DEL RIO, Texas — Jason Williamson, Kevin Short and Greg Hackney proved the Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors is wide open going into the final day of the weather-shortened, three-day Bassmaster Elite Series tournament at Lake Amistad.
Only 11 pounds, 2 ounces separates first and 12th place going into Sunday's finale. Williamson jumped from 10th to first Saturday with a five-bass limit weighing 29-13.
Short leaped from 18th to third with the Berkley Heavyweight Bag of the tournament so far, at 31-6. Hackney moved even further, going from 32nd to seventh with 28-13, which included the Purolator Big Bass weighing 11-11.
"It feels pretty good," said Hackney, who has gotten off to a horrible start on the 2008 season and ranked 96th in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points entering this event. "I've been looking for that fish for about a month."
Saturday also brought some revenge for Short. The Mayflower, Ark., pro was leading at Amistad after Day One last year with 33-6, then fell all the way to 59th place and missed the cut when he zeroed on Day Two. He said he caught everything Saturday on a Jewel football jig.
"I was fishing slow," Short said. "This afternoon I slowed down even more. And it was like a totally different fishery. I had a 6-pounder I never culled, but I culled everything else after 3:30."
Further pointing to how wide open this event remains is the fact that there's a lot of confidence among the top 12.
"I feel like I know where the big fish are holding," Williamson said. "The key deal is 40 to 50 feet, where it comes up to a point. From 11 to 11:30, it gets on like 'Donkey Kong.'
"It's possible to have a little bigger bag tomorrow, if I get the right (weather) conditions."
Matt Sphar of Pavilion, N.Y., easily had the hard-luck story of the day. Sphar had the third-biggest limit Saturday with 29-7. It moved him from 69th place into 13th. He missed the cut by only 10 ounces, which would have easily been made up by the 3-pounder he lost from his livewell at the end of the day Friday.
"I had one fly out of the livewell," said Sphar, who weighed only four bass Friday.
Sphar's misfortune allowed Day One leader Kurt Dove and Denny Brauer to share 11th place with 44-10. Dove weighed in 30-8 Friday, but had only 14-2 Saturday.
"If I make the top 12, it will be awesome," said Dove, who came off the stage wondering if that would happen. "I'm just going to go out and have fun. Most of the bigger fish are deep right now. But my biggest fish of the day came in 8 feet of water."
Mike McClelland, who was second Friday with 29-5, came back Saturday with another solid limit of 23-14. It dropped him into a third-place tie with Short.
"After my practice, I had no idea I could catch this kind of fish," said the Bella Vista, Ark., pro. "The two primary areas I'm fishing are where it drops from 18 to 20 feet down to 70. The fish are moving up and down to feed."
McClelland is using a variety of lures, including a Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hawg, an Osprey swimbait, a 3/4th-ounce Jewel football jig and a new SPRO stickbait, which McClelland designed.
Two Elite Series rookies are in the top 12, led by Clark Reehm of Russellville, Ark., who moved from third to second Saturday with 25-12.
"At two o'clock I left (his primary area) with a sack I would have been extremely happy with," Rheem said. "I found a new spot today. I caught a 6 and a 4 and was able to cull two 4-pounders. I might rot on this spot. But it's working."
Reehm is Carolina- and Texas-rigging a big plastic worm.
Brewer, a former Major League Baseball pitcher from the Waco suburb of Bruceville, Texas, is the other rookie in Sunday's final. He's been throwing one lure for two days — a swimbait.
"It looks like it has been through a meat grinder," said Brewer, who is sixth with 49-13.
Brewer is sharing the same area of Lake Amistad with Edwin Evers, who is fifth with 50-2. Evers ran out of his primary lure Saturday — a swimbait made by YUM called a Money Minnow.
"I thought I had more in the boat," Evers said. "I ran out of them and never got another bite."
But Evers said he had plenty of them in his motel room. He'll come fully loaded to Sunday's final, which will determine the winner of the $100,000 first-place check.
With this tournament cut short by one day, Saturday also determined the top 50. The anglers finishing 50th through 13th place earned at least $10,000. Bryan Hudgins claimed 50th place with 33-0, edging Davy Hite, who finished with 32-9.
Byron Velvick, who, as the owner of Amistad Lake Resort, has been the unofficial host this week, entered the day in 22nd place and was confident of a top-12 finish. But Velvick weighed-in only 10-4 and dropped all the way to 66th place.
"That swimbait bite went downhill," Velvick said, "and I went downhill with it."
Sunday's 9 a.m. ET take-off and 5:50 p.m. ET weigh-in will take place at Diablo East Marina.