The Texas pro, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Lake Wylie Saturday, holds BASS records for single-day weight (45 pounds, 2 ounces on Lake Tohopekaliga) and total weight for a four-day tournament (108-12).
On Saturday, his five-bass limit weighing 10-12 propelled him from third into first place with a two-day total of 26-4.
That put Rojas 10 ounces ahead of first-round leader Takahiro Omori (25-10). Local favorite and Lake Wylie guide Jason Quinn moved up from seventh to third (24-1) Saturday, followed by California's Aaron Martens (23-12) and Marty Stone of North Carolina (23-2).
But the day belonged to Rojas, who spent the entire eight hours casting within sight of Omori.
“I had the same amount of bites today that I had yesterday, but the size and the quality just wasn't there today,” two-time BASS winner Rojas said. “I fished basically the same areas, but I caught two fish from new water.
“Takahiro and I pass by each other at times during the day. It's a pretty good-sized area, but he's in sight of me pretty much the whole day. Today we had a little confrontation, where our boats came together and his entourage (of spectator boats) and my entourage kind of combined into one.”
“I think we had about 150 boats all together,” Rojas said. “I respect Takahiro as an angler and he's a friend. We're just going to work together, I imagine, and each fish what we need to fish.
“We're both on the fish to win. It could be the death of us or it could turn out to be the greatest thing that ever happened.”
Omori, a 33-year-old Japanese pro now living in Emory, Texas, caught a limit for the second consecutive day, but Saturday’s weighed but 9? pounds.
“Me and Dean are pretty much fishing the same area, so whoever gets the best bites (Sunday) will win,” said Omori, who has won three BASS events since coming to America in 1992. “Today, I went to three different baits to catch five keepers.”
Quinn, 32, is such a local favorite that he was followed all around Lake Wylie by as many as 60 spectator boats. Still, the three-time Classic contender managed to catch five largemouth weighing 10-13.
“I'm doing real well,” he said. “I think my chances are pretty good. I've got some places that I haven't fished, yet, that I've been kind of trying to save. So I'll be swinging for the fences tomorrow.”
Defending Classic champion Michael Iaconelli, who was in second place after Day 1 of the Lake Wylie event, saw his hopes of becoming just the second angler to win consecutive world championships all but disappear Saturday when he was disqualified for fishing in an off-limits area.
BASS tournament director Trip Weldon said the New Jersey pro didn’t earn any weight for the one bass (weighing 1-6) in his livewell.
“At the tournament briefing on Tuesday night, we handed the briefing sheet to the anglers and it says the bass live-release area will be announced at the tournament briefing,” he said. “I announced that it was from the far side of the boat ramp over to the riprap where it meets the lake under the bridge. Behind the no-wake buoy.
“Mike called me today around 12:30 or so and asked me exactly where the off-limits was. I said, ‘Mike, if you're looking at T Bones (Restaurant) and go over to the riprap out where it meets the lake, from there past the boat ramp behind the no-wake buoys is off-limits.”
“I found out later that he went inside there and fished the docks, including the dock that goes parallel to the walkway to T Bones Restaurant, clearly behind the no-wake buoys and I disqualified his catch for the day,” Weldon said. “He did it after the phone call. Evidently he misunderstood me, but I think I was clear both in the briefing and also our phone conversation. Mike's a great champion. I hate it, but that's the way it goes.”
“Bottom line is I made a mistake,” said Iaconelli, who is in 22nd place. “I wouldn't intentionally fish an off-limits area in the Bassmaster Classic or any other tournament.”
South Carolina's Davy Hite took Saturday's Purolator Big Bass award with a 5-pound, 6-ounce bass.
Sunday's final round promises to be a shoot-out for the $200,000 top prize, with the top 10 anglers separated by about 7 pounds.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new 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 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission, Visit Charlotte, the Auditorium-Coliseum-Convention Center Authority, the Rock Hill Sports and Tourism Council and Time Warner Cable.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.