CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On one hand, Dave Wolak's five-pound lead in the race for a $250,000 check is exactly where you'd want to be. On the other hand, being in first place one day on Lake Wylie is the worst place to be if your goal is first place the next day.
If Wolak maintains his lead in today's finale of the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts, he will be the first angler in eight days of BASS competition on Lake Wylie to hold the lead for more than one day.
The streak dates back to the 2004 Bass Master Classic, where a different angler led every day before Takahiro Omori emerged as the champion. After three days of the Bassmaster American, there's been a different angler atop the leader board after every weigh-in.
When the six competitors in today's championship round took off from Copperhead Landing at 6:50 a.m., Wolak was concentrating only on the moment, not Lake Wylie history.
"I'm just going to do the same thing I did yesterday," said the 29-year-old Wolak, "run around like a lunatic, look at my watch a hundred times and try to put five fish in the boat."
This is the second of three Bassmaster Majors this season. There are no Angler of the Year points on the line. But the $250,000 first prize is plenty of incentive. The 55 angler field was cut to the top 12 after two days.
Friday the competition moved to a previously off-limits mid-lake section of Lake Wylie, which was divided into six sections or holes. Each hole encompasses 200 to 300 surface acres. Two anglers had 70 minutes in each hole, then a final "Happy Hour" from 2 to 3 p.m. to fish anywhere they chose on the six-hole course.
The field was cut in half after Saturday's weigh-in, but the weights carry over. The hole format continues today, but each angler will have a section to himself until Happy Hour.
More accurately, there will be only one BASS pro angler in each hole for the first seven hours Sunday. No one will have a hole to himself. Boat traffic from tournament observers has become a major factor.
"There's a lot of spectators out there, and it makes a difference in what you can and can't do," said Jason Quinn, who lives on Lake Wylie and has years of experience as both a guide and tournament angler on this body of water. "It's taken the topwater bite completely out of the equation for me."
The deck of Quinn's boat Sunday morning included four rods rigged with deep-diving crankbaits. With so many boat wakes chopping the water surface and eliminating the topwater bite, Quinn planned to search deep structure for a winning bag today.
Heavy rains Saturday night, especially on the upper end of Lake Wylie's watershed, may lead to some heavy generation from the hydropower dam today, creating more current in the lake than the previous three days.
"I can make use of that," said Quinn.
Wolak, who lives in Warrior, Pa., and was the Toyota Rookie of the Year on the 2005 BASS circuit, is a prime example of how up-and-down Lake Wylie has been for everyone involved. Wolak was in second place on Day One with a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 6 ounces. He weighed-in only three bass weighing 4-13 on Day Two and barely earned a qualifying spot in the top 12. He had the lowest weight on Friday of anyone in the final dozen.
Everyone started at zero Saturday and Wolak matched his Day One total exactly. Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala., is second with 10-7 — 4 pounds, 15 ounces behind Wolak. Quinn, the hometown favorite, took the final qualifying spot with 8-6 — 7 pounds back of Wolak.
Maybe more feared than Swindle or Quinn today for Wolak is two-time Bassmaster Champion Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. VanDam held the first day lead with 16-4, a one-day bag that hasn't been matched since. VanDam's abilities are legendary, especially on the final day of a tournament. However, with 9-2 on Saturday, VanDam trails Wolak by 6 pounds, 4 ounces.
Not even someone as good as VanDam wants to spot the leader 6-plus pounds going into the final day.
"I'd like to be in Dave's shoes, I'll tell you that right now," VanDam said.
The weigh-in begins at Charlotte's Cricket Auditorium at 3 p.m.