Stranger in paradise

MONETA, Va. — In an area of the country known for its abundant history, you could say Virginians know a thing or two about battle. And for the top five co-anglers heading into Saturday's final day of the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts, several men have shown they know how to apply their own history on Smith Mountain Lake.

Four of the top five anglers grew up within a two-hour drive of this postcard-ready mountain lake. And with about 2 pounds separating that top five, one particular truth is marching on — Day Three will deliver a new, $50,000 boat rig to either a local hero or a spoiling stranger.

Jeff Freeman of Max Meadows, Va., hovers in first place like an alert bass protecting its bed. Freeman bagged two big fish in his healthy, 11 pound, 3 ounce Day Two limit. Lurking just 2 ounces back is fellow Virginian Robert Peaslee, who jumped from 25th place with 9-8, the seventh-biggest among co-anglers Friday.

The stranger among the natives is Tom Frink, one of the winningest co-anglers in the history of BASS and one of the few with a serious chance to one day go pro. After leading Day One, the Simi Valley, Calif., angler fell to third after sacking 7-1 on Friday.

"It would be great to be on the front of the boat," Frink said, entertaining Elite Series hopes. Still, fishing the co-angler side has been good to him, with two wins and a second-place finish since the beginning of last year.

But things may change here near the golf courses and stray log cabins around Moneta. With temperatures peaking around a balmy 95 degrees Friday, a new weather system is predicted to cool the area somewhat over the next 24 hours. And this fast-moving front will bring rain to the lake from late Friday into Saturday morning.

Freeman explained that even if it's cooler Saturday, "I want to move fast, but still fish slow on the final day."

Winning at this lake would mean a lot to Freeman. He took second here in October of 2006 at the Northern 5 tournament. "I've been close here before," he said, "but to do it now would be great."

Peaslee hopes to reprise his big Day Two. Casting to brush and rocks in 10 to 15 feet of water, the Roanoke health care professional will look to his BASS pro to cover a lot of water and find worthy fish. "If we can get on those active fish, I can turn in a 10-pound bag," Peaslee said. "That could do it for me."

But Frink is eager to play the spoiler. Currently trading punches with fellow co-angler Howard Stevens as one of the most successful ever, Frink is focused. Plus, his friend and rival Lance Peck, who was in second after Day One, weighed zero fish on Day Two. Peck "gave me a real break today," Frink said.

Adding to Frink's confidence going into the final day was the fact that he lost what would have been a hefty fourth fish near the end of Day Two. Frink plans to return to line-casting with light line and a light hook.

Going into the co-anglers' decisive Saturday, Frink likes his chances, but remains humble. "Just like what happened to Peck out there, that could happen to me on the final day," Frink said, smiling. "Let's just hope it doesn't."

Western Virginia has certainly seen its share of legendary battles. The co-angler skirmish set to conclude Saturday will be comparatively minor to all but its victor.

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