Wheeler has almost 7-pound BASSfest lead

Wheeler has almost 7-pound BASSfest lead

June 13th, 2014 by Jim Tanner in Sports - Outdoors

Pro anglers wait in line to have their fish weighed after finishing the second round of the BASSfest tournament in Dayton, Tenn. on Thursday.

Photo by Staff photo by Jim Tanner

DAYTON, Tenn. - The second day of BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga was kind to some and unkind to others.

The field of 140 pro anglers was narrowed to the top 50 after Thursday, although there's still a chance for the other 90 to make the cut into the weekend.

Jacob Wheeler is way out front after bringing in a massive haul of five largemouth bass weighing 29 pounds, 13 ounces. That boosted his two-day total to 52-3. Wheeler's total is almost 7 pounds more than second-place Kevin VanDam, who weighed in a respectable 22-14 for a total of 45-7.

VanDam said the fishing was tough Thursday with plenty of big fish but not many of them biting.

"This lake gets a lot of pressure this time of the year where the fish are at," the Kalamazoo, Mich., resident said following weigh-ins at Point Park. "They've been offshore for a while and they definitely get fished for. It's a testament to catch-and-release working.

"It just seems like they're smarter or not as aggressive compared to other places on the Tennessee River this time of year."

The top 50 anglers get a day off today, but many will participate in seminars as part of the Bassmaster University program or in vendor booths at the expo. Both Bassmaster University and the expo are free and open to the public beginning at 10 a.m. at Point Park.

In a new twist for BASSfest, the anglers outside the top 50 will travel to Nickajack Lake this morning to fish in a one-day second-chance qualifier, with the 10 final spots for Saturday on the line.

Saturday's fishing will narrow the field from 60 to 12 anglers, who will battle it out Sunday for the top spot.

One of those anglers on the outside looking in is 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion Chris Lane, who is in 104th place, with a two-day total of 15-1. Land said crowded conditions at certain areas on the lake had an impact.

"I was around two guys that caught around 20 pounds -- one guy caught over 20 -- literally boat to boat," he said. "I'm not used to fishing like that.

"It's just one of those things. You've got to mentally stay focused in this sport. There's a lot more to it than just fishing. The mental part of it is really big, and I really let things get into my head this week."

Lane, who has never fished Nickajack, said he's just hoping to have a good day and get back in the hunt for the weekend, where a total purse of $875,000 -- including $125,000 and entry in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic for the winner -- is on the line.

"I'm going to look at it as a brand-new event," he said. "Some of my best days have come on the first day of practice, so I'm going to treat this like a day of practice. I'm not going to treat it like a tournament. If I can go out there and get on a school, I'm going to bust them up and come back up here and get on this thing."

Greg Hackney is in third place with 44-13, followed by Matt Herren (43-14) and Takahiro Omori (43-1) to round out the top five.

"I'm not setting my alarm clock in the morning, so whenever I wake up is when I get up," said Hackney, whose five keepers Thursday totaled 24-8. "I'm looking forward to [a day off]. I've had my mind set on it since I got here. I'd have fished tomorrow if I had to, but I didn't want to."

Helping with the weigh-in were members of the Rhea County High School fishing team. The young anglers were helping the pros and carrying their fish back to the boats to be returned to the lake.

"We've got a great turnout from our high school team helping these B.A.S.S. guys handle their fish and carry them to the lake," said Rhea County teacher and fishing coach Brian Derlack. "What a blessing for B.A.S.S. to ask us to this event. They get to meet their heroes. They've been pumped up for months ever since we found out that we were going to be part of the event."

UTC team 11th

Just upstream from the pro anglers, 48 collegiate fishing teams completed day one of the two-day Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional on Watts Bar Lake.

The top 12 two-person teams will advance to the Carhartt collegiate national championship on Chatuge Reservoir at Young Harris, Ga., and Lance Geren and Robbie Moore from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga bass team are firmly in contention in 11th place, despite missing some chances to be even higher in the standings.

"We're kind of disappointed today," Geren said Thursday. "We should be leading the thing. We had the opportunity first thing this morning to boat a 6-pounder, and it got the best of us. But we're sitting with a great chance to qualify for the national championship. We're just 5 pounds out of first place, so if we show up tomorrow and bust 20 [pounds], then we'll be right back in it."

Tennessee's Tyler Wadzinski and Matt Beeler lead at 16-5, followed by Western Carolina's Austin Neary and Zachary Hicks at 16-0.

The college anglers will wrap up their tournament today on Watts Bar, then travel to Point Park for their weigh-ins with perhaps the biggest crowd they've ever weighed in front of.

"B.A.S.S. has treated us great," Geren said. "We had our pre-tournament meeting in the same building as the pros, and tomorrow we are actually getting to weigh in on their stage, and that's awesome."

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.