- Lynn Burkhead
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DECATUR, Ala. — After a blistering two-hour hot streak as hot as the Alabama sun propelled him to a second-place spot during Thursday's first day of competition, co-angler Jimmy Dudley of Canton, Ga., cooled off just a bit on Friday at the Southern Challenge on Lake Wheeler.
But not too much after weighing in his 11 pounds, 2 ounce limit of five bass before Elite Series emcee Keith Alan and BASS tournament director Trip Weldon, Dudley found himself nearly two pounds in the lead heading into Saturday's co-angler championship round.
"Today wasn't as good as yesterday," Dudley admitted after posting a 14-2 effort on Thursday. "But I did catch a big 5-pounder about 10 minutes before we came in."
That fish enabled Dudley to lead second place angler Bob McMullin of Pevely, Mo., who weighed 13-6 to boost his two day total to 23-6.
In third place was Brian Hickey of Cadiz, Ky., who brought five bass to the scales at 8-14 to give him a total of 23-0.
Falling to fourth place was first-round leader Steven Wisdom of Birmingham, Ala., who had 5-13 for a 21-6 total.
After Dudley picked up a quick limit Friday morning fishing a grass flat with Elite Series pro John Crews, changing his lure's color helped land a whopper bass that put him in the driver's seat for Saturday's top prize of $25,000.
"If you can get into them, they'll hit a DD-22 crankbait," Dudley said. "I was fishing a white one all day long and had caught nothing on it.
"I switched to a yellow and black spotted DD-22 and on my second cast, I caught a 3-pounder.
"Then, we came up this way (toward the marina) during the last hour and I caught my 5-pounder."
Dudley indicated that BASS pro Crews caught more fish on the day and that he just happened to get a bit lucky in the back of the boat to catch a quality fish or two even while fishing a deep diving crankbait in shallow to moderate water depths.
"I caught my big fish today in nine feet of water," Dudley said. "Yesterday, I caught my top fish, a 4-12 bass, in just four-feet of water with a DD-22.
Will that approach work again tomorrow?
"I hope so," Dudley laughed. "If you had told me a few weeks ago that I would be doing this by yanking a DD-22 through grass, I would have told you that you were crazy."
McMullin is also hopeful that recent trends at Wheeler hold up for one more day.
Fishing with Alabama Elite Series pro Randy Howell on Friday, McMullin landed a 5-14 bass that was good enough to sit at the top of the Purolator Big Bass leaderboard after the second round.
"Getting a good draw is really a key out here," McMullin said. "I was paired with Randy Howell today and he kept me around big fish most of the day.
"I probably only caught about half the number of fish today that I caught yesterday, but they were bigger fish."
Using a jerkbait on Friday in four- to five-feet of water over Wheeler's abundant grass, McMullin's big bass of the day could have him primed for a winner's check on Saturday afternoon in what is his first ever co-angler start on the Elite Series.
"On that fish today, I didn't know what it was for a while," he said. "I thought at first it was a drum, but then I realized there was no shaking or circling around like a drum. Randy said 'That's a big bass!' and from there I played it (carefully) and got it into the boat."
McMullin knows that whomever he gets paired with on Saturday will go a long way toward determining if he can achieve his dream of victory.
"If (whoever it is) fishes the flats like we have the last two days, then I think I can catch the fish (necessary to win)," he said.
"I'm going to do some re-rigging tonight though and probably will throw more crankbaits tomorrow and probably I'll be fishing a worm some. My wrist is about to fall off after jerking these baits for the last two days."
Hickey is also squarely in the hunt, although he indicated that for him, it's already "mission accomplished" after fishing with Dean Rojas on Friday.
"I knew where he was (on the leaderboard) and I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't in his way," Hickey said of Rojas, who missed the cut on Friday despite being very much in the thick of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
"After that, my main goal was just to make it to tomorrow."
While Hickey says that the "hard part is over" for him and that he is content just to "go fishing tomorrow" and let the chips fall where they may, that doesn't mean that he doesn't want to win.
If he does so, it will most likely be while he is power fishing again with single-hook baits.
"I'll be throwing both jigs and worms," Hickey said. "I keep thinking that a spinnerbait will work, but it hasn't yet. I've seen a lot of guys throwing Rat-L-Traps, but I'm not going down that road."
But he might be tempted to throw a frog after witnessing a clinic in the technique from Rojas during Friday's second round.
"Dean is an intense angler and he's got every right to be since he's a contender for Angler of the Year," Hickey said. "What he can do with a frog, like skipping it into places you'd never think of, it will blow your mind."
"In fact, I probably spent about two hours just watching and laughing today as he did things with a frog that no one else can do.
"He is really a first-class guy, the ultimate competitor."
Also in contention for the win on Saturday is first-round leader Wisdom.
"Man, it was just a totally different world out there today," he said after weighing 5-13 Friday compared to his Thursday's 15-9.
"It was brutal, brutal," he said.
On Thursday, Wisdom rode a crankbait and 10" Texas rigged plastic worm to the lead.
Today, neither technique produced fish and he switched to a Strike King Red Eye Shad to boat his limit of small fish.
"I just couldn't get that 2-pounder to bite," Wisdom said. "If it had, I might be sitting pretty (for tomorrow).
Even so, Wisdom is within striking distance and one or two good fish could get him back to the top of the leaderboard when it ultimately matters.
"The pros, they're out there looking for that one or two good fish in the 4 to 5-pound range," he said. "Us co-anglers, we're out there hoping for a good 2 or 3 pound kicker."
Such a fish on Saturday or one that is even better will undoubtedly be the springboard for one of these anglers to take home the co-angler's championship trophy and a $25,000 payday.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Southern Challenge, June 5–8, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 3:00 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" on at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 4:15 p.m. ET.
After yesterday's sizzling two-hour run put Dudley near the top of the leaderboard, another good outing today on Lake Wheeler takes him to the top spot with one round remaining