You might call Hite’s leader status a belated birthday gift since weights were zeroed after Day Two, allowing Hite to start out even with the 12 anglers who made the cut. Now his lead looks nearly insurmountable.
“This tournament is mine to lose, and – looking at the weights – I should win it,” the 1999 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champ said. “But who knows? These guys are really, really good, and I bet you they all feel like they could win it tomorrow.”
Hite played it close to the vest when it came to his presentation and even requested that the other anglers not watch the video when the day’s highlights were played at the weigh-in.
“Everyone’s got a laptop nowadays. They can fire that thing up and find out what’s going on,” Hite said. “I can tell you that I have three or four spots, and I’m not fishing grass like most everyone else. I’m getting most of my fish off the bank.”
This is sweet redemption for Hite after posting a next-to-last finish at Lake Dardanelle in 2004. To say that he lacked confidence coming into the tournament would be an understatement. Hite purchased an early plane flight home and a three-day fishing license – which would have been fine, except that the tournament lasts four days!
“I’m going to smile when I cancel that plane ticket,” Hite said, “but right now I need to buy a fishing license for tomorrow.”
Hite’s first-place catch included a five-pound largemouth that was good enough for Purolator Big Bass of the Day honors and an extra $1,000 in Hite’s pocket. He’ll also earn an extra $1,000 for the Busch Heavyweight catch of the day.
Although Clunn (13-5) trails by over five pounds, he seems to be gaining momentum after qualifying for the Classic on the strength of a solid Tour season.
“I feel like I’m capable of winning at every tournament this year,” Clunn said. “We’re going into my time of the year – the post-spawn – and I feel pretty good about tomorrow.”
Clunn caught eight keepers on the day, taking most of his fish on a Lucky Craft Rick Clunn 1.5 Crankbait. Although Hite was secretive about his day, Clunn knows what he’s up to.
“He (Hite) knows what I’m doing, and I know what he’s doing,” Clunn said. “We’re fishing similarly, and today he got the big ones, but tomorrow the big ones could be in my boat.”
In third place is Texan Gary Klein (12-4), making his first final cut of 2005. Being in the final field on Saturday is all the more important to the 22-time Classic qualifier considering he will gain lots of Elite 50 points in the process. Klein needs a solid Elite 50 season to qualify for the Classic in Pittsburgh, July 29-31, and is guarded about his methods.
“I had a different vision when the day started of what I was going to do than what I actually did,” Klein said. “I really got tuned in on Hole Six, and I caught all of my keepers on that hole.”
Rounding out the Super Six and surviving to fish the final day are 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Aaron Martens (11-8), North Carolina’s Dustin Wilks (10-15) and 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic Champ and Day Two leader Michael Iaconelli (10-5).
The standings have reversed on Iaconelli and, with the weights being zeroed, what was a birthday present for Hite has spelled disaster for Iaconelli. Nevertheless, the New Jersey pro is as upbeat as ever.
“I could sure use that weight right now,” Iaconelli said jokingly of his performance on the first two days.
The final round weigh-in will be held at 7:00 p.m. at Dardanelle State Park on Saturday.
Each Elite 50 angler will have a payday in the no-entry-fee event. The winner will take home a check for $100,000, and the last place finisher will earn $5,000. The total payout for each of the four Elite 50 events is $400,000.
Part one of the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series event on Lake Dardanelle will be telecast on The CITGO Bassmasters on Saturday, May 28 at 10:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Part two will air on Saturday June 4 at 10:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).
Local Sponsors include the Russellville Tourism & Visitors Center.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.