underestimated the school of fish I found the first day. Everything was 1 3/4 or 2 pounds, so I left and never came back. Then the second day I realized there were some better quality fish there."

He's hoping the top anglers' largemouth bite is used up.

"There may be another 15-pound bag of largemouths out there, but we have all beat the shoreline to death, and that's where 90 percent of the largemouths live," McClelland said. Today he had four largemouths, but they were all under 3 pounds and didn't help him. He's likely to have some largemouths in his bag tomorrow, but he'll work for each and every one of them.

"Today, I looked for the most unlikely places," he said. "Stuff like one isolated boat dock."

Behind McClelland the remaining anglers include Terry Butcher, Casey Ashley, Bill Lowen and Mark Davis. Dave Wolak and Bernie Schultz, tied at 11th with 41-06.

Florida's Chris Lane was the first man outside of the cut, missing the opportunity to fish another day by 3 ounces.