LEESBURG, Fla. — Regrouping after an early disappointment and then replicating a specific scenario allowed Tennessee pro Buddy Gross to lead Day 2 of the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain with a two-day total of 40 pounds, 7 ounces.
After placing third on Day 1 with 22-12, Gross added 17-11 Friday. He will head into Saturday’s semifinal round with a lead of 1-3 over Ray Hanselman, but Gross said reaching this point was no easy task since the pattern he relied on for Day 1 vanished.
“Today, I had to work and run a lot of the lakes,” Gross said. “I went to Beauclair, Eustis and I stayed in Harris for a long time today. Yesterday, I stayed in Harris, but today that was not the case.
“I don’t know whether it was the cloudiness or they just moved. I think I was catching postspawners and they were schooled up yesterday. Today, I caught one fish off somewhere I could fish yesterday; everything else came off something new.”
Since Wednesday’s full moon coincided with a warming trend, many predicted an all-out spawning event. But while some anglers reported finding bass on beds, Gross said the lack of significant spawning activity did not hurt his game plan.
“I never do the spawning thing, if I can keep from it,” he said. “I’ll always try to find one or two in case I need them, but I’m not going to go to a tournament and just (focus on) spawning.”
Admitting that he was “winging it today,” Gross said he had two keepers at noon, four at 1:45 p.m. and finished his limit at 2:30. Gross held his cards low on that second pattern, but he said he believes it exists in many areas.
“I was still throwing reaction baits; I just changed up where and how,” he said. “I think it’s something I can take elsewhere, I just have to move around a little bit more tomorrow.
“It’s about a combination of three things. It has to have a little bit of those things for me to get bit. I’ll fish 10 places like that and won’t catch a fish, and then I’ll stop on one and catch three in five casts.”
Gross said he’ll begin Day 3 fishing the spots he identified Friday, but he suspects he’ll need to find more. With the field cut from 94 to 47 for Saturday, Gross will be able to fish more aggressively.
“Tomorrow I think I’ll be a little more specific and target places where I think I can catch a bigger bite and just swing,” Gross said. “Now, we’re in the Top 47 cut, so I have to try and stay in the Top 10 and that’s going to take some weight tomorrow.”
Hailing from Del Rio, Texas, Hanselman, is in second with 39-4. He placed fourth on Day 1 with 22 pounds and gained two spots with Friday’s limit of 17-4
Hanselman said success required fast, aggressive presentations that triggered bites. He accomplished that with a Strike King Hybrid Hunter, a rattling crankbait designed for an enticing action and a 5-inch Strike King Shadalicious swimbait.
“I rigged the swimbait on a 3/8-ounce belly-weighted hook, and I put a 3/8-ounce bullet weight on the front so I could keep it down and just grind it through that grass,” Hanselman said. “I used an 8-foot Power Tackle moderate swimbait rod for long casts, (efficient) hook sets and the power to rip that bait through the grass.
“I know other guys were catching them on other things, but it seemed those bigger ones are a little wiser and I just didn’t want to give them the time to think about it. I just want them to react.”
Jake Whitaker of Fairview, N.C., also tallied 39-4 and placed third. Ties are broken by the heaviest single-day catch. After placing 10th on Day 1 with 20-9, Whitaker added 18-11 Friday.
Combining a 1/2-ounce green gizzard shad Z-Man ChatterBait with a white Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Swimon trailer and a junebug Big Bite Baits Tour Swim Worm yielded a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder for Whitaker, who caught both fish on the latter bait on consecutive casts.
Whitaker caught his fish in a popular grassy area of Lake Harris. He had plenty of company, but he strategically managed the crowded waters.
“When I’m in a lot of boats, I stick to my game and throw what I’m going to throw,” Whitaker said. “At all times, I’m watching all these boats to see where they’re going. At times today, the wind got up a little bit and it would push everybody.
“Before everybody got to the end of their drift, I’d go ahead and go back up to where there had not been as much pressure for 30 minutes. I don’t know if that helped me or not, but I have been fortunate enough to get some key bites out of those areas.”
Noting that the smaller Saturday field may help his cause, Whitaker said: “They’re in there, I know they are; I just have to catch a couple more big fish out of that area, and we can make the same thing happen.”
Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 8-13 largemouth.
Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., leads the VMC Monster Bag standings for the event’s heaviest limit with his Day 2 catch of 23-14.
David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., leads the Angler of the Year standings with 193 points. Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., is second with 189, followed by Frazier with 186, Whitaker with 185 and Jamie Hartman of Newport, N.Y., with 179.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., leads the Falcon Rods Rookie of the Year standings with 122 points.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET at Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be back held at Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach) at 3:30 p.m. Only the Top 10 anglers will advance to Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.
FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday. Live coverage can also be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Lake, FL.