Like many of the anglers taking part in the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake, Jordan Lee found plenty of bedding smallmouth bass in practice.
The young Alabamian relied on those smallmouth during the first round for a solid catch, and he planned to do the same during Friday’s second round.
But a couple of hours after takeoff Friday, Lee could tell things just weren’t working out. So he went looking for largemouth and put together a catch of 21 pounds, 7 ounces that pushed his two-day total to a tournament-best 40-8.
Lee’s plan for Saturday is now clear.
“I’m done with the smallmouth,” he said. “I’m just going to go fish largemouth all day tomorrow.”
Lee, who is six days shy of his 25th birthday, keyed on one small grassy area of the lake. He said he was surprised to find as many fish there as he did.
In practice, the area only produced a handful of bites. But a change in weather conditions made the area easier to fish Friday.
“It was cloudy and windy in practice, and you couldn’t really see the grass,” Lee said. “Today, it was sunny, and I could see a lot better. I pulled up in that one little small section where I had those bites in practice, and I caught three good ones in about 20 minutes.”
Two of the fish Lee caught in the area were in the 4 1/2- to 5-pound range — and with a good limit in the livewell, he went looking for more smallmouth. But after a while, he abandoned the smallmouth strategy again and returned to his largemouth area.
“I went back there and culled one more fish,” said Lee, who weighed in three largemouth and two smallmouth. “There’s obviously some fish around there, and I know exactly where they’re going to be. But there are a lot of guys fishing in there.”
Lee also earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for being the second-day leader.
Virginia angler Jacob Powroznik (40-3) was just 5 ounces behind Lee, and Thursday’s leader, Japan’s Morizo Shimizu (40-0), was just 8 ounces back.
Powroznik, who brought in 18-5 Friday, said he’s been sight fishing for bedding bass in 7 to 8 feet of water. He believes he’s catching fish that many anglers aren’t seeing or have written off as uncatchable.
“The fish that are bedding out that deep are a lot harder to see,” Powroznik said. “So I think a lot of guys are probably just missing them. I can barely see them sometimes, and it’s hard to tell exactly how big they are.”
While Powroznik relied mostly on smallmouth for Thursday’s catch of 21-14, he targeted largemouth Friday. Unlike the smallmouth, which tend to bite quickly in a sight fishing scenario, he said the largemouth were a little tougher to catch.
“They’re definitely more time consuming,” Powroznik said. “I spent an hour and 20 minutes on one fish today. When I finally caught the fish, it weighed about 3 1/2 pounds.”
After taking the lead with 23-6 Thursday, Shimizu brought in a respectable catch of 16-10 Friday and only fell two places to third. He said he fished the same techniques in the same areas Friday, but probably caught twice as many fish.
“I caught eight to 10 fish the first day, and today I caught maybe 20,” said Shimizu, who speaks in broken English with a distinct Japanese accent. “The difference was, yesterday, I only caught big fish. Today, no big ones.”
Since the bedding smallmouth he found in practice have disappeared, Shimizu said he plans to continue fishing two main areas for largemouth — a small point and a grassy area.
“I need wind this time to catch fish,” Shimizu said. “Both spots have been good all day long. But today, the bigger fish bit in the morning. The first day, I caught biggest fish in afternoon.”
Florida rookie Drew Benton is fourth with 39-8, and Arizona pro Dean Rojas is fifth with 39-7. Michigan superstar Kevin VanDam is in sixth place with 38-15.
It took a whopping mark of 33-3 to make the Top 50 cut for Saturday’s semifinal round. It was easily the highest total needed to make the cut for the 2016 Elite Series season.
Louisiana pro Greg Hackney, who had his Day 1 catch disqualified for a rules violation, caught 15-4 and finished the event in 107th place. Alabamian Gerald Swindle, who moved into the lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race after Hackney’s DQ, caught 19-10 Friday and rocketed from 44th place to 15th with a two-day mark of 36-10.
Swindle now holds a 45-point lead over Powroznik in the Angler of the Year race. Hackney has fallen into fourth place in the AOY standings, 62 points out of the lead.