By BassFan Staff

The door is open.

Now, it’s a matter of whether John Cox can slam it shut or if someone else in the top 5 (or lower) can bust through with some final-day heroics.

Cox had the opportunity to put some serious distance between himself and the rest of the field today at the Harris Chain FLW Tour, but his third straight day of sight-fishing produced just 10-04 (his smallest bag of the tournament) and his lead, which was nearly 6 pounds this morning, is now down to 2-02. Also, his sight-fishing opportunities may be dwindling with overcast, windy weather in the offing for Sunday.

Cox’s 54-14 total through 3 days has him in the lead for the third straight day, but it’s a tenuous position considering the rest of the top 5 is now within 3 1/2 pounds of him.

“Today could’ve been really bad,” Cox said. “I’m thankful for those 10 pounds. Just from tournaments in the past and what I’ve experienced before, today could’ve been a really bad day. I didn’t hit anything right. I only caught five. It was just awful.”

The parade of Cox’s challengers is led once again by Shane Lehew, who’s perched in 2nd for a third straight day. Lehew also caught his smallest bag of the week (13-15).

The one to watch tomorrow may be Matt Reed, the former Elite Series mainstay who transitioned to the Tour this season. His weights have steadily increased each day and his 18-10 today was tops among the 20 anglers. His 52-08 total has him 4 ounces behind Lehew and just 2-06 off Cox’s pace.

Despite slipping one spot to 4th, Bryan Thrift’s amazing run continues – this is his fifth straight top-10 cut (an FLW Tour record) – after he caught 15-00 to push his total to 51-13. Bradley Dortch had 51-07 in 5th after hauling in 15-01 today.

Here's a look at the top 10 entering the final day of competition, with deficit margin from Cox indicated by red numbers in parentheses:

1. John Cox: 54-14
2. Shane Lehew: 52-12 (2-02)
3. Matt Reed: 52-08 (2-06)
4. Bryan Thrift: 51-13 (3-01)
5. Bradley Dortch: 51-07 (3-07)
6. Josh Weaver: 47-00 (7-14)
7. Rusty Trancygier: 46-14 (8-00)
8. Chris Whitson: 45-06 (9-08)
9. JT Kenney: 44-10 (10-04)
10. Aaron Britt: 44-10 (10-04)

Chris Whitson made up 11 spots today to 8th with a 16-08 bag to collect his second career top-10 cut. California rookie Aaron Britt hauled the biggest bass caught this season to the scales – a 9-08 behemoth – and it spurred him to his first top-10 cut. He has rallied 92 spots in the last two days.

Local ace Tim Frederick made the long run to Lake Apopka today in hopes of finding some untapped areas, but he slipped out of the top 10 with three fish for 10-02 and finished 14th. Jim Moynagh, who’d been in the top 6 each of the first two days, fell out of contention with a small limit today that pushed him down to 15th.

With sight-fishing opportunities starting to dry up and a round of overcast and windy weather on tap for Sunday, the stage is set for casting and winding to take a more prominent role in how this event is settled. The finalists have caught their fish from an array of lakes doing a little bit of everything (flipping, looking, cranking, dragging), a testament to the health of the entire chain.

Photo: FLW

Cox may have to abandon his sight-fishing plan on Sunday.

Cox Disappointed, But Relieved

> Day 3: 5, 10-04 (15, 54-14)

Cox devoted his entire day again to looking for fish. The ones he found, however, weren’t quite ready to cooperate. It left him scrambling and he came away feeling fortunate to have caught a limit.

“Today was just unfortunate,” he said. “I moved around a lot and stumbled on two 3 1/2s. They weren’t ready. They were on the beds and cleaning them and the females were right there. I don’t know what they were waiting for.

“The area I went to today, the fish seemed a lot more educated. Maybe that’s because other guys had been fishing there. I had a few swim off with the bucks and had another one come up to the trolling motor and look at me and then go back. I didn’t get lucky on any of the good ones.”

He’s not discouraged, though. He has plenty of history throughout the chain and will probably transition to some moving baits tomorrow. He thinks a 15- or 16-pound bag will get him the win.

“There are fish everywhere,” he added. “I might actually do some casting tomorrow if it’s raining. I might check a couple areas (for bedders) but with the weather it might get some fish moving in. Sunday could be the best fishing day for chunking and winding.”

2nd: Lipless Saved Lehew

> Day 3: 5, 13-15 (15, 52-12)

Lehew was thrilled about locking up his first top-10 cut as a pro. Now, he’d like to sew up his first major victory.

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “I’m going to do the same thing and just go fishing. If it’s going to happen, it will. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not.”

