CLARKSVILLE, Va. — Persistence delivered a double shot of productivity for Powell Kemp, who sacked up a Day 2 bag of 16 pounds, 12 ounces Thursday to maintain his lead at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Buggs Island with a two-day total of 36-4.
After catching a first-round limit of 19-8 Wednesday, Thursday’s catch sends Kemp into Championship Friday with a 7-4 lead over New York pro Casey Smith.
Despite his 20 years of Buggs Island experience, Kemp said the impact of a pre-tournament cold front, plus the lake’s fluctuating water level, has him struggling to establish consistency. In the absence of dependable patterns, he’s fared well by sticking with what he believes in.
“It’s not any particular areas; it’s just one fish here, one fish there,” Kemp said. “It’s just keeping the trolling motor down and fishing. It’s not really run and gun; it’s just fishing and you get a bite every once in a while.”
Twice, he caught quality keepers just before making a move.
“I got ready to jerk the trolling motor up around 10 o’clock, and I was going to change areas. It was really slow and I had three fish in the livewell,” Kemp said. “There were three bushes left on the shoreline and I threw at the second-to-the-last bush and (an estimated 5-pounder) came up and got my spinnerbait.
“I thought the bite was over, but it kinda regenerated and I caught a couple more keepers.”
In the second instance of last-minute heroics, Kemp decided to run uplake to fish a creek where he caught bass on Day 1. He found the area crowded with boats, but rather than leave, he made a key adjustment.
“I pulled out to a point on the main drag and fished around, but got nothing,” Kemp said. “I fished around the second one really slow, and right as I went to jerk the trolling motor up on the last tree, I caught a 4 1/2 pounder. She wasn’t even where she should’ve been.
“I can’t even describe what’s going on. I don’t know if it will hold up one more day. It’s very random, there’s no pattern, it’s just fishing.”
Noting that he caught all of his fish on a spinnerbait and a flipping bait, Kemp said the day’s relatively calm conditions dramatically contrasted the strong winds and cold air that plagued Day 1.
“I went to a whole different area today; I didn’t fish anything I fished yesterday,” Kemp said. “I got lucky this morning and caught a keeper to get my nerves settled down a little bit.
“I said, ‘I just have to fish. It’s about a bite an hour.’”
Expounding on the day’s randomness, Kemp said: “I caught one in (muddy water) and one in super-clear water. One of them was on a gum tree and one was on buckbrush.
“I think most of what I’ve caught are late spawners. They’re just sitting on the kind of stuff they’d spawn on.”
Despite the inconsistency, Kemp said he has exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve gotten lucky and caught two big females each day (including a 5-13 that took Day 1 Big Fish honors),” Kemp said. “The lake is fishing pretty tough and I told myself, ‘You’ll have a shot if you catch two (5-pounders) over three days.’
“I wasn’t expecting the other good ones I’ve caught. I was thinking one decent fish a day is what anchors your bag.”
Smith, a 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota qualifier who makes his home in Victor, N.Y., caught a Day 1 limit of 12-12 and placed 35th. Adding 16-4 Friday, he jumped all the way into second place with 29 pounds.
“I changed up what I did today from yesterday, based on the wind,” Smith said. “Yesterday, it was hard to even fish. Even back in a pocket or back in a creek, the wind was blowing you around.
“Today, I was running shallow water; literally picking the trolling motor up 50 times. Just bouncing, bouncing, bouncing and fishing the conditions. I based my moves on what the wind was doing, what the sun was doing and all those things.
“I was flipping bushes and flipping trees. I never knew where I was going to go next or where I was going to catch my next one.”
Jack Dice of Lynchburg, Va., is in third place with 28-14 after catching daily weights of 12-12 and 16-2.
Dice caught his fish on a wacky-rigged 5-inch green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko and a 1/2-ounce homemade shad-colored spinnerbait with double willow-leaf blades and a Yamamoto D-Shad trailer.
“I caught some on rocks and some on wood,” Dice said. “I ran all over the lake; I fished in front of the dam and I fished above the bridge in Clarksville.”
Kemp is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with the 5-13 he caught on Day 1.
Alex Watts of Salem, Va., made his Buggs Island debut by winning the co-angler division with 19-3. Turning in daily three-bass limits of 10-13 and 8-6, Watts edged Jerry Bono of Lexington, N.C., by 3-6 and claimed the $18,361 top prize.
“Today was a grind, but yesterday was a little easier,” said Watts, who anchored his Day 1 bag with a 4-7. “I caught a good one early on and then another good one. Then it was a long time until I got another bite.”
Watts did most of his work on a wacky-rigged Missile Baits Magic Worm. Specific targeting proved essential for his win.
“I was using a floating worm presentation and that was important for my early morning bites because those fish would come up to feed,” Watts said. “Getting it around big gum trees in deep water was the key.”
As part of the St. Croix Rod Rewards Program, eighth-place finisher Bird Jones of Loxahatchee, Fla., earned an extra $250 for being the highest-finishing registered co-angler using St. Croix rods.
Rick Cheatham of Carterville, Ill., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass bonus among co-anglers for his 6-1.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. ET at Occoneechee State Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 2:30 p.m.
The St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Buggs Island Reservoir is being hosted by Mecklenburg County, Va., Tourism.
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
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