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Final Update – 2:30 p.m.: Closing Minutes Will be Key for Making the Top-20 Cut
We're 30 minutes out from the start of the day-two weigh-in, and what happens in the closing minutes (or hours for pros in the later flights) will have a big impact on today's top-20 cut. Fishing was slow this morning, and no one was able to push ahead. Yet, ample sunshine midday and into the early afternoon warmed the shallows and really turned on the largemouth bite. In fact, several On The Water reporters were surprised at just how good the largemouth fishing was after lunch. As a result of the uptick in shallow action, a lot more pros have begun to run and gun around the lake. They're scrambling to find a spawning cove with largemouths (or spots, or both) on beds that they can pluck just in time for the ride to weigh-in. Of course, you can never expect consistent weather in the springtime, and right now a haze of grey clouds are sliding in over Smith Lake, threatening to shut it all down.
A few important updates: Clayton Batts' limit isn't quite as big as originally reported. He's in the double-digits, but probalby not in the teens yet. Andy Morgan is still sitting strong with at least 14 pounds. We lost Drew Benton about an hour ago, and he was still stuck on 8 pounds. He caught his fish quickly yesterday morning and will need to match that flurry in the waning moments to defend his lead today. Lendell Martin Jr. and Jim Tutt, who came into today tied for 10th place, have had mediocre outings, which could put them right around the Buck Knives Cut line at 20th place. We haven't been able to find Birge since this morning, and he wasn't having much luck then. Stay tuned to see if he turned it around. Bryan Thrift, an AOY favorite this season, was also running and gunning to try and pick up a few key bites to boost a small limit and stay in the top 20. Finally, Scott Martin, who was one of the first pros in the top 10 to locate a kicker on a bed, could have himself in a good position to move up today if he can cull with a couple of 3-pounders in the afternoon.
It's going to be a close, wild weigh-in, so click on the FLW Live link on the home page to watch it all go down.
1:15 p.m.: Afternoon Action is Picking up, and Benton's Lead is in Trouble
Yesterday, Drew Benton was very confident in his bed-fishing pattern. But then, how confident can you really be when dealing with bedding bass? They're fickle and undpredictable, and they'e very difficult to rely on for a four-day tournament. Right now he does have a limit, but the last report from the On The Water crew said Benton's catch weighs only about 8 pounds. That's not going to cut it when many of the pros in the top 20 behind him are figuring out the afternoon bite.
The sun is shining bright right now, which is warming the shallows again and motivating new fish to slide in to spawn. A lot of the field is catching them, so there could be another logjam of pros in that 10- to 13-pound range today. Plus, Andy Morgan, Jayme Rampey and Clayton Batts all are working their way up into the middle "teens" with plenty of prime fishing time left to go.
As long as a spawning cove is protected from the wind, Mother Nature is giving anglers perfect sight-fishing conditions, so as new spawners show up, you can bet that they'll be found quickly. The reaction baits are still producing too, including spinnerbaits, topwaters and even crankbaits. Also, the spinning rod has worked for pros targeting deep spotted bass (though this sun might hinder that bite), and even Morgan has been in on the fairy wand game. He's fishing a shaky head around docks.
11:55 a.m.: The Leader Has a Limit as Fishing Across the Lake Starts to Improve
The fishing has really picked up over the last hour. Leader Drew Benton has locked up a limit now and is back to sight-fishing. The midday sun has done him a lot of good.
Andy Morgan has reached 14 pounds. He was tied for eighth place coming into today. Interestingly, he's actually catching spotted bass with a spinning rod around docks, which is far from stereotypical shallow-power Morgan fishing.
Clayton Batts has had a limit for a while and has made a couple of great upgrades. We're calling Batts the unofficial leader right now, though it's almost too close to call. Batts is targeting largemouths with reaction baits.
Down the standings, Jayme Rampey is picking up steam. He's located several big fish on beds and has figured out how to make them bite. His water is quickly warming back up, as more and more fish move in with every degree increase. Rampey is almost exclusively bed-fishing now and has a real shot at moving up from 43rd place to make the top-20 cut.
10:50 a.m.: Benton Changes it Up, Batts Getting Hot
Leader Drew Benton has just two small largemouths in the livewell, and he has abandoned his bed-fishing pattern, at least for now. He's changed to cranking rock and wood cover and pitching docks. (Update: The OTW reporter following Benton says he's about to head to another bedding area to sight-fish. It sounds like he's mixing it up a little.)
Meanwhile, Clayton Batts in second place is starting to heat up on the largemouth bite. He has a small limit and is excited for the afternoon. It seems like he's dialing in a little more with a topwater and jerkbait. (Update: Within 10 minutes of posting this update, Batts culled with a 3-pounder.)
