- Trey Reid
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LAKE WALES, Fla. — Going into the BASS Elite Series tournament on the Kissimmee Chain, the conventional wisdom was sight-fishing for spawning bass wouldn't play much of a role.
Even after the success of sightfishing techniques on Day One (Byron Velvick's 25 pounds, Terry Scroggins' 23-2, Kelly Jordon's 22-14), many observers questioned the staying power of such an approach.
The peak of the spawn is over, they said, and any small wave of new spawners wouldn't be enough to sustain an angler for four days.
Maybe so. But don't tell Kelly Jordon.
Jordon has sightfished his way to a nearly 8-pound advantage in the Citrus Slam, presented by Longhorn. He hauled in his second big bag (21-6) of spawners on Day Two, and has no intention of giving up on the pattern today.
"I'm going straight to a bed that has a 10-pounder on it," Jordon said before Saturday morning's takeoff.
Even with an 8-pound lead, Jordon admits he's far from a lock to win. After all, a hungry Velvick would enjoy nothing more than posting his first Elite Series victory and erasing the demons of several lackluster seasons. Two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam is also stalking Jordon; he's just behind Velvick with 35-11. And don't forget fourth-place Terry Scroggins, a Florida pro who's so good on the Kissimmee Chain that even his 9 1/2-pound deficit seems reasonably surmountable.
"I'm glad I've got a cushion," Jordon said. "I'll probably need every bit of it."
Velvick, who still leads the Berkley Heavyweight standings with his 25-pound bag from Thursday, will also try to catch bedding fish Saturday, even though that strategy only produced 11-6 on Friday.
"I saw a couple of fish that, if I'd caught 'em, I wouldn't be sitting here talking about 11 pounds," Velvick said. "I had 16 to 18 pounds on the line but some of them pulled off, and that's the difference."
Conditions were ripe for picking big females off the beds on Thursday: bright sunshine, calm winds and a general warming trend after cooler weather last week. Clouds rolled in Friday, making it more difficult to visually locate the spawning beds. And the depletion of a limited number of spawning fish also took its toll on the sightfishing approach.
"Yeah, I'm worried about running out of fish," Jordon said. "But I can catch 'em doing some other stuff, too."
A bigger concern Saturday may be an increase in wind. Although forecasters have backed off of their original prediction of 25-30 mph winds, they're still calling for 15-20 mph winds out of the southwest.
"With the changing conditions, you never know," Jordon said. "You can go out and not catch anything. But the good thing is that I know where some fish are. One thing about Florida — they are where they are, and they aren't where they aren't."
Still, Jordon seemed undaunted by the wind forecast on Saturday morning.
"I can still see the beds if it's windy," he said. "Inside the grass where I'm fishing, it's fairly calm. The wind may make them want to bite more. And I don't think it will muddy up my area, because it's back behind so much grass."
If the wind becomes a detriment, Jordon's backup plan calls for the use of Senkos, frogs, swimbaits and Texas-rigged soft plastics.
Velvick is pinning his hopes on new female bass replenishing spawning beds in his fishing area on Lake Toho.
"I've been seeing a lot of beds that still have males on them, and they're like magnets for bringing in the females," he said. "I need the bass to be frisky. I need the females to have a bar-hopping, get-your-groove-on mentality. I'll go check those beds with males and see if they've brought in the girls. That's the difference between a great day and having to go fishing and just try to scratch something out.
"The wind could hurt me, plus it's been picked over pretty good. It's really an Easter egg hunt."
Velvick's secondary plan is to slow down and methodically pick apart his water with swimbaits, frogs, Chatterbaits and possibly a topwater popper.
"I'm going to go through it and fish slow, and just milk the whole area," he said. "If I can't see them, I'm going to go through there and just throw those baits where I think the fish are."
The strength of the sightfishing bite will be tested by weather conditions as well as the number of fish that move up today. The ability to adapt will be crucial.
Several anglers are poised to move into contention if the leaders falter: There's VanDam, whose power-fishing style is suited to the potentially windy conditions; Another dangerous angler is former Classic champion and Angler of the Year Mark Davis, who caught more than 20 pounds Friday to jump from 42nd to ninth.
The 50 anglers on the water today are competing for 12 spots in Sunday's final round. While the top of the leaderboard appears relatively safe to make the final, it's wide open farther down the standings — about 5 1/2 pounds stands between 20th-place Ray Sedgwick (28-0) and fifth-place Scott Rook (33-10).
Saturday's weigh-in begins at 4:10 p.m. Eastern at Camp Mack's River Resort.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Citrus Slam on the Kissimmee Chain, from Lake Wales, Fla., March 13th–16th, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 10 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. ET.
7hK. Lee Davis