Once again, Jason Christie is on the verge of winning the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
And once again, his good friend — and occasional nemesis — Edwin Evers, has a chance to take it away from him.
The Oklahoma anglers occupied the Top 2 spots in the standings for the second straight day at Lake Hartwell, and they will lead the remaining 23 anglers into Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $300,000 first-place prize and the most coveted trophy in professional bass fishing.
Christie caught 16-6 during Saturday’s second round to push his two-day total to a tournament-best 37-4. Evers had a much tougher day than he did on Friday, landing only 13-0. But he remained in second place with a two-day mark of 32-9.
“It was the same deal today where you just had to weed through them until you found a good one,” said Christie, who also led the first two days of the 2016 Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, only to lose the title to Evers on the final day. “I had a chance to have a really good day, but I lost some fish. I don’t know if it was the lightning we had this morning or if the water’s clearing up or what, but they’re biting funny.”
Those funny bites led to some ragged hook sets that cost Christie on several occasions.
“I lost a 5-pounder and a 3- or 3 1/2-pounder,” said Christie, who won the GEICO Everyday Leader Award of $2,500 for the second straight day. “I also broke one off that was my fault. I hit a cable on one cast, and I didn’t retie. Then later on, I broke one off setting the hook.
“I caught a 4-pounder on my last cast, but I’m not getting enough of those kinds of bites. I can’t afford to booger those up when I get them.”
After landing 19-9 on Day 1, Evers struggled Saturday as he battled heavy boat traffic.
“I’d be fishing down a stretch expecting to get bit and it just wasn’t happening,” Evers said. “I would think to myself, ‘It seems like somebody’s already fished this.’ Then sure enough, I’d see a boat run out of the back of the pocket.”
When Evers scored his come-from-behind victory in the 2016 Classic, he changed radically on the final day from what he had been doing the first two days and managed to catch five bass that weighed 29-plus pounds.
He said he expects to make a similar change Sunday.
“I’ve got a plan — and it’s a pretty big change from what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I’m going to go fish a section of the lake that I haven’t fished because I think that section has been getting beat up pretty good.
“I don’t know that it’s going to work like it did back then (in 2016), but that’s the plan.”
Trailing closely behind Evers are Georgia pro Micah Frazier with 32-2 and a third Oklahoma pro, James Elam with 32-1. Alabama anglers Gerald Swindle is in fifth with 31-4, and Jordan Lee in sixth with 30-12.
Frazier said he fished a different area of the lake Saturday than he did Friday — mostly because he knew Elam was fishing the area as well.
“I started in an area Friday that James Elam was in, and he got there before me so he kind of took one side and I took the other,” Frazier said. “I chose not to go back up there today because I didn’t think there would be enough fish in there for both of us.”
The unselfish decision paid off.
“I started in a new area and caught a 5-pounder right off the bat,” Frazier said. “Then I ran to another area and caught two big ones.
“There’s a pattern to where all of the big ones have been — and they’re eating. But there’s just not a lot of them.”
The 6-11 largemouth caught by Alabama pro Mark Daniels Jr. still leads the race for the Berkley Big Bass Award. If that holds, Daniels will earn $2,500