By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor


Four competitors will be within 2 pounds of the lead when the final round of the Lake Lanier Bassmaster Elite Series in Georgia gets under way, led by a guy who has vast experience catching big spotted bass from deep water on the other coast.

Chris Zaldain moved to the top of the standings on day 3 with a day-best 18-04 stringer that gave him a 51-09 total. He grew up fishing lakes such as Shasta and Oroville in his native California and will be gunning for a 20-pound sack on day 4 a mark that has yet to be reached in this event.

He'll begin the day with a 5-ounce edge over day-2 leader David Mullins, who weighed a 14-02 stringer to push his total to 51-04. Paul Mueller is next with 50-08 (15-09 on day 3), followed by Keith Combs with 49-10 (16-05). From there, it's a 2 1/2-pound drop down to 5th-place Bill Weidler with 47-02 (17-13).

The lower half of the contingent of anglers who advanced to the final day consists of Stetson Blaylock (46-10), Todd Auten (46-04), Brandon Card (46-01), Chris Johnston (45-11) and Clent Davis (45-09). Johnston, the runner-up the previous week at Florida's St. Johns River, is the only competitor who's made both top 10s.

A storm front that will bring rain and significantly cooler air temperatures will move in for day 4. Most of the survivors of the final cut are also hoping for some wind, as days when all of those elements are present are when massive bags of pre-spawn spots are frequently caught.

Zaldain, who won the 2015 Angler of the Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin but is still seeking his first full-field victory, has worked at various depths throughout the event. He'll stay in deep water on day 4.

"These kind of days in January and February is when the spots chew, so I'll strap on the rain gear and be comfortable all day long," he said. "My best day in practice I had 20 pounds or more and it was raining, and I think most guys experienced that. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow the nastier it is, the better it should be.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

David Mullins is fully committed to his cranking program in relatively shallow water.

"When you're fishing within sight of the dam, out there deep, the average fish is heavier than it is up shallow. I don't have to worry about saving anything tomorrow and I can stay on my spots longer."

He's plying two techniques casting a small swimbait and a dropshot rig fished vertically. He had a pair of 4 1/2-pounders in his day-3 bag and didn't lose anything of consequence.

"I found a new spot yesterday and I hit it early today and I did most of my damage this morning," he said. "I know what the key ingredients are for the places I'm fishing and I'll just keep rotating around."

Mullins wasn't too disappointed about relinquishing the top spot in the standings.

"I just wanted to give myself a chance to win it on the last day and I've done that," he said. "Having that opportunity is all I can ask for."

He didn't connect with anywhere near the quality he did on day 2, and this his stringer was more than 5 pounds lighter. None of the five fish he weighed reached the 4-pound mark.

"I probably caught as many fish as I did yesterday, but they were all small. It's hard to say whether the bigger ones have left; I think they're still there, but it was a little bit tougher bite.

He said he'll live or die in his primary area on day 4, where he's catching fish in the 4- to 8-foot depth range.

"I'm all-in on that place and they're either going to bite there or they're not. I might try to expand it a little, but I think they're living there.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Paul Mueller fell a little short of his 17-pound target on day 3.

"I ran into a lot of locals today and they were all throwing a red crankbait, so they must've been watching Bassmaster Live. Hopefully the weather will keep some of them at home tomorrow it'd make it easier on me and give me a chance."

Mueller got a lot of bites during the early part of the day, but some less-than-stellar execution left him short of his 17-pound daily goal.

"It was fast and furious in the morning, but I didn't do the upgrading I was hoping to do," he said. "I didn't capitalize on some opportunities and it should've been a better day.

"They seemed to be biting weird at the end of the day. But I'll regroup I'm still around them and I'll just have to put them in the boat."

His preference is to operate "video game-style" and drop baits down to deep-dwelling fish that he can see on his Garmin electronics. He'll try to make that work on day 4, but will adjust if necessary.

"I think out deep is where it's going to be won, but you never know. If what I'm doing isn't working out, I may have to do something different. Everything's on the line tomorrow and I'm not fishing for any place but 1st. If I can't catch the weight I need doing what I'm doing, I'll keep all options on the table."

The weights of all three of Combs' bags have started with 16. He figures he'll need to bump that number up in the final round to claim his second regular-season Elite Series victory (he triumphed at Falcon Lake in his home state of Texas in 2013).

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Keith Combs' three bags have all weighed within 10 ounces of each other.

"I'm hoping to have a big morning tomorrow like I had in practice and we'll see what happens," he said. "I think I'll have a chance with 18 or 19 pounds and I've caught that. I don't want it to come down to the big one I lost at the boat (on day 2) because that was another 2 pounds."

He had only one fish at 11 o'clock today when he moved to a deep spot and quickly boxed three more. He made another move and caught one more, and that was it for the day.

"It was a pretty uneventful day and I was fortunate to come out of it clean," he said.

He'll start the final day running his cranking program in 6 to 12 feet of water.

