SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Coming into this week's Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide, conventional wisdom seemed to be that smallmouths would play a huge role in determining the finale co-angler competition of the Bassmaster Elite Series.
With inclement weather playing a pivotal role during the first two days, largemouth bass proved to be the golden ticket to the top for many anglers, especially on the pro side of Oneida Lake's tournament ledger.
But as this morning's heavy thunderstorms cleared and sunshine began to peek from behind the clouds, smallmouths came back into the picture in a big way.
And perhaps no where was that more apparent than when Kyle Kempkers of Hamilton, Mich., weighed in the day's best co-angler bag, an impressive collection of three smallies weighing 9 pounds, 12 ounces.
When combined with his first-day 8-8, Kempkers' two-day total of 18-4 was enough to vault him from sixth to first place Friday.
"Today went a lot like yesterday," Kempkers said. "It was slow early and then picked up as the day went on and the weather got worse."
Picked up might be an understatement since Kempkers' Friday bag included two bronzeback bass, 3-9 and 3-11, that many pros would have been thrilled with.
Kempkers admitted that being paired up with pro Glenn Delong helped his cause on Friday.
"Luckily, I had a pro that although he had a different pattern to start with, adjusted more through the day to the way that I like to fish," said the 22-year old fisherman competing in his first — and the last ever — co-angler event.
What was that style of fishing?
"Well, I fished with a bunch of different things, but right now (with a chance to win), I've got to protect what my secret bait is," Kempkers coyly said. "All of my big fish today came on that one bait, however."
Fishing for a $25,000 top prize Saturday, Kempkers is hoping for more inclement weather.
"When we were out on the lake today, you could see the fronts coming across the water and the rain coming at you," he said. "And right before it would get to you, the fish would (really) start biting."
What will Kempkers do on Saturday to capture the title?
More of the same he hopes … if his pro angler pairing allows that to take place.
"I'd like to come in (tomorrow) with an 8- or 9-pound sack. Once I get three in the boat, then I'll see if I can improve."
Day One leader Ron Plocek from nearby Liverpool, N.Y., is hoping that he can use his local knowledge to improve his weight total into the top spot on Saturday afternoon.
After boating three bass Thursday weighing 10-13, the top co-angler bag so far, Plocek weighed in another co-angler limit on Friday at 7-0 to bring his two day total to 17-13.
"It was tough today," said Plocek, who is only 7 ounces out of the lead. "I didn't have a fish in the boat until 2:15 to this afternoon. And if it wasn't for my boater, I might have gotten skunked. It was a tough bite."
While Plocek was forced to change from his preferred soft plastic bait to a different type of soft plastic, the key for him was to slow his presentation significantly and fish methodically.
What will the local favorite have to do to win the co-angler crown after Saturday's third and final round?
"That's a good question," Plocek said. "It feels really good to make the cut, but (to win), I'll have to fish really hard tomorrow and stay focused.
"And I just thank God for the snag proof frog."
Also in striking distance is Plano, Ill., angler Jesse Simpkins, who weighed in three bass at 8-9 for a total of 17-03.
In fourth place is Jesse Herbert of Pennellville, N.Y., who had 7-1 Friday for a two-day total of 15-05. In fifth place is Marietta, Ga., co-angler Ronnie Tyson (7-13, 15-4).
"I started out slow with some small fish, then caught a good keeper of about 2 pounds," Tyson said. "But about 1 o'clock, I really started catching them like crazy and was able to cull some.
"I'm not sure if it was that they started biting or if I had what they wanted on my line."
Fishing with Elite Series pro Dustin Wilks, Tyson was able to concentrate on fishing a tube jig slowly in shallow grass.
While Tyson admitted his chances of winning Saturday probably revolve around his pro partner, he likes his chances. A victory in the final co-angler event would be Tyson's first despite $33,000 in career earnings in more than a dozen events, which includes a second and two seventh-place finishes.
"If I can have as good a day tomorrow as I did today, I think that I'll be right there in the end," Tyson said.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Champion's Choice with weigh-in host Keith Alan, Aug. 3-10, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET. Live JWC weigh-in video starts at 5 p.m. ET with the final weigh-in and real-time leaderboard of the season starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.