Davis Takes Lead, Eyes Repeat At B.A.S.S. Nation Championship On Lake Hartwell
Will Davis Jr. hoisted the Bryan V. Kerchal Memorial Trophy a year ago, and by all accounts, it looks like he wants to hold on to the hardware that is awarded annually to the winner of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
Davis, in second place after Day 1 with 16-lbs., 1-oz., jumped into the pole position Thursday on Lake Hartwell with another five-bass limit, this one weighing 14-4. That gives the 31-year-old Sylacauga, Ala., resident a two-day total of 30-5 and a 3-lb. cushion as the derby heads into the final day on this storied 56,000-acre fishery.
Davis is trying to defend the B.A.S.S. Nation title he won a year ago on Pickwick Lake in his home state. That win earned him a spot in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville and entry into the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series. Davis impressed there, winning on Lay Lake in May and finishing fifth in the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings.
He’s continued his hot hand at Hartwell.
“I spent a lot of time after winning the championship last year getting used to forward-facing sonar,” Davis said. “You have to be able to do it in the Elite Series, and it’s definitely played a role this week.”
Davis only had eight bites on Day 2, catching six Hartwell spotted bass, but they were quality catches. All came on the same Davis Bait Company Wood Jig he used for his best bass a day earlier.
“That Wood Jig is my go-to for big bass,” he said. “I’m not catching a lot of fish, which is frustrating. But I’m getting the right bites.”
Friday’s weather is supposed to be rainy and windy, which Davis said might force him to change tactics.
“I’ll probably have to throw out a spinnerbait more tomorrow,” he said. “But I won’t change up too much. I think I’m on the right fish. I just have to get them to bite.”
The field of 58 boaters was whittled to 10 after the Day 2 weigh-in at Green Pond Landing.
Wisconsin’s Josh Wiesner jumped from ninth place to second in the boater division, courtesy of a 13-12 limit on Thursday, giving him 27-4 for the tournament.
“The bite was fairly steady throughout the day, but it really started getting active at the end of the day when the wind picked up,” Wiesner said. “I caught my biggest one with about a minute to go today. It was about 3 3/4 pounds and probably a 2-lb. upgrade for me.”
Day 1 leader Tim Dube fell to third place in the angler division Thursday after catching an 11-lb. limit to give him a two-day total of 27-3.
Unlike Wednesday, when hard-hitting spotted bass were gobbling Dube’s lures, Thursday was much more difficult for the 29-year-old New Hampshire resident.
“They weren’t committing to the bait today,” he said. “Every fish I hooked, it was in the corner of the mouth or barely in the lip. I lost more fish than I can count. But I’m getting past that. It’s good to know the fish are still there.
“I like the way tomorrow’s weather is looking for my bite. I want some cloud cover because they’ll school better.”
Rounding out the Top-10 boaters fishing Friday are Michigan’s Nic Rand, 26-14; fifth, Zach Taylor, who’s fishing for Wyoming, 26-11; sixth, South Africa’s Andrew Nienaber, 26-5; seventh, Brian La Clair, fishing for Delaware, 26-1; eighth, Missouri’s Cole Findley, 25-6; ninth, Alabama’s Zeke Gossett, 24-11; and 10th, Maine’s Jonathan Carter, 23-10.
Hayden Spradling of Gilbert, Ariz., won the non-boater title Thursday with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 18 pounds. He collected the Louis “Pee Wee” Powers Memorial Trophy for being the top non-boater, as well as a $10,000 prize and a spot in Friday’s final round.
It’s the second time Spradling has competed in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, having qualified previously in 2020.
“That experience made me a lot more headstrong about getting to this point, to be able to win,” he said. “I had to throw a little bit of everything this week to win the non-boater (division) and give myself a chance to fish on the last day.”
Kyle Klein, of Kansas, won $500 for the Big Bass among non-boaters (a 4-8 he hooked Wednesday.)
Nevada’s Cody Steckel (12th overall, 23-5) and Colorado’s Nate Caldwell (13th, 23-4) also will fish on Friday, after leading their respective regionals in the Hartwell boater standings.
A total of 113 B.A.S.S. Nation anglers from 48 states and eight other countries are competing at Hartwell.
The remaining 13 anglers will start the third and final day of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship at 7:30 a.m. ET from Green Pond Landing. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
The top three anglers will earn berths in the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, which is scheduled for March 22-24 on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees near Tulsa, Okla. The champion will also receive an invitation to fish the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series. The second- and third-place finishers and Spradling will each earn paid entry fees for all divisions of the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens with the opportunity to qualify for the Elites.
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