The Waco, Texas, Bassmaster Elite Series pro amassed 36 pounds of Lake Hartwell bass after two days to edge first-day leader Charlie Hartley, an Elite pro from Grove City, Ohio, who had 34-13 — less than what he could have had if he hadn’t lost a bass he estimated to be in the 4- to 5-pound class.
Jones leads the top 25 who made the cut for Sunday’s finale and a chance at the Classic’s $500,000 first-place prize. The full field Friday and Saturday included 50 anglers.
Fishing fans can catch all the Classic action on ESPN2. Coverage of Saturday’s competition airs Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 p.m. ET and again Sunday, Feb. 24, at 6 a.m. Sunday’s finale, at which the 38th Classic champion will be crowned, airs Sunday, Feb. 24, at 10 p.m.
Elite pro Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., had 33-5 for third place, moving him up from fifth despite his having to switch patterns mid-Classic, thanks to an exiting cold front.
“I’ve said all along this isn’t going to be a one-rod show,” Pace said. “Yesterday I caught them real shallow, fishing reaction baits. With today’s high, bright skies, I had to back off and fish a lot slower and dropshot with plastics.”
In fourth place was two-time Classic champion Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., with 32-1. He said the bright sun forced him into another pattern Saturday, but declined to give specifics.
“Something changed everything out there today. It was tough,” said VanDam, who is fishing his 18th Classic. “The weather was the biggest factor — the sun coming out and warming up should have been positive. I’m still scratching my head.”
Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., pulled off one of the most dramatic improvements of the day, catapulting from 23rd place into fifth, thanks to a Day 2 catch of 18-12.
This is Jones’ 11th Classic. His best finish is seventh, in 2000 and 2003, but Saturday he was in position to go for the big win.
“I could get nervous, excited — all those things —-really easily,” Jones said. "I’m just trying to think about the next fish, I’m going to try to approach them one at a time tomorrow, take what comes.”
He said the majority of his fish took a spoon in water ranging from 15 to 40 feet. One spot, which he described as a “clay ditch, real tight and real narrow,” gave him the fish he needed to take the lead.
“I haven’t found anything else like it on the lake,” he added. “I’m fishing it slowly, methodically, grinding them out one at a time.”
Elite pro Skeet Reese, the reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, worked his way above the cutline with a Day 2 catch of 17-2, pushing him from 30th place to 13th. Defending champion Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., finished his second Classic in 33rd place, out of the cut.
The 25 Classic finalists will launch Sunday at 7:15 a.m. from Lake Hartwell’s Portman Marina. The doors to the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville will open at 3:30 p.m. for the 4:30 p.m. weigh-in. Admission to the launch and weigh-in is free and open to the public.
The Webcast Hooked Up at www.Bassmaster.com has provided updates from several Classic venues throughout the week. Sunday’s coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. ET, building up to Sunday’s weigh-in coverage beginning at 4 p.m.
At Greenville’s Carolina First Center, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo will be open Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Official sponsors of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic are Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter and Yamaha.
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