SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Consumed with some positive mojo, Elite Series rookie Chad Griffin of Cresson, Texas, capitalized on consistency Friday.
On a New York fishery that he had never seen until this week, Griffin jumped 2 places to the lead with a two-day total of 33 pounds, 11 ounces, good enough for a little more than a 1-pound advantage over Elite veteran Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla.
The positive vibes started early in the week, when Griffin started practice and quickly realized that Oneida is similar to the Texas waters he has worked throughout his career.
Griffin, who said he has been disappointed with his season, hasn't had much to feel good about most of the year, but a banner performance — and the $100,000 top prize — would do wonders for his confidence and bottom line. Targeting both largemouth and smallmouth, primarily with an EZEE jig, Griffin has had his areas to himself all week.
Griffin made a key tweak Friday that helped jet him up the leaderboard. After missing several hook-ups Thursday — he felt he could have brought more than 20 pounds to the scale if he had executed — he opted for smaller hooks Friday. The move was the right one, to the tune of an 18-pound, 8-ounce limit, the biggest of the tournament through Day 2.
"This is really exciting," said Griffin, 32. "I've felt good all week. It's like an eerie feeling. The first time I laid eyes on Oneida, I fell in love. The grass reminds me of back home."
Griffin, who like most of the field keyed on areas with vegetation, had all of his weight by noon Friday and elected to explore new water for the remainder of the tournament. His search proved just as productive, as he was able to upgrade his total by culling three times.
With a season-best finish of 30th, Griffin is in an unfamiliar position in first place, but the rookie feels that he is capable of closing out his first BASS victory.
"Definitely," said Griffin, who Thursday landed the big bass of the tournament thus far, a 5-8 lunker. "My areas have enough fish and I know how to catch them. It's just a matter of execution."
Schultz also hopped up the leaderboard with a strong showing Friday after turning around some early morning struggles. Targeting largemouth and smallmouth, he is focusing on grassy areas and is essentially fishing with his gut, fishing spots that look the most promising.
Another interesting subplot for Schultz is his bid for a 2010 Bassmaster Classic berth. The eight-time Classic qualifier entered the tournament 56th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and with was a long shot to land a coveted berth. But Schultz has performed this week while others have slipped, opening the door a bit.
Despite the positive news, Schultz, with a two-day total of 32 pounds, 3 ounces, is worried that his areas might not hold up.
"I'm a little concerned," said Schultz, 54. "It was a really slow, aggravating day today despite the numbers. I just have to keep moving Saturday and see what happens."
In third was Jason Quinn of York, S.C., with 31-12. Day 1 leader Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., slipped to fourth with 31-1, and Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., moved to fifth with 30-11.
After a tight leaderboard Thursday, things shook out a bit Friday. Still, 28 anglers are within 6 pounds of Griffin. Only the top 50 anglers advance to Saturday, and then the top 12 will move on to fish Sunday.
With the culmination of the regular season, the AOY points will be set for the postseason. Four-time AOY Kevin VanDam
(33rd) and Skeet Reese (17th) were jockeying for the lead.
Toyota Trucks Championship Week is set for Sept. 10-18 on two productive Alabama fisheries. The first of the two postseason tournaments, the Trophy Chase, will take place Sept. 12-13 on Lake Jordan out of Wetumpka; the finale, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, is slated for Sept. 17-18 on the Alabama River from Montgomery.
In the race to qualify for the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala., Elite Series veteran Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, and rookie Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., were on the bubble heading into the Champion's Choice. McCaghren (48th) barely squeaked in to the top 50 cut, while Reed struggled and missed out.
In other news, Ken Cook of Lawton, Okla., officially retired from Bassmaster Elite Series competition Friday after missing the cut. The 1991 Bassmaster Classic champion was treated to a special gathering Friday to celebrate his illustrious career. Cook finished in 75th place.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Champion's Choice on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, August 22, at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN. The daily weigh-ins for the regular-season finale and the two Elite Series postseason events will air live on ESPN360.com, ESPN's live broadband sports network, while a wealth of unique content will also be available at Bassmaster.com.