Tough day on Lake Wylie

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tough conditions at Lake Wylie created equal amounts of "feel good" and "feel bad" stories when the 55-angler field was cut to 12 after the second day of the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts. Those 12 pro fishermen will start at zero and fish a different format Saturday for the chance to win the $250,000 first prize in the second of three Bassmaster Major events this season.

"I feel like I did when my wife told me she was pregnant," said Jason Quinn, who was, obviously, one of the feel good stories Friday.

Quinn, who lists Lake Wylie as his hometown, felt the disappointment of being the local favorite going in the wrong direction Thursday. But he rocketed from 32nd place on Day One to ninth place Friday and advanced to Saturday's "hole format," where each angler will have 70 minutes to fish in each of six designated areas. In addition to the top 12 starting equally, the Bassmaster American will be fished in an area of Lake Wylie that has previously been off limits for the tournament.

"I love this style of fishing," said Gerald Swindle of the format for Saturday. "It's reckless. It's run and gun. I don't ever study that crap. It's just wing-ding and let it happen."

Swindle, who is from Hayden, Ala., wing-dinged from eighth place to third Friday with a five-bass limit weighing 14 pounds, 4 ounces — the second best total of Day Two.

Another Alabama angler, Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, vaulted from 13th place to the top of the Day Two leaderboard with 15-12, the best bag of the day. Horton's five bass included a 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. Horton admitted he swung that big bass in the boat even though it was hanging on a treble-hooked lure. With no landing nets available in BASS tournaments, most of the time these anglers will "lip" a big fish with one hand before lifting it from the water.

But the mention of treble hooks was the only clue Horton would give as to the pattern he'd found for solving Lake Wylie's tough bite.

"I'm pumped about the six-hole format," said Horton. "I like the way it looks."

Second and steadiest of the Alabama anglers who completed the top three on Friday's leaderboard was Lee Bailey of Boaz. Bailey was third Thursday with 14-15 and followed that with 12-4 Friday.

"I've got a pattern that's working real good for me, and I think it will work good on the six-hole course," said Bailey, who was as secretive as Horton about the specifics of how he's fishing. "Every pocket or area I'm fishing, I have to adjust. I'm covering a lot of water. It's like Kevin (VanDam) described it — it's power-finesse fishing. You've really got to concentrate. But I'm pretty confident in what I'm doing."

VanDam, who led after Day One with 16-14, had only four bass Friday and dropped to fourth place overall with 25-11. But that didn't hurt his confidence heading into Saturday.

"It really fits my style," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., pro of the six-hole format. "I love it. You really have to fish quickly and analyze what you've got in each hole. It's just different."

As expected, the competition was fierce for the final spots in the top 12. Eleventh place and 20th place were separated by only 15 ounces. Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., headed the list of "feel bad" stories. Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky., took the 12th and final spot before the cut. Hackney moved up from 27th place Thursday, but his total was one ounce less than Menendez' 20-0 pounds.

Two other anglers finished only a few ounces out of 12th place. John Crews of Salem, Va., was three ounces behind Menendez, and Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., was five ounces back.

Peter Thliveros of Jacksonville, Fla., also saw a dream die Friday. Thliveros won the first of the three Bassmaster Majors and a $250,000 check at Fort Worth in May. He was hoping for a two-tournament, half-million-dollar bonanza. But Thliveros fell from fourth place Thursday to 16th Friday.

Fourth place Thursday proved to be a jinx for Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., as well. He finished in 22nd place Friday.

Both the good and the bad point to how difficult it has been to be consistent on Lake Wylie. Only 21 of the 55 anglers caught five-bass limits Friday after 36 limits were weighed-in Thursday.

But consistency is no longer at a premium in the Bassmaster American. Survive and advance is the new theme. The top 12 will be cut to the top six for Sunday's finale and the chance for that $250,000 payday.