Williamson hangs on to slim lead

HUDDLESTON, Va. — The good news for Jason Williamson: The Wagener, S.C., pro was able to hold off a bevy of hard-charging competitors and cling to a slim lead at the Evan Williams Bourbon Blue Ridge Brawl. The bad news: Red-hot Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., tapped into Smith Mountain Lake Friday for a nearly 19-pound day, which was enough to move into second, just 5 ounces off Williamson's 36-11 pace.

Save for a debacle at the 2010 Classic, Reese has been on fire. He missed out on victory at the first tournament of the Elite season on the California Delta by one ounce, finishing second. At the next event on Clear Lake, he posted a top-five finish. Add in another stellar finish this week and Reese will hold a commanding lead in the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which he labeled as his "ultimate goal".

On the other end of the spectrum is Williamson, who struggled on the California swing, finishing in 64th and 87th. But things can change quickly in a hurry on the Elite Series and Williamson, 29, has put himself in prime position to score his second Elite Series victory.

"It's just really a grind out there," said Williamson. "My primary area is getting thin and the bigger bass are getting harder to come by. I'm just fortunate I cashed in on opportunities Thursday.

Again focusing on bed fish in a protected creek, Williamson wasn't able to duplicate his Thursday success. But he scrounged up enough weight, 14-2, to justify a repeat visit to the area Saturday.

A few elements attributed to the drop in weight for Williamson, he said. One, the pollen was dense in his area Friday and made sight fishing more difficult. Additionally, the onslaught of multiple contenders in the creek made for slim pickings.

The bass that he targeted were a bit deeper — in four to five feet of water. Williamson said the key to finding the bigger bass was identifying the warmer water. To that end, Williamson strictly focused on a pocket that warmed up to 64 degrees. Other pockets within his area registered a cool 58 degrees and Williamson said, to no surprise, that the bigger bass were relating to the warmer water.

Saturday could shake things up considerably. The forecast calls for windy, cloudy conditions and Williamson, and the majority of the field, might be scrambling to put together a plan B.

"If it gets cloudy and windy, then I will have to tie on a swimbait," said Williamson. "But my area is protected so the wind shouldn't bother me much. We'll just have to see what it's like tomorrow (Saturday)."

Buoyed by a 5-pounder boated in the last five minutes, the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Reese brought 18-13 to the scales, Friday's second-heaviest limit. In a similar refrain to the rest of the field, he called his day "a grind".

Throughout the tournament, Reese, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion, has played a game of addition and subtraction, continuing to eliminate unproductive water while identifying new areas that he will visit over the weekend. While he hasn't had a difficult time finding spawning bass, it has been exceedingly difficult to get them to bite.

But Reese is in a comfort zone on Smith Mountain and his past performance here, a fourth in 2007 and a ninth in 2009, certainly indicates that. Though thousands of miles from his California residence, Reese says Smith Mountain reminds him of his home fishery, Clear Lake. Reese grew up fishing docks on Clear, a dominant feature here. But despite all the good vibes this week, Reese didn't have a picture-perfect day

"What I weighed in today doesn't represent how my day went and how I fished," said Reese, who totaled 36-6 over two days. "I should have had more than 20 pounds and I really struggled to get the big bites in the boat..

Sticking to third was shallow-water specialist Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., with 35-2. Right behind Scroggins in fourth was Marty Robinson of Lyman, S.C., with 35-1. Slipping from third to fifth was Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., with 35-0.

Local favorite John Crews of Salem, Va., made the biggest move of the day, jumping from a tie for 68th to 12th with the biggest limit of the day of 19 pounds, 2 ounces.

Other notables safely in the cutline, and fishing Saturday, were 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion Alton Jones (13th), Jason Quinn of York, S.C. (16th) and Elite rookie Byron Haseotes (26th).

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