DEL RIO, Texas — Sticking to what he knows best, BASS veteran Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, persevered through windy, rainy conditions on Lake Amistad to vault into the lead at the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border with a two-day total of 54 pounds, 7 ounces.
With his wealth of experience on Amistad, the veteran again threw a jig to deep water and rode an early bite to an advantage of more than 7 pounds over his nearest competitor, 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (46-15) of Demopolis, Ala. Behind Duckett, the leaderboard shakes out like a Who's Who of Elite Series pros, including eight Angler of the Year trophies and six Classic titles among the top 20.
Early indications were the field would struggle on Amistad. That theory didn't bear out. Seven anglers weighed in more than 40 pounds over two days and Klein, a two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, is on pace to weigh in more than 100 pounds and join the BASS Century Club.
Searching for his ninth BASS victory, Klein has been rotating between a few productive spots. The key to his success, he said, has been executing long casts to targeted spots.
"You have to be very stealthy out there," said Klein, 51. "The fish are smart when you get up close to them, but when you remain far away it becomes almost easy. Still, the lake is very finicky right now and it's going to be a grind."
Klein boated a limit in the first 30 minutes of competition on Day Two and accumulated 18 pounds on his first spot. He moved to his secondary spot later in the day and caught two bass weighing more than 7 pounds each on consecutive casts to round out his 29-pound, 3-ounce limit.
Amazingly, Klein has yet to cash in on a trophy bass, as several others in the field have. His biggest bass was not quite 8 pounds.
"My pattern is susceptible to catching big fish so I have to think it's going to happen at some point," said Klein, who has won at least one BASS tournament in each of the last four decades.
In contrast to Klein, Duckett was dependent on big bites to fill out his limit. He is running two distinct patterns, throwing a swimbait to entice the biggest bites. On Day Two, Duckett landed two fish on the swimbait, one weighing more than 7 pounds and the other tipping the scales at nearly 10 pounds.
However, Duckett's place in the standings after Day Two belied his struggle in sticking with a swimbait. He had five bites but was only able to land the two lunkers. Despite the momentum, Duckett said that his success depended on the weather conditions.
"I need that wind to blow," said Duckett, 48. "I have a feeling it's about to get a lot tougher for me throughout the weekend."
Behind Duckett was 2008 Classic champion Alton Jones with 46-4. Like Klein, Jones has built his total without landing a lunker. His weighed fish have included a healthy mix of 4-, 5- and 6-pounders.
While his success came later in the day on Day One, Jones had all of his weight by 11 a.m. on Day Two.
He spent the rest of the day looking for new, productive areas. His search wasn't as fruitful as he hoped but Jones feels confident that his pattern will hold up in all weather conditions.
Slipping from the lead to fourth was Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J, with 43-8. Rounding out the top five was defending Battle on the Border champion Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, with 41-3.
The field was cut to the top 50 anglers for Saturday's competition and those who made the cut included four-time Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam (11th), 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion Skeet Reese (12th) and 2005 Angler of the Year Aaron Martens (21st).