"If I'm going to win, that's how I'm going to do it."

Notable

> Day 3 stats 35 anglers, 33 limits, 1 four, 1 two.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., Feb. 17 Rain - 50/48
- Wind: From the E at 8 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 15, 51-09 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 16-15 -- Day 2: 5, 16-06 -- Day 3: 5, 18-04

2. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 15, 51-04 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 17-12 -- Day 2: 5, 19-06 -- Day 3: 5, 14-02

3. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 15, 50-08 -- 98
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 18-04 -- Day 3: 5, 15-09

4. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 15, 49-10 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 16-06 -- Day 2: 5, 16-15 -- Day 3: 5, 16-05

5. Bill Weidler -- Helena, AL -- 15, 47-02 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 14-10 -- Day 2: 5, 14-11 -- Day 3: 5, 17-13

6. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 15, 46-10 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 13-12 -- Day 2: 5, 18-11 -- Day 3: 5, 14-03

7. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 15, 46-04 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 16-01 -- Day 2: 5, 12-14 -- Day 3: 5, 17-05

8. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 46-01 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 15-15 -- Day 2: 5, 13-12 -- Day 3: 5, 16-06

9. Chris Johnston -- Peterborough, ON -- 15, 45-11 -- 92
Day 1: 5, 15-01 -- Day 2: 5, 16-09 -- Day 3: 5, 14-01

10. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 15, 45-09 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 15-14 -- Day 2: 5, 15-00 -- Day 3: 5, 14-11

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.

11. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 15, 45-07 -- 90 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 12-13 -- Day 3: 5, 15-15

12. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 15, 45-04 -- 89 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-14 -- Day 2: 5, 14-00 -- Day 3: 5, 15-06

13. Shane Lineberger -- Lincolnton, NC -- 15, 44-08 -- 88 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-06 -- Day 2: 5, 15-05 -- Day 3: 5, 14-13

14. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 15, 44-05 -- 87 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-08 -- Day 3: 5, 16-13

15. Lee Livesay -- Longview, TX -- 15, 44-02 -- 86 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-13 -- Day 2: 5, 15-12 -- Day 3: 5, 14-09

16. Randy Sullivan -- Breckenridge, TX -- 15, 43-13 -- 85 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-11 -- Day 2: 5, 12-13 -- Day 3: 5, 15-05

17. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 15, 43-08 -- 84 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-03 -- Day 2: 5, 15-13 -- Day 3: 5, 14-08

18. Jesse Tacoronte -- Kissimmee, FL -- 15, 43-03 -- 83 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-14 -- Day 2: 5, 12-05 -- Day 3: 5, 15-00

19. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 14, 42-15 -- 82 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 4, 11-05 -- Day 3: 5, 14-15

20. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 15, 42-11 -- 81 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-08 -- Day 2: 5, 13-15 -- Day 3: 5, 14-04

21. Brad Whatley -- Bivins, TX -- 15, 42-07 -- 80 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 15-07 -- Day 2: 5, 13-04 -- Day 3: 5, 13-12

22. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 15, 42-06 -- 79 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 16-12 -- Day 2: 5, 11-13 -- Day 3: 5, 13-13

23. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 15, 42-01 -- 78 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 15-15 -- Day 2: 5, 11-10 -- Day 3: 5, 14-08

24. Chad Morgenthaler -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 15, 41-15 -- 77 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 11-13 -- Day 2: 5, 16-03 -- Day 3: 5, 13-15

25. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 15, 41-10 -- 76 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 16-12 -- Day 2: 5, 11-00 -- Day 3: 5, 13-14

26. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 15, 41-10 -- 75 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 13-02 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 14-04

27. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 15, 41-04 -- 74 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 14-15 -- Day 2: 5, 12-13 -- Day 3: 5, 13-08

28. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 15, 40-08 -- 73 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 15-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-07 -- Day 3: 5, 12-11

29. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 14, 40-06 -- 72 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 17-06 -- Day 2: 4, 10-04 -- Day 3: 5, 12-12

30. Ed Loughran III -- Richmond, VA -- 15, 39-06 -- 71 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 13-05 -- Day 2: 5, 14-10 -- Day 3: 5, 11-07

31. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 15, 39-04 -- 70 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 12-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 12-04

32. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 15, 37-01 -- 69 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 13-11 -- Day 2: 5, 14-01 -- Day 3: 5, 09-05

33. Yusuke Miyazaki -- Forney, TX -- 14, 36-05 -- 68 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 15-01 -- Day 2: 5, 13-00 -- Day 3: 4, 08-04

34. Garrett Paquette -- Canton, MI -- 12, 35-04 -- 67 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 13-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-14 -- Day 3: 2, 04-14

35. Randy Pierson -- Oakdale, CA -- 15, 34-10 -- 66 -- $7,500
Day 1: 5, 14-08 -- Day 2: 5, 11-15 -- Day 3: 5, 08-03