Elsewhere, anglers are throwing swimbaits, crankbaits and topwaters on the bank and around docks as they cruise along looking for beds. It's a real mixed back right now. Every pattern out there has had an up or a down moment today, as reflected in the various updates posted here this morning. Timing will be really critical as the day progresses.
10:12 a.m.: The Sun is Shining Now. Will the Action Pick Up?
It's not lunchtime yet, but already the cloud cover from last night's front has passed over the Jasper area, leaving behind bright blue skies and strong winds. The air is finally warming now thanks to the sunshine, so anticipate some fish-catch updates from the pros chasing bedding bass.
A quick leader update: Batts just landed another good keeper. Birge is on small fish and needing a big bite. Drew Benton has seen a little action, though he just lost one right at the boat. He's way off his pace from yesterday, when he landed five keepers on his first spot.
The spotted bass contingent is split between pros looking for spots on beds and others who are tossing jerkbaits. Though, a few anglers, including Californian Jimmy Reese and Kentucky pro Keith Amerson, have located schools of spots in deep water. Reese is parked over one school and dropping straight down to the fish on the graph. If that bite picks up, some of the deep-water experts such as Cody Meyer and Jason Johnson might get back in the game as well.
9:30 a.m.: No Clear Leader at this Point
Nobody in the top 20 seems to be making a real move right now. Benton has just one keeper. Birge has one. Batts has two. Right now, Scott Martin seems to be the most consistent. He's caught a few fish and has had a look at at least one quality keeper.
The biggest factor is still the weather. The wind has picked up significantly. It's blowing at 10-plus-mph, according to Weather.com, though it feels faster than that here at the marina. It's unclear why the spotted bass haven't really turned on. Perhaps the high pressure of this post-front day has them shut down still.
Stay tuned to the OTW stream, because several contenders are starting to run to their back-up spots and are trying to put together the pieces this morning. Our crew of reporters is on their trail.
8:54 a.m.: Big Fish Hard to Find Early, Some Pros Wishing for Sunshine
While a few anglers were happy with the conditions today, since the wind should turn on the spotted bass, several of the leaders are hoping for sunshine midday today because they're still relying on the shallow bite. Zack Birge has just one keeper and says his water got cold overnight. He's eyeing the window from noon to 4 p.m. as his prime time to sack 'em up. Right now he's chucking a spinnerbait around shallow bushes. Scott Martin has caught a few and found one nice fish on a bed that he's working right now, but most of his big bedding fish vanished overnight. Drew Benton spent about 90 minutes on his first bass this morning. It just wasn't willing to bite, and the cloud cover was making it difficult for him to watch and get a read on the fish.
The field is catching a few right now. If the sun does pop through, expect the fishing to get good real fast.
8:10 a.m.: Despite Lower Water Temperatures, Bedding Bass are Biting … for Some
"It's gonna be a good day. That was a tough one, but that was my indicator bass. I can catch them on beds."
Those words were spoken by Evinrude pro Scott Martin after dueling with an ornery bass on a bed this morning. He missed the fish several times but finally figured out how to get it to eat the bait well enough that he could set the hook.
Does that mean that all the pros pursuing the bed-fishing game are going to light up the leaderboard? Hardly. But it's a good sign that the cold front last night didn't knock all the spawners off the banks, and that they're still active enough to defend their nests.
Across the lake it sounds like the water temperature has fallen quite a bit. It's 5 degrees lower in parts of Ryan Creek. Day-one leader Drew Benton says it's 9 degrees lower where he's fishing. The cold snap and wind have prompted quite a few pros to pick up jerkbaits and chase spotted bass that should activate in these conditions once they get over the pressure change. Elsewhere, a few pros are tossing wake baits for shallow fish. It's a very interesting combination of tactics that we're seeing this week.
7:30 a.m.: Wind, Cold and a Bit of Uncertainty
The pros blasted out of the Smith Dam access about 30 minutes ago for day two of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lewis Smith Lake presented by Evinrude. Air temperature at takeoff: a chilly 41 degrees. The cool air and steady winds blowing today are good for the spotted bass fishing, according to most, but could make for a tougher day for anglers targeting spawning largemouths. Texan Clark Reehm thinks every 2 1/2- to 3-pound largemouth that was on a bed yesterday has been caught. It's questionable whether more will move in today due to the chilly post-front conditions. Reehm believes the weights will fall today. Perhaps they will, but several top pros, including Ish Monroe who's in sixth, claim to be on patterns that won't be negatively affected by the weather change.
Stay tuned to the FLW On The Water Twitter stream througout the day for nonstop updates.