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Turning the tide

9/27/2008

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — It was a tough Day Two on the water for Redfish Cup anglers as they fought to make the top five and fish the final day. The community hole that yesterday produced most of the top weights was impacted by a slower tide, clearer waters and a crowd of boats double the size, making quality bites few and far between.

But for Craig Johnson and John Ochs, it was just what the doctor ordered.

The duo stuck with their game plan of fishing shallow flats 112 miles from the launch site and pulled out a 13.38 pound bag for a 27.87 two-day total. They are joined in the top five by Jeff Pope and Brandon Buckner with 26.29 pounds; Mike Friday and Danny Latham in third with 25.91 pounds; Alex Suescun and Eric Taylor in fourth with 25.28 pounds; and Matt Haag and Scott Hughes in fifth with 24.9 pounds.

The key for Johnson and Ochs was refusing to stray from the sight-fishing they are known for in favor of the deeper pattern many teams chose to key on.

"We're fishing our strengths," said Ochs. "We're keying on fish in shallow grass flats swimming over sand, so you can see them really well and don't have to depend on the tide."

But perhaps the most impressive performance of the weekend thus far has come from Mike Friday, who managed to overcome a severe case of vertigo earlier in the week to bag 12.17 pounds with his partner Danny Latham and make their first top five of the season.

"It was tough out there today," said Friday. "We finally ended up in our third spot and were able to upgrade in the last hour, but we don't really know anything about it or how the tide will affect it."

The drop-off in the bite at the community hole will make for an interesting final day on the water, as teams decide whether to stick with their original game plan or try something new to bring in bigger fish.

"The water was just too clear and there were at least 25 boats fighting for the same fish," said Ozzie Lessinger, who led after Day One with his partner Jeff Totten, but tumbled to 10th after only bringing in 8.13 pounds on Day Two.

"It's just fishing, man — that's why to win one of these you've got to be 100 percent perfect."

One team who was at 100 percent, however, was Matt Haag and Scott Hughes, who actually changed their strategy and left the community hole when too many boats began to crowd the area.

"Yesterday there was 11 boats there and everyone was cordial," said Haag. "Today there was at least 28 boats and we just weren't going to get the bite we needed."

Haag and Hughes left after only an hour and headed for a stretch of beach where they knew a small wreck resided on the ocean floor, and quickly hooked more than 20 fish.

"We caught everything using white Fish Bites Xtreme Shrimp," said Haag. "Probably half the field was using it."

Although this is Haag's first top-five appearance, it appears that Johnson and Ochs sit in the driver's seat with their shallow-water hot spot.

"I've always said, never change your game plan," said Ochs. "We've been on for two days — we just can't mess it up on the third."

Tune in tomorrow for the final live weigh-in beginning at 4 p.m. ET right here at ESPNOutdoors.com.