Through three days of competition it’s been Bradley Hallman and then everybody else at the FLW Tour event presented by Ranger on Lake Lanier.
However, conditions took a turn on the afternoon of day three, with clouds rolling in and a forecast of rain for the rest of the event.
For some of the pros in the top five, the rain is going to be quite welcome, and it will have to be if anyone is to overcome Hallman’s 5-pound, 9-ounce lead.
2. Zack Birge – Blanchard, Okla. – 49-10
Birge may be in second, but he doesn’t have the confidence of someone who sacked up 15-1 and sits in the runner-up position.
“I ran the same stuff again today, and I got six bites,” says Birge. “So I’m glad to have what I caught.”
That “same stuff” are six shallow points between Brown’s Bridge and the where the rivers split. On both Friday and Saturday he caught his best fish of the day first thing, and as the sun came overhead the fishing got better but the quality decreased. Saturday, it all seemed downhill from his first fish.
“I didn’t get bit well once those clouds rolled in, and I didn’t get a bite once it started raining,” says Birge, who was quite concerned about Sunday’s forecast.
“Basically, I made the top 10. So I’m going to take whatever those spots are going to give me. I may go out and catch one fish. I may catch 15-16 pounds. I’m just happy to be in the top 10 again.”
3. Jeff Gustafson – Keewatin, Ontario – 48-10
While Birge lacks confidence, Gustafson is quite the opposite.
Coming off a runner-up at the Harris Chain, the Canadian pro is in prime position again thanks to being surrounded by fish on the offshore areas he’s fishing near the dam.
“I probably see about 500 a day on my screen,” says Gustafson, who caught 17-8 on day three. “When you drop down on them they bite within 30 seconds or you don’t catch them.
“The other funny thing that happened today is I’d set the hook on one and, you know, the bottom is moving. There’s 10 or 12 following it. But you get the fish in, you drop back down on them and you might catch one more, but usually it’s done.”
The beauty of what “Gussy” is doing is it seems to be working everywhere, as he’s run new stuff every day. When he finds an area with fish, he’s either pitching out ahead or “video-game fishing” by dropping a bait straight down to ones he’s seeing on his graph.
As for Sunday, he’d prefer to have sun, but the lack of it doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t care,” says Gustafson. “I know I’m going to be around fish. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to catch them.”
4. Jason Johnson – Dawsonville, Ga. – 48-9
With how well everyone was catching fish in practice, Johnson was worried his local advantage wouldn’t be much of an advantage. Yet, as the conditions and fishing have gotten tougher, his confidence has only gotten stronger. That showcased itself when he brought in the biggest bag of day three at 17-10.
The only place Johnson fishes on this lake is below Brown’s Bridge, on the lower end. There he has been targeting isolated areas with a right mixture of cover and structure that spotted bass like to stage on before spawning.
“I put all my eggs in that basket,” says Johnson. “Day one it worked out. Day two they just didn’t bite for some reason. Today I had to rotate my areas a few times, but I finally got those key bites.”
Johnson credits the front repositioning his fish to where they could be caught easier, and he’s hoping the stable, albeit rainy conditions might keep his fish in those positions on Sunday for him to mount a comeback.
“If they’ll be up [shallow on my areas] all day long I feel like I might be able to catch a 20 or 22-pound bag and come back,” says Johnson.
5. Joseph Webster – Winfield, Ala. – 47-10
When your fourth of the day is a 5-pound spotted bass, that usually sets a solid tone for your day. It certainly did for Webster, who sacked up 14-13 despite a mid-day lull.
“It started out fast and early, and I had about 10 pounds in the first hour,” says Webster, who’s been fishing close to takeoff all week. “Then I kinda just went through a lull there catching 1-14s. I caught three limits of those. Then this afternoon, in the last 30 minutes I culled three of them.
“It’s about to get good.”
Of all the top-five pros, no one seemed more excited about Sunday than Webster, who figured out a deal late on Friday that really turned on once the clouds rolled in. He feels that pattern will only get better with the rain adding some more color to the water.
“We’re going to catch ’em tomorrow,” says Webster.