Day Three: Wylie pressure cooker

Anglers fire up their motors and head onto Lake Wiley to begin Day Three of the Bassmaster American. 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jason Quinn slept much better Friday night than he did any other night this week.

"I've been getting up before the alarm clock went off," Quinn said. "My wife had to wake me up this morning."

Quinn appeared relaxed Saturday as he and the 11 other qualifiers prepared for the 6:50 a.m. takeoff at Lake Wylie's Copperhead Landing. With a second-day surge the 34-year-old Lake Wylie resident was able to make the top 12 of the 55-angler field in the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts. This tournament is the second of three Bassmaster Majors, each of which includes a $250,000 first-place paycheck.

Because Quinn has worked as a guide and fished many tournaments on Lake Wylie, he's had the pressure all week of being the local favorite. When Quinn was in 32nd place after the first day of the tournament, the pressure got cranked up several notches.

"All the pressure is off," said a smiling Quinn. "This is like a club tournament now where I'm fishing against 11 other guys."

Bag weights for the first two days were thrown out Friday after the top 12 was determined. Everyone started at zero Saturday morning when the format was changed to a "hole" tournament. Six mid-lake sections of Lake Wylie were off limits the first two days of the event. Two anglers are assigned to each one of the six sections for one hour and 10 minutes today. They will rotate through all six "holes" before the weigh-in, which begins at 3 p.m. an Charlotte's Cricket Auditorium.

"I think you're going to see some of the best fishing of the tournament," said Quinn, who finished sixth in the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Wylie in 2004. "These fish haven't seen a bait in almost a month."

At least from the original 55-angler Bassmaster American field, these six sections of Lake Wylie haven't been pressured. The area hasn't been closed to local anglers.

But Friday revealed what pressure from the pros can do on Lake Wylie, which has been difficult even for the best bass anglers in the world to get a read on. The number of limits caught dropped from 36 Thursday to 21 Friday. Consistency has been hard to come by, and Quinn is a perfect example. He caught a limit weighing 11 pounds, 12 ounces Friday to move into a tie for the ninth-place qualifying spot after weighing in only 9-2 (32nd place) Thursday.

Most of the other 11 qualifiers today were hoping Quinn wouldn't be among them on Day Three.

"Jason definitely has an advantage," said Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas, who was in sixth place after two days with 22-10. "He knows where the little fingers of deep water come in from the bank. He knows where the bream beds are. That's a huge advantage."

The edge in Lake Wylie knowledge is especially important in this format where each angler only has 70 minutes to figure out where to fish each section. And the holes are big enough that each section has lots of options.

However, no one thinks this is a gimme for Quinn. With names like Kevin VanDam and Denny Brauer in the final 12, Quinn knows nothing will be won without a fight over the next two days. And all 12 of the finalists have found some kind of pattern on Lake Wylie that is producing for them. Saturday's weigh-in will determine the six anglers who will advance to Sunday's finale and the chance for the $250,000 first prize.

"This format is the most intense I've ever fished," said Jordon. "It's like a power play in hockey. You better make something happen, and you know it. It's that intense all day long. It's pretty awesome."