Walker leads by 14 ounces in Dixie Duel

DECATUR, Ala. — David Walker, who fished a major circuit for years before leaving it to join the Bassmaster Elite Series this season, says everyone believes he’s won a major tournament in his career, but that’s not true.

Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., came closer Friday to filling that hole in his history by taking the lead with 35 pounds, 3 ounces in the Elite Series season finale on Wheeler Lake.

Walker has work ahead of him. He is 14 ounces ahead of Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who ended the day with 34-5. A superfocused Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., determined to win the event and score a Bassmaster Classic berth, moved into third from 19th with 33-2 after two days.

First-day leader Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., slipped to fourth place with 32-13. Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., popped up from 13th place into fifth with 32-11.

Walker’s decision to fish the Elite Series had a lot to do with his desire to compete once again in a Bassmaster Classic. He’s appeared in six Classics, but not since 2006. Coming into the Wheeler event, he was 46th in points, and needs to move up about 10 ticks. Thanks to double-qualifiers, the cutline hovers at 37th place.

“A chance to win a big tournament has just followed along with my Classic goal,” Walker, 46, said. “I’ve never had a major tournament win. I’ve won other stuff, but not an Elite tournament, not an FLW Tour tournament. I’ve come close — too many times.”

On Wheeler, he and Reese have been courteously sharing “one little area” over the first two days of competition, Walker said. At one point Friday he moved off to fish another spot.

“That paid off pretty good — but then he (Reese) had it to himself and that helped him out that much more,” Walker said.

Reese bagged 19-5 to Walker’s 17-1.

Walker is concerned that their spot — a ledge — won’t continue to produce, or not produce enough for two anglers.

“But there’s obviously a lot of fish there, and it’s held up so far,” Walker said.

He said he’s fishing clean, his limits are happening early for him, and his biggest fish was about a 4-pounder.

Hackney out-fished both Walker and Reese on Friday. His sack went 19-9 on the scales, but he started the day in 11th place, so had to make up ground to take second place.

“I think the biggest thing for me today was the weather,” Hackney said. “I caught my big fish today just before that bad weather hit this morning. They were aggressive and active. Then I stayed away from my primary stuff and went looking. I have to be careful not to burn up my fish.”

He said he shared water Friday with about 20 other anglers, but is working it slightly differently to get the better bite. With the field cut in half for Saturday’s competition, Hackney said he’s counting on having the area more to himself.

Like Walker and Reese, Hackney’s focus at the Dixie Duel is to earn enough points to qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.

“That’s the main objective, my main goal this week, and today will pull me forward on that,” Hackney said.

A win means not only the $100,000 first-place prize, but an instant-in for the 2012 Classic. Unless they fall hard sometime over the final two days of Duel competition, Walker and Hackney are now in a position to get to the Classic via the Elite points system. Reese isn’t. Lacking enough points, he must win at Wheeler to get to the Classic via the Elite Series.

The 2012 Classic is scheduled for Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La., the same venue where Reese won his Classic title in 2009.

“Winning here is my only option,” Reese said. “I spent the week fishing out (offshore), looking for a way to win. I didn’t think you could win it fishing the bank, but obviously there’s some big stringers coming in from the shallows.”

In the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, leader Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., came close to closing. But his nearest challengers in points, Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers and Alabama’s Steve Kennedy, both made the cut to compete on Saturday. With a mathematically possible chance still existing for either Evers or Kennedy to overtake him, VanDam must wait another day to see if he will win his fourth consecutive title and seventh of his career.

VanDam was in sixth place in the Dixie Duel after Friday, and he’s out for the event win. He’s 4-1 behind leader Walker.

“I’d like to be in contention to win this thing,” he said. “You do that, and the other (the points race) takes care of itself.”

The big bass of Friday was by Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a 6-4. He said he caught it on a Bomber No. 7 Switchback Shad in the purple darter finish. Horton’s fish is in contention for the Berkley Big Bass of Tournament bonus of $500.

The Saturday field will be 51 boats instead of 50 due to a four-way tie at 22 pounds, 7 ounces. After tie-breakers were applied per the Elite Series rules, John Murray of Phoenix, Ariz., was the last in, and will fish Saturday as the 51st qualifier.