EVANS, Ga. After a lean Day One of the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, 20 pounds seemed like a safe weight.
Turned out that would be good for just 70th place. The bites picked up Friday on Clarks Hill Lake, and the result was a surge in weights that left several Bassmaster Elite Series pros stunned that their totals weren't enough to make the top 50 and survive to fish a third day.
"This is exceptional," Alton Jones said, moments after Kevin Short bumped him from 50th to done. "Either these guys dialed in better, or the fish bit better. It's probably a combination. I absolutely thought I would fish tomorrow with 14-9 (for 22 pounds, 9 ounces total)."
Cloud cover, steady winds and generally warming water temperatures no doubt boosted the field as a whole. That's little comfort to other bubble casualties such as Kevin VanDam, Terry Scroggins, Greg Hackney and Mike Iaconelli, all of whom weighed in more than 20 pounds over two days.
Many of the guys who were catching big fish Friday have shorter resumes than those gents, but nonetheless have dug out impressive weights from a tricky fishery.
Chris Lane leads the pack with 37-15, ahead of Mike McClelland's 37-13. Behind them sit a pair of rookies, Casey Ashley (3rd, 36-14) and Derek Remitz (4th, 35-9), then fifth-year pro Pete Ponds (35-7) and yet another rook, Bryan Hudgins (6th, 34-11).
Lane said he's fishing 18 inches of water in a flat fed by two creeks. On his first cast, he caught two fish weighing about five pounds total, one on each end of his bait. "I thought I had a big one," he said. Instead he was on his way to an early limit that he augmented with more post-spawn fish that he had pretty much all to himself.
"A 20-pound bag is possible there," he said. "That's what I'll need. I didn't separate myself from the pack today."
Ashley began the day in first place but slipped nearly 6 pounds off his Day One pace in falling 17 ounces out of the lead. "Honestly, I'm doing all I can," he said. The bites may have picked up for most of the field, but he said he expected it to dip Saturday, especially with a 60-boat local tournament pounding the water.
"It's not really action-packed fishing," Ashley said. "Just a bite here, a bite there."
Second-place Mike McClelland seemed similarly subdued after a terrific outing. He caught his first fish on his first cast often a dour omen but caught three fish on his first spot, one of a couple of dozen he's working along a three-mile stretch, casting and feeling for a clay bottom or clay mixed with rocks.
"I feel like I beat up the water I'm fishing pretty bad," he said.
It's hard to find an angler with much swagger in this one, such are the unpredictable conditions. The rest of the top 10 includes Jason Quinn (7th, 33-12), Jon Bondy (8th, 33-2), Short (9th, 31-13) and Rick Morris (10th, 31-0).
Anglers said the keys for the remainder of the tournament will be overcoming a lack of wind predicted for Saturday, and following the wind to warm water.
"Any time it's 63 degrees or higher, they bite," said Randy Howell (12th, 30-2). "If it's 62 or lower, they don't. It's amazing. I've never seen water temperature make such a difference on schooling fish."
Editor's Note: Sunday, April 22nd, ESPNOutdoors.com will be having LIVE Video coverage of the Pride of Georgia, presented by Evan Williams Bourbon throughout the entire day. Check in at 6:15 AM ET for The Launch: LIVE! and see your favorite BASS Anglers take off for the day of competition. Check back at 10:00 AM, Noon, and 2:00 PM ET for Live video updates from the event with Bassmaster TV hosts Mark Zona, Tommy Sanders, and Jerry McKinnis. Elite Series: Hooked Up - the Bassmaster Elite Series Final Day pregame show begins at 3:00 PM ET, followed immediately by the Final Day Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in and see who wins the $100,000 prize!