LAKEPORT, Calif. The word backstage was that Steve Kennedy had bagged 40 pounds, and when he was transferring his porous sack from tub to tub, it became clear why.
His bag bulged like a college student's laundry sack. He might as well have been submerging a suitcase.
Greg Gutierrez, who had never led a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament until his first two days in this Golden State Shootout presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, stood a few feet behind as Kennedy lifted one 8-pound fish after another into his sack. For one of the first times in his jubilant week, Gutierrez' smile appeared strained. "You're a rock star," he told Kennedy.
He had to know then, holding his smallest bag of the week, that the race for first had just tightened before the final day on Clear Lake.
Skeet Reese, who began the day in third place, had already weighed in the biggest bag of his distinguished career, a 35-pound, 7-ounce hernia-maker that had Reese laughing throughout his time on stage.
"If that weighed 35, I culled a 30-pound bag today," he said. "I should have had 40 today. I lost two Moby Dicks."
Backstage, he elaborated: "Everywhere I went, they bit. I was throwing back fives and sixes. To be able to do that is phenomenal. It was a freak day.
"I was giggling the whole time."
Reese's three-day total of 89-12 broke the three-day BASS tournament record of 83-5 that Byron Velvick set on Clear Lake seven years ago. Then Kennedy, who at the time sat 40 pounds behind Reese, threw 40-7 on the scales, and bedlam broke loose.
So uniformly huge were Kennedy's fish that tournament director Trip Weldon weighed three of them to determine which was the kicker (the 9-8 beast was it).
"They just ate it today," the second-year Elite angler said. "They ate and ate and ate and ate." Asked what it felt like to then be within striking distance of the BASS four-day tournament record weight, Kennedy replied, "It's absolutely huge. It's awesome. That's the biggest bag I've ever caught."
When Gutierrez then weighed his merely terrific bag of 25-4, it felt like anticlimax. The Red Bluff, Calif., firefighter and bass pro had checked in 66-10 over the first two days, and fans were expecting a bag of at least 30 pounds.
Now it seems less a foregone conclusion that Gutierrez will break Preston Clark's record of 115-15, but more likely that someone will break that mark. He still leads going into the final day of the shootout with 91-14. Kennedy's within a tail with 90-4. Reese trails at 89-12.
If any of them bags as little as 26-4 on Sunday, the record will fall. Of the nine bags those three anglers have weighed during this tournament, all but two have topped that weight.
"That's pretty impressive, isn't it?" Gutierrez said. "I saw what Preston Clark did. He's been a hero for a long time. As long as we don't come back to Clear Lake, that record could stand for a long time.
"This would change my life to win this. This would solidify my presence on the water. I want at least to be known as someone who belongs on the trail."
Almost lost in the delirium of the massive weights was the cut from 50 anglers to 12. Jared Lintner bagged 28-10 to reach 79-13 and fourth place; Paul Elias blew away his previous two bags with a 32-13 stunner good for 79-10 and fifth; and John Murray had his biggest stringer of the week, 28-8, to climb to 78-12 and sixth.
Kelly Jordon (7th, 76-14), Gerald Swindle (8th, 76-4), Pete Ponds (9th, 75-15), Glenn Delong (10th, 75-1), Scott Rook (11th, 74-12) and Peter Thliveros (12th, 74-11) rounded out the final dozen.
Editors Note: ESPNOutdoors.com's new and exclusive pre-game show, Hooked Up, will start at 6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, April 1. It will be hosted by ESPN2 Bassmaster television hosts Tommy Sanders and Jerry McKinnis, and can be seen in the same location on ESPNOutdoors.com where the live video weigh-in is streamed.