By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The 16-10 stringer that Hank Cherry caught on day 2 of the 50th Bassmaster Classic was only the 12th-best in the 53-angler field. However, combined with the fireworks he produced on day 1, it was enough for him to maintain a comfortable lead heading into the final day.

His 16-10 second-round haul from Lake Guntersville pushed his total to 45-13. He'll start day 3 with a 4-13 advantage over 2nd-place Brandon Lester.

Im gonna do what Ive got to do to get this done, said the North Carolinian who finished 3rd in his first Classic in 2013 but hasn't been a contender in three appearances since. New fish are still moving into my area. Ive just got to relax and if its my time, its my time.

"I believe it's my time."

His closest pursuer to begin the day will be Brandon Lester, a Tennessee River stalwart who topped the 20-pound mark for the second consecutive day. The 20-01 he brought to the scale at Legends Arena in Birmingham, Ala. boosted his total to 41-09.

John Crews fell one place to 3rd after a 16-11 bag gave him a 38-03 aggregate. Todd Auten was 4th with 38-00 (18-00 on day 2) and Stetson Blaylock rounded out the top 5 with 37-09 (19-04).

The lower half of the top 10 consisted of Brandon Card (37-02), Micah Frazier (36-00), David Mullins (35-05), Jason Williamson (34-03) and Matt Herren (32-12).

The powerful northerly winds that had plagued day 1 settled down, but overall weights didn't rise appreciably. Lester and Keith Combs, who boxed a day-best 23-10 to jump from 43rd to 13th, were the only competitors to reach 20 pounds after five had done so the previous day and Grae Buck claimed the final cut position (25th) despite catching only six keepers over two days.



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

Cherry's primary area is a long causeway with a grass flat at one end.

Four anglers zeroed on day 2, including longtime Guntersville ace and 2019 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Scott Canterbury. In 24th place when the day began, Canterbury eschewed keeper bites and swung for a giant bag, but struck out.

Sunday's predicted weather conditions seem conducive for some big sacks. The forecast calls for a partly cloudy sky and a high temperature of 64 degrees (about 10 degrees higher than day 2), with the wind changing direction and coming out of the south/southeast at an 8-mph clip.

Cherry, who might've won the '13 Classic if he hadn't lost a couple of oversized bites late on the final day, has done most of his work from a single locale that features a long causeway with a big grass flat on one end. He's exploited both.

He's throwing a bladed jig, a jerkbait and a conventional jig to a variety of cover types. He's doing most of his casting left-handed, as he injured his right arm during a fall on his boat while landing a fish on day 1.

"I have other stuff that I haven't ventured to, only because I haven't had to," he said. I have to stay relaxed I have to get that first one in the boat. The first ones always the roughest one. After that, they start coming.

Lester, whose best Classic finish in four appearances was a 6th last year at the Tennessee River, fished grass on day 1 and caught an early limit from the vegetation again on day 2. He then moved to a stretch of docks and culled all but one of his original quintet.

"I'd caught them off those docks before," he said. "I had a hunch that they'd be there, but I didn't know they'd be that big (his bag was topped by a 6 1/2-pounder). I'd caught some there in practice, but they were small."

This is a new experience for Crews, who's never finished higher than 16th in his 11 Classic starts. He moved to deeper water on day 2 and caught quality fish on both a crankbait and a jig, but ended up having to weigh a 15 1/2-inch squeaker.

B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina
Photo: B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina

Brandon Lester is the only angler to have caught 20-pound stringer on both days.

"It feels good, but I've got to make sure to stay focused and capitalize on the opportunity that's in front of me," he said. "I don't know how or where I'm going to catch them, but that can be a good thing, too.

"When (2014 champion Randy Howell) won here last time, he made a last-second decision about where to go and ended up blasting them. If you keep an open mind like that, good things can happen."

Auten is in his first Classic since 2008 and his best finish in three appearance was 13th at the Louisiana Delta in 2003. He compiled the vast majority of his day-2 bag in the early going.

He handled nine keepers and weighed five that were all in the 3 3/4-pound class.

"It was better than I thought it would be and I think what happened was that as the wind blew more out of the north, it blew some mud out of my area," he said. "I like it a little dirty, but it was real muddy yesterday. I kept grinding on it and getting bites.

"A 25-pound bag is possible, but I'm going to need a couple of those real big bites. It's kind of weird I caught the big one on the first day (a day-best 7-09), but nothing else has been over 4."

Blaylock, a longtime FLW competitor making his Classic debut, is focused on places that have traditionally produced winning weights at Guntersville. Most of his fish have been enticed by a new Bill Norman crankbait called the Speed N.

"I'm fishing areas that are well-known, but to me that's what you've got to have on Guntersville," he said. "You might go to some random bridge and catch 30 pounds or whatever, but these are areas that are known for big bags and tournament wins.

"I don't know if they're in there real good and if they are they're not biting real good, but tomorrow might be the day for a 25- or 30-pound bag."

Card is in his third Classic and this is the first time he's made the cut to the third day. His bag included a fish that was just under 7 pounds.

He caught three of his day-2 fish on a jerkbait, one on a crankbait and one on a shaky-head.

B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina
Photo: B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina

Keith Combs registered the heaviest bag of day 2 and climbed 30 places in the standings.

"Most of my fish are coming out of 5 to 7 feet of water, but there's 20 feet nearby," he said. "I think they just feed when they want to I'll go through there and I won't get a bite, then the third or fourth time I'll catch a big one.

