By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Only one angler could prevent Justin Lucas from claiming the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title this week, and Josh Bertrand hasn't performed at his best. With the way Lucas is going, though, it wouldn't matter if Bertrand were catching a 5-pounder on every cast.
Lucas came into the AOY Championship event at Georgia's Lake Chatuge with a 9-point lead over Bertrand. Everyone else was more than 50 points in arrears, which meant they had no chance to overtake the leader.
A 9th-place finish would lock out Bertrand, and Lucas sits higher than that with 2 of the 3 competition days in the books. His 13-12 haul on Friday gave him a 27-02 total, which was good for 5th place.
"I'm super-happy with that weight," Lucas said. "My goal on Sunday will be to go out there and catch five keepers. If I catch 5 pounds, that'll really put the pressure on Josh."
James Elam retained his lead in the tournament as his 16-14 stringer pushed his total to 33-08. He has an advantage of more than 2 pounds over 2nd-place Jacob Wheeler, who boxed 16-05 for a 31-05 total.
Chris Lane, the 2012 Classic champion who needs an extremely high finish in this derby to have any hope of getting inside the cutoff for next year's Classic (top 35 in the points standings), weighed a tournament-best 18-05 to leapfrog to 3rd with 29-08. Brent Ehrler is 4th with 27-05 (14-01 on day 2).
The lower half of the top 10 consists of Gerald Spohrer (27-01), Jason Christie (26-09), Micah Frazier (26-02), Jake Whitaker (24-14) and Seth Feider (24-12).
There will be no fishing on Saturday as the competitors will conduct seminars and partake in other fan-friendly activities at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee. All 50 anglers will be back on the water for Sunday's final round.
Keeper bites were harder to come by on day 2 as only 36 competitors weighed limits (there were 45 five-fish bags the previous day). That's undoubtedly a result of the fishing pressure that's been put on the 7,000-acre reservoir this week.
Lucas' bag exceeded the one he caught the previous day by 6 ounces. It was topped by a 3 1/2-pounder that he caught at about 10 o'clock.
He revealed that he's caught all of his fish on a Berkley Cane Walker topwater plug.
James Elam stayed atop the tournament standings with a 16-14 stringer.
"The rotation of my spots was a little different today and I caught them from different places," he said. "I mixed up the timing. The bites were scattered throughout the day and I lost some that would've helped me – I could've had 15 or 16 pounds.
"I've been surprised by my weight on both days – in a good way. I normally weigh all my fish, but here it seems like they're all so small that it doesn't matter or so big that there's no reason to weigh them."
He'd prefer to fish on Saturday rather than wait out the off day.
"I'm anxious to get out there and fish. I want to finish it off; I'm tired of thinking about it."
Bertrand boxed 11-14 to move up from dead-last in the field (he boated just two keepers for 3-15 on day 1) to 43rd. However, he once again missed a bunch of bites and compared his performance this week to the dismal hitting of one of the catchers on his beloved Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I have about the same batting average as Alex Avila – I've missed 35 out of 42 bites," he said. "At 2 o'clock I only had two fish in the boat, and then in the last hour I got four bites, jumped one off and landed three. I'm missing some key deal about this (topwater) bite."
Mathematically, his chances of winning the AOY haven't zeroed out, but his odds of beating his good friend Lucas by more than 9 places are now ridiculously long.
"They're maybe 1 in 10,000 – I'd have to catch 20 pounds on Sunday and he'd have to blank. He's got his foot on the gas so much that it might end up not mattering what I caught this week. If that happens, I can just tip my cap to him and say 'great job.' He's just killing them."
Elam weighed all spotted bass on day 1, but his day-2 bag contained three hefty largemouths. He wasn't targeting the green fish – they just showed up in areas where he'd been catching the spots.
One of those fish weighed 4-11 and the other two were 3 1/4-pounders. He did most of his work with a Pencil Popper topwater offering, but also caught one weigh-in fish on a fluke and one on a Molix Lover Spoon.
Chris Lane's tournament-best stringer was topped by two big largemouths.
"I caught 12 fish today, which was down from 25 yesterday," he said. "I probably lost 20 fish – it was just stupid. I can't really count some of them as lost because they're just nipping at the bait and stuff like that.
"I'd probably prefer it if we could just go ahead and fish tomorrow, but it is what it is. A lot of (recreational anglers) saw me out there today and hopefully my stuff doesn't get hit too hard, but I knew that could happen before we got here so I'm not too worried about it."
Wheeler said he "ran around like a madman." He averaged under 2 minutes at each of his many stops.
He went through 15 keepers, the biggest of which was a 3 3/4-pound largemouth that he caught incidentally. He said he lost a spot that was in the 4-pound class. He threw a topwater, a Rapala Shad Rap and a chugging bait.
"Overall, having an off day might help a lot of these fish, but at the same time it might not, depending on how many locals are out there," he said. "I'm sure there will be a lot of people out there tomorrow."
Lane's big stringer was headed up by two big largemouths that both exceeded 5 pounds. He boated just six keepers with a topwater bait and didn't lose any.
"I figured I needed a top 5 here to make the Classic, and even that might end up not being enough," he said. "The good thing is I've put myself in position and I can leave everything on the water on Sunday."
> Day 2 stats – 50 anglers, 36 limits (9 fewer than day 1), 7 fours, 2 threes, 4 twos, 1 one.
Current AOY Standings
1 Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 822
2 Josh Bertrand -- San Tan Valley, AZ -- 775
3 Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 755
4 Ott DeFoe -- Blaine, TN -- 724
5 Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 724
6 Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 715
7 Jacob Powroznik -- North Prince George, VA -- 704
8 Jacob Wheeler -- Harrison, TN -- 691
9 Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 691
10 Bobby Lane Jr. -- Lakeland, FL -- 681
11 Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 680
12 Gerald Spohrer -- Gonzales, LA -- 670
13 Mark Daniels Jr. -- Tuskegee, AL -- 667
14 Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 660
15 Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 658
16 Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 650
17 Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 648
18 Seth Feider -- Bloomington, MN -- 645
19 Alton Jones Jr. -- Waco, TX -- 641
20 Andy Montgomery -- Blacksburg, SC -- 639
21 James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 637
22 Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, CA -- 633
23 Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 633
24 Cliff Pace -- Petal, MS -- 629
25 Jesse Wiggins -- Cullman, AL -- 623
26 Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 623
27 Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 617
28 Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 612
29 Chris Zaldain -- Laughlin, NV -- 609
30 Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 606
31 Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 603
32 Randall Tharp -- Port St. Joe, FL -- 603
33 Keith Poche -- Pike Road, AL -- 603
34 Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 603
35 Wesley Strader -- Spring City, TN -- 602
36 Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 597
37 Roy Hawk -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 595
38 Chris Lane -- Guntersville, AL -- 593
39 Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 588
40 Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 588
41 Greg Vinson -- Wetumpka, AL -- 583
42 Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 582
43 Gerald Swindle -- Guntersville, AL -- 578
44 Shin Fukae -- Palestine, TX -- 576
45 Scott Rook -- Little Rock, AR -- 569
46 Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 565
47 Adrian Avena -- Vineland, NJ -- 558
48 Dustin Connell -- Clanton, AL -- 552
49 Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 551
50 Jordan Lee -- Grant, AL -- 550