The final day of the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell is shaping up to be a free-for-all, with a handful of former champions sitting atop the standings with the coveted trophy and $300,000 first-place prize well within their grasp. Takahiro Omori, a Japanese angler who now makes his home in Emory, Texas, caught five fish that weighed 16 pounds, 11 ounces Saturday and claimed the lead going into Sunday’s final round with a two-day total of 31-11.
Omori, who won the Classic in 2004 on Lake Wylie, holds a razor-thin lead over Arizona angler Dean Rojas (31-9), 2003 Classic winner Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey (31-0) and defending champion Randy Howell of Alabama (30-11). Casey Ashley of Donalds is fifth with 29-14.
Omori got off to a slow start Saturday, but with years of experience and one Classic title already under his belt, he didn’t panic and managed enough weight to jump from seventh into first.
“Yesterday, we were like two hours late starting – and when I got to my first spot, I caught five fish just like that,” Omori said. “We started at normal time today. So when I get to my spot, it was too dark. I was thinking there were no fish left out here.
“So I just hung around and stuck with it, and I caught most of my fish by noon. I ended up catching about 10 keepers today.”
Omori said he wants to avoid getting too excited about a chance to win a second Classic. But at the same time, he admitted it’s not just another day of fishing.
“I just want to do my things right,” he said. “I don’t want to jerk a hookset too hard and break my line or get too excited and miss something because I was being too crazy. I just want to enjoy the moment and have another great day.”
Omori can’t afford many mistakes with an angler like Rojas trailing him by just 2 ounces heading into the final round. Rojas, the Day 1 leader with 21-2 Friday, managed just 10-7 Saturday, but remained squarely in contention for his first Classic title.
“I’m having the time of my life, and I feel like I’m doing everything right,” Rojas said. “I’ve caught every single fish that has bit this week. So I’m just going to go out and do the same things tomorrow that I’ve done the first two days. If it happens, it happens. That’s the way I always approach it.”
Iaconelli dealt with a frustrating moment Friday when a fish he estimated at more than 3 pounds struck short on a jerkbait, preventing him from weighing in a five-bass limit. But he said the moment encouraged him just enough to make him go back to his shallow pattern Saturday – and that’s where the foundation came for the Saturday limit of 16-9 that lifted him into the Top 3.
“The first hour of each day – which was mostly shot on Friday because of the late start – I’m fishing what I call the ‘weapon bite.’” Iaconelli said. “I’m fishing the backs of drains and pockets where the blue backs are coming back out. They’ve been back there all night. They come back out, and the bass ambush them.
“The problem is finding the pocket with the bait because it only happens if you see the bait and the birds. So I run three or four pockets real quick. I buzz in there five or 10 minutes. If I don’t see anything, I go to the next pocket.”
Rain is likely for Sunday’s final round, and Iaconelli said that could actually help his early-morning pattern. Instead of moving deep at 9 a.m., he said he might be able to extend the pattern as late as 10:30.
The top 25 remaining anglers will launch at 7 a.m. Sunday from Green Pond Landing in Anderson, S.C. The public is encouraged to attend the take-off with shuttles from the Anderson Regional Airport.
The championship weigh-in will be held at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., at 4 p.m. E.T. Doors will open at 3:15 p.m. to the general public.