COLUMBIA, S.C. The leader of the Carolina Clash presented by Evan Williams only had three fish with an hour left on Friday.
Rick Morris, of Virginia Beach, Va., caught 17 pounds, 7 ounces on Day Two and leads the tournament with 35-7. It was the fourth-largest bag on a day where the average weight dropped slightly, despite what most anglers considered to be perfect weather for Lake Murray.
Even though he caught 18 pounds on Day One, Morris said he decided early on Friday when upon catching his first keeper that he was going to go big — or go home.
"I went two hours without a bite, and three hours into the morning, I only had one fish, but it was a 6-pounder," Morris said. "So at that point I thought, 'I'm in the cut with that one fish. No more small fish.'"
Morris said he tied on every big bait he could find of all different varieties spinnerbait, topwater, and "big giant things on Carolina rigs." He was still fishing points like the majority of the field, but was only targeting the larger bass.
That style required patience. Morris only had four more bites, but got two of them into the boat one was over 5 pounds and the other over 4 pounds. After missing one late in the day he said would have put him over 20 pounds, he thought it might be time to switch things up.
"With an hour to go, I thought, 'You know what? I better fill out this limit,'" he said. "I got out a little Berkley finesse worm and caught two more keepers within five minutes. They were just little 13-inchers, but they're the reason I'm in the lead."
His lead is only 10 ounces and chasing him is the real-time leader (after two days on Murray) of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, Mike McClelland.
McClelland, who caught 16 pounds, 6 ounces on Friday, said his key is fishing new water and covering as much water as possible. It is a strategy that led him to victory on Clarks Hill Lake in 2007, meaning it resonates with the blueback herring, a baitfish common on both Murray and Clarks Hill.
"You can fish one point two or three times and not get bite, and come up on it a fourth time and get bit like crazy," said McClelland, who was catching them Carolina-rigging and fishing a swimbait. "You can't ever really put anything out of the picture, if you think it's the right kind of stuff. It just comes down to being there at the right time."
Day One leader Grant Goldbeck, who caught 14 pounds on Day Two and sits in third with 34-4, said he didn't fish a lot of water or new water. He keyed in on four of the same points he hit on Thursday, and was running the same pattern.
"Sometimes I'd have to wait up to 20 minutes, but I know they're there," Goldbeck said. "Eventually the blueback would start busting and I'd get a bite.
"If I would have boated every bite I got today, it would have been an incredible day."
All of the top three anglers said they plan to do some of the same things on Saturday, but with the fickleness of the blueback bite on a lake Chris Lane (13th, 18-15) said could produce a 30-pound stringer pretty quick, any of the anglers that made the top 50 cut on Friday have a chance to get into the top 12. Jon Bondy was the last angler in at 23-5.
With a lot of the anglers rotating on the same points, the pressure on the bass becomes more of an issue as the tournament moves on. But the high, sunny skies predicted for Saturday may force anglers to try something new. Lane hopes the forecast holds true, because he said he caught a 20-pound stringer under the same conditions in practice throwing a frog.
Dean Rojas (23rd, 26-13) comes to mind anytime a frog is mentioned, but he said he needs a little wind to get his trademark bait "Kermit" going strong.
But no matter what the herring or the weather does, the field might have trouble chasing down McCelland, who said he's anxious to hit some of the deeper water that helped with his Day One stringer, because the wind forced him to leave it alone on Day Two.
"Those fish got to rest," McClelland said. "That makes me real excited about tomorrow."
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Carolina Clash, May 15–18, 2008. Thursday through Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 3:00 p.m. ET. On Sunday, "Hooked Up" will air at noon and 2:45 p.m. ET, with the final weigh-in and live streaming video to start at 3:15 p.m. ET.