Skeet Reese, Ish Monroe and Fred Roumbanis all live in California, and Aaron Martens, who now resides in Alabama, grew up fishing in the Golden State.
"To get this far in this tournament, I'm just tickled to death," Reese said. He has yet to finish outside of the top-12 in any tournament this season. "I really pulled one out of my … well, I pulled one out of somewhere."
Coming off the California swing, most people expected to see the West Coast anglers drop along with the weights, and it looked like it was going to hold true early on Clarks Hill. After Day One, Martens was the only angler sitting higher than 40th place. Roumbanis made his charge to the front on Day Two with 17 pounds, 11 ounces, and Reese and Monroe both caught big bags in Saturday to squeak in the top 12.
Reese, who was in 46th after the first day, improved his position on every day of the tournament. He was 19th after two days, eighth after three, and finished in sixth.
"I haven't liked this lake much in the past," Reese said. "I am just now seeing what a great lake it is."
John Crews credited his best-ever Elite Series tournament finish to "having a bad practice."
The 28-year-old Virginian bagged 61-1 on the way to a fourth-place check and, for a spell, a perch in the "hot seat" reserved for the Day Four tournament leader. It was an improvement over his 10th-place finish on Clarks Hill in 2006, and it was experience from that tournament that gave him a go-to spot to hit when things got lean this week.
Mostly he fished pockets 50 a day, he estimated sometimes pulling up on an attractive spot, putting his foot on the trolling motor and plying a length of bank. His key fish, a 6 ½ pounder was a bed fish he saw "a mile away."
A tough day
Chris Lane was the only angler left backstage when McClelland took the stage. He was sitting in a chair, holding his bag of fish inside a water tank. When they announced McClelland's weight at 19-15, Lane's head dropped.
"How much do you have?," someone asked him.
"I don't know 13 or maybe 12 and a half," he said. "I hope more than that though."
He weighed in 12-4 and finished second.
"You move on by going to Guntersville (Ala., the site of next week's Elite Series event), and and, well, I can't say what I want to say," he said. "My goal for this year is to make the Classic, and I moved up in the points this tournament. I've got to be happy with that."
"Worried. I'm real worried." Pete Ponds, backstage before the final weigh-in. He fell from second to third place.
"I'm tickled to death." Skeet Reese, numerous times, most recently when describing his move from 46th to 19th to 8th to 6th during the tournament's four days
"I could taste it the first day." Casey Ashley, who led after Day One but slipped each day and finished 8th
"They were showing themselves to me, laughing at me, sticking their tongues out." Kevin Short, who pondered dumping his tacklebox in the lake Sunday in order to figure out what the bass would actually bite
"I wish he'd give us a little slack or something," Casey Ashley, on chasing Derek Remitz in the Rookie of the Year race.
"Oh, I don't know, I hope not." Derek Remitz, on whether the other rookies give him bad looks when they see his weights.
Finally: To anyone camping at Wildwood Park who had to wake up to the sounds of ESPN-charted helicopters and Keith Alan barking into the microphone each morning. Sorry about all that.