He thinks his sight-fishing opportunities are maxed out (he caught one that way today) and he’ll probably spend most of his time Sunday around some pads in Little Lake Harris, where he thinks the shad are starting to spawn.

“I caught a limit quicker today than the whole time I’ve been here,” he said. “The shad have moved into that area and all those fish are post-spawn.

“It’s the only area I’ve got. I went to Eustis today and only caught one little guy so I probably won’t go back. I’m committed to that area down there.”

He caught four of his weigh fish on a lipless crankbait, something he hadn’t relied on much this week. He did incur a 4-ounce dead fish penalty and lost a 4-pound class fish this morning that certainly would’ve helped him.

“I feel like I’m going to need 17 to 18 to have a shot at it,” he added.

Photo: FLW

Matt Reed is hoping his weights continue to climb one more day.

3rd: Reed Likes His Chances

> Day 3: 5, 18-10 (15, 52-08)

Reed is taking a cautiously optimistic approach into the final day. His stringers have increased in weight each day while Cox’s and Lehew’s continue to shrink.

“If I can catch another bag like I’ve been catching, we’ll lay all the cards on the table and see how it plays out,” the Texan said when asked if he felt he could win. “I’ve fished clean for 3 days and I wouldn’t change anything.”

He said the fishing was considerably tougher this morning, but he remained committed to the area that’s produced each day for him.

“At 11:30, I had three for 3 1/4 pounds,” he said. “Then they turned on and I rotated back through some stuff and caught a 6 and two 4 1/2s.”

Those 4 1/2-pounders came off a spot where he caught a 5 1/2-pounder Friday. He has several other spots within the area that have been key as well.

“There are about 20 to 30 spots that are very small and a couple have been key to me,” he said. “I keep rotating through as many as I can and rotate back through the key ones.”

Hard bottom out in the middle of the lake is how he described the area he’s targeted.

He’s anything but nervous entering the final day.

“I’m as calm as can be,” he said. “Going into this event, I looked at (travel partner) Billy McCaghren and said, ‘It’s possible that we could 16- to 18-pound them to death.’ I got on a deal where I think they’re coming to me. I may not catch another one, but I’ve managed to catch good ones every day. I’m just hoping they’ll replenish.”

4th: Thrift Will Start In Griffin

> Day 3: 5, 15-00 (15, 51-13)

Thrift plans to head back to Lake Griffin Sunday morning intent on catching the 5-pounder that eluded him today. Beyond that, he’s not sure there are many fish left where he’s been. That’s why he’s pretty excited to make it through to the final day.

“I’m real happy with it,” he said. “I know I’m running out of fish. I’m happy to have caught what I did. I think anybody in the top 10 has a legitimate chance.

“I’m fishing the fourth day so I have to feel like I have a chance. I have to figure out how to get a bigger bite. I haven’t had one over 5 1/2 pounds this week.”

He said a square-bill crankbait has been his best weapon so far, but a late-day audible today gave him another option for tomorrow.

“In the last 45 minutes today, I put a Damiki Stinger on a light Texas rig and caught two big ones on that,” he said. “I may play around with that tomorrow. It caught my second-biggest fish on the last cast.”

Photo: FLW

Bradley Dortch has had at least one quality bite like this each day.

5th: Big One Saved Dortch

> Day 3: 5, 15-01 (15, 51-07)

Dortch feels that if he’d landed everything he hooked this week, the rest of the finalists would be chasing him tomorrow. As it stands, he’s he 3-07 behind Cox with a legitimate shot to contend for his first FLW Tour win.

“I stand as good a chance as anybody,” he said.

He’s spent his whole tournament jumping between Little Lake Harris and Lake Harris and he’s tapped into a combo pattern of throwing a lipless crankbait and flipping around some pads.

“My best stretch of pads are near the mouths of canals,” he said. “I know those fish spawned in canals and are making their way out. I feel like there are fish in all phases out there. I know some are guarding fry.”

He lost three good bites this morning, but recovered later with an 8-06 kicker that would’ve been the big fish of the event had Britt not caught his giant.

“I’ve been getting at least one 7- to 8-pound bite each day,” he said.

10th: Britt Pumped For Sunday

> Day 3: 5, 14-06 (15, 44-10)

Britt’s goal on Friday was to catch 16 or 17 pounds and give himself a shot at making a top-50 paycheck. When he tallied nearly 20 pounds and made the top-20 cut, he figured everything else would be gravy.

Tomorrow, he’ll get his first taste of a Sunday in a Tour event and he couldn’t be more stoked.

“I’m extremely ecstatic to be fishing tomorrow,” the Yuba City, Calif., native said. “I feel like I belong here. I set my expectations really high. The first day of the first event at Guntersville, I caught them pretty good, but finished 62nd. That was like a gut punch, so to make this happen, I’m just thrilled.”

