When the going gets tough …

For Craig Daniel, tough is good. Tough has helped put him in first place.

JASPER, Ala. — Tough lakes tend to favor local experts, and Lewis Smith Lake is fishing tough this week for the season finale of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens. For Cullman, Ala., pro Craig Daniel, tough is good. Tough favors intimate knowledge of the lake. Tough has helped put him in first place.

In seventh place at the end of the first day with a limit catch weighing 13 pounds, 11 ounces, Daniel was the lone angler among the leaders who was able to duplicate his first-day catch. On Day 2 he produced another 5 bass limit, and this one weighed 13-7 for a two-day total of 27-2, just four ounces better than North Carolina’s Hank Cherry, who has 26-14.

Kevin Hawk, who led after the first day, struggled in the second round. His best 5 bass weighed just 10-5, good enough for a two-day total of 26-12 and third place.

“I didn’t catch any big ones on top today,” Hawk confessed. “I just didn’t make the right stops at the right time. I’m excited to be fishing tomorrow, though, and I hope to run into the fish I need.”

Brent Crow is fourth with 25-15, followed by Bassmaster Elite Series pro and Alabama native Gerald Swindle who has 25-12. Swindle is chasing the lake’s bigger largemouth bass rather than the more plentiful spotted bass. He’s fishing jigs in man-made brush piles that are 8-15 feet deep and hitting as many locations as possible throughout the day.

“Today I started about 40 miles from where I fished yesterday,” Swindle said, “and I struggled in the afternoon. I had to overlap some of my areas from the first day, but I plan to fish new water in the finals. The fish I’m catching are ‘resident’ bass that don’t seem to replenish very quickly after you catch one from a brush pile.”

Only the top 12 professionals and top 12 co-anglers will advance to fish in the final round. On the pro side, the field is star-studded, with six Bassmaster Elite pros: Swindle (5th), 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ Chris Lane (7th), Andy Montgomery (9th), Greg Vinson (10th), David Walker (11th) and Jason Williamson (12th). Half of the 6 are Alabama residents.

The Carhartt Big Bass for Day 2 belonged to Paul Ham of West Columbia, S.C., who caught a 5-1 lunker.

On the co-angler side, Teb Jones of Hattiesburg, Miss., had his second strong day in a row with a 3-bass limit weighing 5-13. It gives him a two-day total of 13-6 and the lead going into the finals. Yesterday’s leader, Travis Dehart of South Carolina, slipped to third with 12-6.

Even though he’s thousands of miles from Smith Lake this week, California Elite pro Jared Lintner is one of the big winners here. Because defending Bassmaster Classic champion Chris Lane has now triple-qualified for the 2013 Classic [(1) reigning champion, (2) 14th in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, and (3) Southern Open winner who fished all three events in the division], Lintner moves from “the bubble” into the Classic field. It will be his fourth Classic appearance and second in a row.

“You never want to be the guy on the bubble,” Lintner said, talking about the pressures of relying on circumstances that are out of your control. “A couple of years ago, I was on the bubble and didn’t make; this year I did. I’m grateful to my friend Chris Lane for finishing out the Opens season. He’s a class act, and I hope to be able to repay this for Chris or another angler on the bubble one day.”