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At that point, about 360 of the 400 anglers already had weighed their bass in front of a healthy crowd at Venetian Gardens. If you had asked just about any of them, they probably would have said it was practically certain that Thursday's leader, Marty Robinson, would hold onto the top spot heading into Saturdays’ final day of fishing on the Harris Chain of Lakes.
But Lucas had other plans.
The Guntersville, Ala., resident and California native swooped in at the 11th hour with a five-fish limit that weighed 21 pounds, 14 ounces. That gave Lucas a 43-9 total for two days, and has him more than 2 pounds ahead of Robinson heading into the final round.
Lucas was the only angler of the 200 in the pro division who caught 20-pound bags the first two days of the tournament. He’s never won an Open, and he told the crowd he’s itching to add to his trophy collection.
“I already have two on the mantle from the Elite Series,” Lucas said, referencing his wins on the Potomac River in 2016 and the Sacramento River a year earlier. “But no Open trophies … We want them all.”
Robinson, the Elite Series pro who led after Day 1 with 23-11, was undeterred by losing the lead. He said he’s repeating a familiar saying to himself this week to stay focused.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Robinson said. “And I’ve got the will.”
It certainly appears he’s on the right track. Robinson followed with a strong five-fish limit of 17-13 Friday, and his two-day total of 41-8 puts him in a solid second place with one day remaining.
The field was cut to 12 after the Friday weigh-in. Also surviving to fish Saturday were Hunter Shryock (third, 40-8); Jesse Wiggins (fourth, 37-15); John Pollard (fifth, 37-5); Brandon Card (sixth, 36-9); John Cox (seventh, 35-13); Scott Canterbury (eighth, 34-4); Derek Hudnall (ninth, 34-1); David Kilgore (10th, 33-4); David Hutson (11th, 32-15); and Joshua Stracner (12th, 32-14).
Like Lucas, Robinson has been impressive on the Harris Chain. He caught two 6-pounders sight fishing early Thursday, but windier weather Friday forced him to employ alternate strategies. He fished both offshore and along shorelines and said he may consider a mix of methods in the final round when there’s less pressure on the water.
“Today I was kind of scared to go looking for some sight fish at the end of the day because guys had been in and out of those canals all day,” Robinson said. “That’s made them skittish and real hard to catch. But now that it’s down to 12 guys, why not expand a little bit?”
Robinson said he’d love to have weather just like anglers enjoyed Friday — temperatures in the 80s, partly cloudy skies, and (perhaps most important) winds about 8 to 10 mph out of the southwest.
“I think a little bit of wind and cloud cover helped fishing,” he said. “I lost a great old big one, and I caught a limit fairly quick. We’ve got a front rolling in here (Sunday,) and the day before the front is usually a good day for fishing. I’m in the 12, so I know I’ve got a shot.”
So does Shryock, who has been a model of consistency this week. After weighing a 22-11 limit Thursday, he followed with 18-7 Friday.
Shryock also caught some sizable bass sight fishing early Thursday morning, but his spot wasn’t productive Friday with brisk winds prevailing. But as he did Thursday, the Newcomerstown, Ohio, resident turned to an alternate shallow spot that he said has him “ecstatic” about the possibility of a big bag Saturday.
Regardless of what’s to come, Shryock already is guaranteed at least the second-highest finish in his fourth year on the circuit (he finished fifth at a Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Lake Erie in 2013.)
“It’s not so much a pattern that I’m fishing, but the spot itself,” Shryock said. “There’s a whole lot of fish and activity in there. There were a couple of other anglers there with me today, and I’m not sure what they caught. If they don’t finish in the Top 12, there could be less pressure in there tomorrow, and more places for me to hit.”
Wiggins also has found success in this Southern Open. After bagging a 17-5 limit Thursday, he’s in the Top 12 after following with a 20-10 haul on Friday. Wiggins said he didn’t even consider sight fishing this week, and instead, he’s fishing offshore in about 8-10 feet of water.
“I have two spots, and I haven’t even been to one of them,” the Elite Series rookie said. “I got a limit two days off of just one of them. It’s a great way to start the season.”
Florida’s Fred Rigdon leads the co-angler field after Day 2, with a total of 23-4.
The winner in the pro division will earn $51,400 in cash and prizes, including a Nitro boat package. The top co-angler also wins a Nitro boat package.
The final day’s launch will take place at 7 a.m. ET at Venetian Gardens. The weigh-in will be held at Bass Pro Shops, 5156 International Drive in Orlando at 4:15 p.m.
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