"If I'd caught everything that bit, today could've been really good. I didn't see all of them, but I've caught enough this week to know what a good one feels like."

Combs worked his way through about 15 keepers to compile the stringer that was the second-best of the tournament behind Cherry's huge day-1 bag. Most of his 20-plus bites came in the day's first hour.

He's throwing several different rattlebaits, a flat-sided crankbait and a square-bill. His biggest fish was a 5 1/2-pounder.

"I came here to force them to eat what I wanted to throw the way to win on Guntersville is to do something you're comfortable doing," he said. "I'll try to make the right guesses on timing tomorrow and hope I pull up when they're biting."

Notable

> Day 2 stats 26 limits (5 fewer than day 1), 9 fours, 6 threes, 5 twos, 3 ones, 4 zeroes (three more than day 1).

Day 2 Standings

1. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 10, 45-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 29-03 -- Day 2: 5, 16-10

2. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 10, 41-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-15 -- Day 2: 5, 20-01

3. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 10, 38-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11

4. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 10, 38-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-00

5. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 10, 37-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-05 -- Day 2: 5, 19-04

6. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 10, 37-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-11 -- Day 2: 5, 19-07

7. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 10, 36-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-00

8. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 10, 35-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13

9. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 10, 34-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-03 -- Day 2: 5, 16-00

10. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 10, 32-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-00

11. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 10, 32-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 15-09

12. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 10, 32-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-09 -- Day 2: 5, 17-08

13. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 8, 31-06 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 07-12 -- Day 2: 5, 23-10

14. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 8, 31-00 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 11-10 -- Day 2: 5, 19-06

15. Lee Livesay -- Gladewater, TX -- 10, 30-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13

16. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 9, 30-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 19-11 -- Day 2: 4, 11-00

17. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 9, 30-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 4, 08-10

18. John Cox -- Debary, FL -- 9, 29-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-02 -- Day 2: 4, 14-12

19. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 10, 28-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-10

20. Caleb Kuphall -- Mukwonago, WI -- 9, 27-00 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 14-01 -- Day 2: 5, 12-15

21. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 8, 26-10 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 15-03 -- Day 2: 4, 11-07

22. Cody Huff -- Ava, MO -- 9, 26-09 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 12-13 -- Day 2: 5, 13-12

23. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 10, 26-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-08 -- Day 2: 5, 15-10

24. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 8, 26-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-06 -- Day 2: 3, 07-11

25. Grae Buck -- Green Lane, PA -- 6, 25-13 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 13-06 -- Day 2: 4, 12-07

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete on day 3.

26. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 8, 25-10 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 3, 09-09 -- Day 2: 5, 16-01

27. Bob Downey -- Hudson, WI -- 9, 24-11 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-12 -- Day 2: 4, 09-15

28. Shane LeHew -- Catawba, NC -- 10, 24-04 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-10 -- Day 2: 5, 12-10

29. Drew Benton -- Blakely, GA -- 8, 23-10 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-03 -- Day 2: 3, 08-07

30. Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 7, 23-03 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-05 -- Day 2: 2, 06-14

31. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin Ontario CANADA -- 7, 22-03 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-12 -- Day 2: 2, 09-07

32. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 10, 22-03 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-12 -- Day 2: 5, 10-07

33. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 8, 21-13 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-09 -- Day 2: 3, 07-04

34. Chris Johnston -- Peterborough Ontario CA -- 9, 21-09 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 09-14 -- Day 2: 5, 11-11

35. Darold Gleason -- Many, LA -- 7, 21-03 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-04 -- Day 2: 2, 06-15

36. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 9, 21-02 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-15 -- Day 2: 4, 07-03

37. Whitney Stephens -- Waverly, OH -- 7, 20-01 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 2, 05-15

38. Josh Busby -- Rogersville, MO -- 6, 19-13 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 02-03 -- Day 2: 5, 17-10

39. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 6, 18-05 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 2, 04-05 -- Day 2: 4, 14-00

40. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 6, 17-05 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 01-10 -- Day 2: 5, 15-11

41. Taylor Smith -- Spokane Valley, WA -- 7, 16-09 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 08-12 -- Day 2: 3, 07-13

42. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 6, 16-08 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 03-04 -- Day 2: 5, 13-04

43. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 6, 16-05 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-00 -- Day 2: 1, 02-05

44. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 7, 15-00 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 08-01 -- Day 2: 3, 06-15

45. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 5, 14-15 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 12-10 -- Day 2: 1, 02-05

46. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 5, 14-02 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 0, 00-00

47. Cory Johnston -- Cavan CANADA -- 6, 13-09 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 2, 04-10 -- Day 2: 4, 08-15

48. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 4, 11-13 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 03-04 -- Day 2: 3, 08-09

49. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 3, 07-13 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 3, 07-13 -- Day 2: 0, 00-00

50. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 3, 07-09 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 02-08 -- Day 2: 2, 05-01

51. Cody Hollen -- Beaverton, OR -- 2, 05-05 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 2, 05-05 -- Day 2: 0, 00-00

52. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 2, 04-15 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 1, 02-08 -- Day 2: 1, 02-07

53. Cam Sterritt -- Newfields, NH -- 0, 00-00 -- 0 -- $10,000
Day 1: 0, 00-00 -- Day 2: 0, 00-00