It wouldn’t have been possible without the 9 1/2-pounder that ate a lipless crankbait around 11 o'clock this morning.

“I was just bombing it around and on about the fifth cast, I ripped it out of the weeds and it stopped,” he said. “I didn’t think it was that big. It got me buried in the grass about halfway back to the boat. My net was still in the floor of my boat so I had to reach down and get it with my rod in the other hand. It got me in the grass again and I couldn’t move her. Then, she came to the surface and turned on her side and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

He scooped it up and swung it in the boat and was able to cull a 1-pounder – an 8 1/2-pound upgrade. He hoped it would trigger some momentum that would carry him possibly to another 20-pound bag, but it didn’t materialize.

“I said, ‘Let’s go get a couple 2-pounders, but it just never happened,” he said. “I only culled twice, but it was a great day.”


> Day 3 stats – 20 anglers, 17 limits, 2 fours, 1 three.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., March 12 – Overcast – 76°/61°
- Wind: From the ESE at 10 to 20 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 25-11 (5) -- 18-15 (5) -- 44-10 (10) -- 10-04 (5) -- 54-14 (15)

2. Shane Lehew -- Catawba, NC -- 23-15 (5) -- 14-14 (5) -- 38-13 (10) -- 13-15 (5) -- 52-12 (15)

3. Matt Reed -- Madisonville, Tx -- 16-6 (5) -- 17-8 (5) -- 33-14 (10) -- 18-10 (5) -- 52-08 (15)

4. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 19-10 (5) -- 17-3 (5) -- 36-13 (10) -- 15-00 (5) -- 51-13 (15)

5. Bradley Dortch -- Atmore, Al -- 15-4 (5) -- 21-2 (5) -- 36-6 (10) -- 15-01 (5) -- 51-07 (15) -- $500

6. Joshua Weaver -- Macon, Ga -- 14-9 (5) -- 22-0 (5) -- 36-9 (10) -- 10-07 (5) -- 47-00 (15)

7. Rusty Trancygier -- Hahira, Ga -- 18-2 (5) -- 15-7 (5) -- 33-9 (10) -- 13-05 (5) -- 46-14 (15)

8. Chris Whitson -- Louisville, Tn -- 16-14 (5) -- 12-0 (5) -- 28-14 (10) -- 16-08 (5) -- 45-06 (15)

9. JT Kenney -- Palm Bay, Fl -- 16-12 (5) -- 17-14 (5) -- 34-10 (10) -- 10-00 (5) -- 44-10 (15)

10. Aaron Britt -- Yuba City, Ca -- 10-7 (5) -- 19-13 (5) -- 30-4 (10) -- 14-06 (5) -- 44-10 (15)

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete on day 4.

11. Clark Wendlandt -- Leander, Tx -- 16-12 (5) -- 13-6 (5) -- 30-2 (10) -- 14-03 (5) -- 44-05 (15) -- $12,000

12. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 13-2 (5) -- 16-8 (5) -- 29-10 (10) -- 13-10 (5) -- 43-04 (15) -- $12,000

13. Terry Bolton -- Paducah, Ky -- 14-3 (5) -- 17-2 (5) -- 31-5 (10) -- 11-10 (5) -- 42-15 (15) -- $12,000

14. Tim Frederick -- Leesburg, Fl -- 21-15 (5) -- 10-7 (5) -- 32-6 (10) -- 10-02 (3) -- 42-08 (13) -- $12,000

15. Jim Moynagh -- Carver, Mn -- 23-9 (5) -- 12-9 (5) -- 36-2 (10) -- 6-05 (5) -- 42-07 (15) -- $12,000

16. Carl Jocumsen -- Frisco, Tx -- 20-12 (5) -- 11-8 (5) -- 32-4 (10) -- 9-10 (4) -- 41-14 (14) -- $12,000

17. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 21-13 (5) -- 6-14 (5) -- 28-11 (10) -- 12-13 (5) -- 41-08 (15) -- $12,000

18. Casey Scanlon -- Lenexa, Ks -- 16-2 (5) -- 13-6 (5) -- 29-8 (10) -- 8-11 (5) -- 38-03 (15) -- $12,000

19. Bryan Schmitt -- Deale, Md -- 17-12 (5) -- 13-5 (5) -- 31-1 (10) -- 5-14 (5) -- 36-15 (15) -- $12,000

20. Jamie Horton -- Centerville, Al -- 15-11 (5) -- 13-5 (5) -- 29-0 (10) -- 6-03 (4) -- 35-03 (14) -- $12,000