FLORENCE, Ala. It must be the shoes: Defending Alabama Charge champ Kevin Short appeared to be happy but bewildered after he weighed in 18 pounds and 3 ounces on Thursday, a nice improvement over his unremarkable Day One bag of 14-0.
By the end of the day, he had climbed 25 ticks in the standings, from 57th to 32nd place. That was inside the top-50 cutline and on deck for another day of competition.
Hard as he tried, he could think of only one thing he changed from Day One.
"Really, the only thing I did differently was I'm wearing a different pair of shoes," he said.
Short probably was not being as superstitious as he sounded, but was venting his frustration in his inability to isolate the factor that helped him into Day Three.
"I have racked my brain all day trying to figure out what was different. I went back to the same trees, I was throwing the same bait, with the same line, the same rod. I fished just as slow as I did yesterday, just as methodically. Only thing I can figure other than the shoes was that the water started to fall a little bit."
On Friday, Short said, he planned to go back to the same spot, which sounded much like the cypress-tree backwater he won on in the 2010 Elite event on Pickwick Lake. And, for the record, he planned to wear his size 9 1/2 Salomons in his bid to make Saturday's top-12 field for an attempt on back-to-back Pickwick wins.
Classic dreamin': Keith Poche, the runner-up to Davy Hite after two days, is feeling confident about his chances to end the season with his first Bassmaster Classic entry.
If Poche were to win the Alabama Charge, he would instantly qualify for the 2012 Classic on the Red River, not far from where he grew up in Natchitoches, La. If he just finishes near the top of the pack, he'll walk away with points that will help him into the Classic through the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
"It would be a sweet deal for me," he said. "I've been working so hard to get there. I have a good shot, even if I don't win here, at making it through the points."
After two events, Poche was in 39th place in the points standings. After all eight 2011 Elite tournaments, the 28 pros with the most points will be in the 2012 Classic.
Lock a no-go: First-day leader Denny Brauer was among the many anglers who ultimately rejected the idea of locking up from Pickwick into Wilson Lake on Friday.
"I love Wilson, I know a lot of good areas, but without practicing there, it would amount to an awfully short practice day," said Brauer, in sixth place after Day 2.
Friday was the pros' first opportunity to get into Wilson because the lock had been closed for repair. It reopened at 6 a.m. for commercial traffic, and the lockmaster told B.A.S.S. officials that at approximately 10 a.m., recreational boaters could queue up for a lift up into Wilson. The only window for the return trip would be at about 2 p.m.
With eight and a half hours of competition time, the angler who chose to spend hours locking for Wilson's relatively unpressured bass would have to be a high-stakes gambler.
"I'm better off doing my gambling on this lake," Brauer said.
Even those in the lower regions of the leaderboard going into the Friday round weren't saying they'd chance it.
"The risk is too great," said Rick Morris, in 40th place. "I'm going back to my spot down the lake, try for at least 14 or 15 pounds, secure some points and move on."
Horton's haul: The biggest mover on the Alabama Charge's second day was Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., the result of toting 21 pounds and 7 ounces to the scales.
The big sack elevated the local favorite from 93rd to 39th place. Such a standings reversal was a mathematical oddity, but no mystery to Horton.
"I slowed down, I quit running around so much," he said. "I stayed with how I practiced."
The second heaviest sack of the day, Horton's haul included two smallmouth that weighed 5-10 and 5-6.
Horton has his work cut out for him Friday, when only the top 50 compete. He's about 5 pounds away from place No. 12, the cutline to be in the game Saturday, the final day.
Ownership: Paul Elias in 4th, Shaw Grigsby in 15th, and Andy Montgomery in 30th have at least one thing in common: Each ended Day One and Day Two in the same positions.
Twin sets: Pat Golden and Cliff Pace tied two days in a row. Both caught 14-1 for 55th place on Day One. Then both brought 16-5 to the scales on Day Two to share 41st place in the standings.
"Coincidence," Pace said, confirming that he and Golden aren't fishing close to each other or have any other thing in common this week other than being happy to be inside the top-50 cutline.
Day Two Quotables:
"You don't ever forget how to catch them." - Paul Elias on mature pros (remained in 4th)
"I really want to fish tomorrow because I think I have something figured out." - Craig Schuff (ended inside the cut at 45th)
"I had a disastrous morning. I didn't have a fish until 1 o'clock." - J. Todd Tucker with an 8-0 (but game over for him at 65th)
"I was so down, so frustrated." - Tim Horton, who improved on his Day One result of 93rd place. He moved up to 39th)
"Every time I made a cast, I thought, '$10,000, $10,000, $10,000' " - Jeff Kriet on striving for the "money" cut (43rd up to 13th)
"The Tennessee River is phenomenal, from one end to the other." - Kevin VanDam (61st up to 36th)
"Maybe it's better to be in second. I'm after Davy (Hite) now; the pressure's on Davy." - Keith Poche (2nd up from 7th)