Banner day moves Lee closer to 50th and final spot in Classic

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Todd Lee was still trying to catch his breath Friday after landing the two biggest bass of his life at perhaps the biggest tournament of his life.

Lee caught a 10-pound, 15-ounce behemoth plus a 9-14 lunker to secure the lead at the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.

The Grove, Okla., angler climbed from ninth to first on the leaderboard with 44 pounds, 10 ounces, more than 7 pounds ahead of 2006 champion Jeff Coble, who moved up into second place.

Lee was in position to win the tournament's $100,000 top prize and earn entry into the Bassmaster Open division of his choice. But most important, he had a straight shot at securing the last berth for the 2007 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 23-25 on Alabama's Lay Lake in Birmingham.

"I'm shaking right now, and I'm not sure I can even speak," the 30-year-old said after weighing in Friday. "This was the best day of fishing I have ever had."

The key to his big day, said Lee, was "patience and persistence." He only collected seven bites but cashed in on the big ones. Lee's patience was necessary because the early portion of the day produced little action, but around noon he started connecting with the larger bass.

Lee said he had an "awful" practice earlier in the week, and didn't find Friday's productive areas until Thursday afternoon. He estimated that a 20-pound bag Saturday will clinch the tournament.

Lee's closest competitor is 2006 Series champion Coble. But Coble was not optimistic Friday about winning, despite totaling more than 37 pounds over two days.

"I caught just about as much as I could catch today and I am still 7 pounds behind," Coble said. "I just don't think I have enough to catch the leader."

Rounding out the top five were Oklahoma's Bobby Myers (33-0) in third, followed by Thursday leader Russell Colwell of Maryland (32-13) and Minnesota's Bradley Leifermann (29-8).

On the non-boater side, leading the chase for the $50,000 grand prize was Indiana's Rod Yoder with 18 pounds, 8 ounces, followed by Virginia's David Williams (18-0) and Michigan's Tony Impellizzeri (14-10).

Only the top 12 boaters and top 12 non-boaters qualified to move on to the final day of competition Saturday.