Shaye Baker picked a good day to catch the biggest bass and biggest five-bass limit of his life. He weighed a 29-08 sack Thursday that was topped by 9-01 bruiser to take a 4 1/2-pound lead over fellow Alabamian and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Russ Lane at the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card.
“I knew I was around some good fish,” said Baker, the 98th-place finisher in this year's Central Open points, “and I tried hard not to catch them during practice.”
Baker was predictably closed-mouthed about his methods and location, but he did acknowledge that his catch came from pitching and flipping to aquatic vegetation in less than 5 feet of water. Though he wasn’t sight-fishing, he couldn’t be sure that some of his fish weren’t in the spawning process.
As for location, Baker said that he was “in or around the Monkey Box,” a legendary fishing area on the west side of giant Lake Okeechobee.
Just one good bass back is Elite pro Lane of Alabama with 25-00. He was more forthcoming about his methods, saying he was “pitching and punching a Big Bite Baits Real Deal Craw a in the hematoma color. Lane targeted heavy, matted vegetation for his limit, which included a lunker that weighed 8-06.
“I used a 2- or 2 1/2-ounce sinker to penetrate the heavy weeds,” he said. “I had action all day long and caught about 40 keepers.”
Chad Morgenthaler of Illinois ranks 3rd with 24-04. Greg Hackney of Louisiana is 4th with 21-15 and Ohio’s Fletcher Shryock rounds out the Top 5 with 20-13.
The full complement of 49 anglers will compete again on Friday, after which the field will be cut to the Top 12 for the final round on Saturday.
Here's a look at the initial Top 12:
1. Shaye Baker: 29-08
2. Russ Lane: 25-00
3. Chad Morgenthaler: 24-04
4. Greg Hackney: 21-15
5. Fletcher Shryock: 20-13
6. Jesse Tarconte: 20-06
7. Bernie Schultz: 19-11
8. Jeff Kriet: 18-10
9. Gary Clouse: 17-15
10. Patrick Pierce: 17-07
11. Cliff Prince: 17-00
12. Keith Poche: 16-15