DEL RIO, Texas — While the rest of the leaderboard has shuffled around him, 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, has rode a consistent bite to the top position Saturday at the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border on Lake Amistad with a three-day total of 68 pounds, 11 ounces.
Friday leader Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, struggled but remained in contention and is Jones' closest competitor with 66-13.
Over the course of three days, Jones has yet to weigh a bag more than 24 pounds or less than 22 pounds, 4 ounces. His biggest bass tipped the scales at just more than 6 pounds and all of his weighed fish have been in the 4- to 6-pound class. While the big bite has eluded Jones thus far, he said his pattern is as solid as oak.
But Amistad is a fickle fishery and can yield some monster weights. Case in point: Four Elite anglers weighed limits more than 26 pounds Saturday. So, while consistency is nice, Jones is aware that the field of 12 finalists could make a move Sunday in the battle for the $100,000 top prize. And the weather calls for sun which could move the fish shallow, providing anglers with ideal conditions for sight fishing.
"I guess I'm as confident as you can be when you have a field with this much skill," said Jones, 45. "But consistency has been the name of the game for me and my areas are replenishing. I feel very good."
Jones, who is fast approaching $2 million in BASS career earnings, said his main area is a pathway for post-spawn bass and his milk run includes specific areas that have become premium holding areas for post-spawn fish. While the area has been productive, he feels the key to his success is the pattern he is running, of which he revealed little details.
Much like Friday, Jones boated all of his fish by 11 a.m. Saturday and used the rest of the day looking for new areas. He feels Sunday's forecast could help his bite, but he is willing and able to make adjustments if his pattern slows.
"The pattern is definitely the key," Jones said. "I have been able to duplicate success in a number of areas. I still have some new areas that I haven't even visited yet, so I'm not concerned about a lack of water."
Klein was oozing confidence Friday after weighing a limit of more than 29 pounds, but his jig pattern fell off Saturday. In fact, Klein was without a fish at noon and was forced to move close to the bank and pick up a drop-shot to fill out his limit.
He managed only 12 pounds, 6 ounces on Day Three, but nonetheless was pleased that he remained in contention.
"I let everyone catch up, so I'm a little disappointed," said Klein, a two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. "But this is a humbling sport, and I'm just glad I didn't let the thing slip away. It's going to be a one-day shootout tomorrow. I think it's going to be a crazy day and someone is going to have to catch a lot of weight to pull it out."
Klein lamented some of the decisions he made Saturday, including spending too much time trying to position his fish around the breaklines. Sunday, the 51-year-old plans to primarily throw a swimbait to entice the biggest bites and mix in the jig, which led to his success the first two days.
Making a charge to third was Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C. Williamson, 28, weighed the biggest bag of the tournament on Saturday, a 33-13 monster, to put himself in contention. He is looking for his first BASS victory and said he found something special Saturday.
The area that produced his weight was something he located in practice. But the first two days of competition, the area was muddied with the adverse weather conditions. Saturday, the water turned crystal-clear.
"I'm pretty excited," said Williamson, who finished fifth at the Amistad Elite event in 2008. "It's an all-day bite and I probably culled another 18- to 20-pound bag from that area. I'm a little wired right now but I absolutely think I can repeat this Sunday."
Rounding out the top five was Kenyon Hill of Norman, Okla., with 61 pounds, 5 ounces, in fourth while Day 1 leader Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., with 60 pounds, 2 ounces, was fifth.
Safely in Sunday's top 12 cutline was 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (6th) and 2008 Amistad Elite champion Todd Faircloth (12th). Faircloth engineered a dramatic comeback last year on Amistad, surging from eighth place to the top spot on the final day of compitition.