The final Tour event is shaping up to be a barnburner, with the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race to be decided over the weekend, along with the fates of anglers hoping to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite 50 series and 25 CITGO Bassmaster Classic spots awarded from the Tour.
"I've got to give a little thanks to Marty Stone, a good friend of mine," said McClelland, who brought in a total of 40 pounds, 11 ounces using finesse baits. "I really haven't fished this lake that much and Marty was just gracious enough to share some areas and patterns that should work. My goal when I came down here was to make the top 12. It's definitely changed now that I feel like I've got a shot at winning."
McClelland has a thin lead over Louisiana's Greg Hackney, who stands in second with 39-14, but their battle for the leaderboard isn't the most dramatic story of the week. On Saturday, Hackney will get his last chance to win or lose the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, and must finish eighth or higher to claim the $111,550 prize.
Current points leader Gerald Swindle of Alabama finished 39th in the tournament and will not fish Saturday, instead waiting on pins and needles until Hackney weighs in at the John C. Land III Landing at 3:30 p.m.
Momentum is heavily on Hackney's side. In addition to locking up the $10,000 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year award Friday, his 21-4 catch won the day's Busch Heavyweight award, bringing his total weight up to 39-14 and earning him a $1,000 bonus.
"I feel good, you know, but not real good," Hackney said. "I've had trouble breathing all day. If I don't think about it, I'm okay. I'm ready for it to be over with. I've been thinking about other things ...I couldn't even explain what it would mean to me. I really couldn't."
The field was cut Friday to the top 12 pros and amateurs, including Florida's Terry Scroggins (36-15), Texas's Cody Bird (36-8), Arizona's Mark Kile (36-7), California's Skeet Reese (36-6), Texas's Matt Reed (34-14), Texas's Dean Rojas (33-15), Missouri's Brian Snowden (33-11), California's Aaron Martens (33-4), Florida's Shaw Grigsby Jr. (33-2) and Texas's Kelly Jordon (33-2).
Missouri pro Denny Brauer brought in a 9-pound, 7-ounce bass Friday to take home the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the day bonus. If that bass, currently the largest caught at the Santee Cooper event, holds out through Sunday, Purolator will reward Brauer with another $1,000 check for the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament. On the amateur side, it was Alabama's Tommy Bryant whose 8-06 lunker earned him $500 from Purolator.
South Carolina's Howard Stephens is currently leading the amateur field on Santee Cooper. Stephens' two-day catch of 16-11 is only 2 ounces ahead of second place angler Walter Stringer of Alabama, who has 16-9. North Carolina's Gary Abernethy is currently sitting third with 15-08.
The heat gets turned up on the field again Saturday, when the field will cut to the Super Six pros. Launch is from the John C. Land III Landing at 6:30 a.m. Weigh-ins, also held at the landing, will begin at 3:30 p.m.
Fans can catch the finale of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer on the Santee Cooper Lakes, Saturday, April 3 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
The CITGO Bassmaster Tour events this season feature the highly interactive and family friendly BASS Sponsor Expo area. Sponsors present interactive exhibits and provide a fun family experience for all ages. The Expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday at John C. Land III Landing.
The CastingKids program, presented by CITGO will be held in conjunction with the BASS Sponsor Expo Saturday, from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the John C. Land III Landing. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 can participate in the contest with the chance to earn a scholarship.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. This April, BASS introduces the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer 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 CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
Local Sponsors include Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.