BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — Joey Cifuentes III played a dicey game and ended up on the right side of the risk/reward calculation.
The rookie from Clinton, Ark., brought in the event’s heaviest bag so far Friday with five bass that weighed 26 pounds, 1 ounce. That combined with his Day 1 limit of 19-13 gave Cifuentes the lead in the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Lake Seminole with a total weight of 45-14.
New Jersey superstar Mike Iaconelli is second, trailing by just 2-15.
“It was really slow out there and I apologize to everyone who was watching Bassmaster LIVE. It took me a while to get it,” Cifuentes said. “I worked my butt off out there and it worked out.”
Fishing in Spring Creek, Cifuentes spent the majority of his day targeting standing timber in 20 to 22 feet. A classic prespawn staging scenario, this habitat provides fish the right mix of heat-retaining cover, ambush feeding opportunities and protective structure. The latter presents the biggest challenge.
“Getting the fish to bite hasn’t been that hard; it’s just getting the fish out,” Cifuentes said. “That’s what’s so stressful, because they’re sitting in groups of like two or three big trees together, so they’re hard to get out. But if I get lucky and they go the right way, I can steer them.”
Bassmaster LIVE saw Cifuentes lose an estimated 4-pounder when the bass ran into unyielding cover. Despite his best dislodging efforts, which included sticking his rod into the water, Cifuentes was unable to free the ensnared fish before it shook the hook.
Compounding the challenge of fishing such unforgiving habitat, Cifuentes found his best way to tempt bites was a drop shot on spinning gear. Typically a light-line finesse technique, Cifuentes made strategic adjustments that improved his ability to manage the timber.
“I’m using a bigger leader and line on my spinning rod, so I can really pull on them,” Cifuentes said. “I’m using a 7-foot medium rod with 15-pound Berkley x5 Braid and a 12-pound Berkley 100% fluorocarbon leader.”
Cifuentes said his drop shot is comprised of a 1/4-ounce weight and a 6-inch hand-poured worm in the morning dawn color. To minimize snags, he Texas rigged the worm.
“I rig the worm weedless because you’re reeling around timber and if you had an open hook you’d be getting hung all the time,” he said. “I’m using a small 1/0 hook and I think that’s key because I don’t think the fish can see the hook as much.”
Iaconelli, who won the 2002 Georgia Bassmaster Tour event on Lake Seminole, added 23-9 Friday to his Day 1 weight of 19-6 and sits in second with 42-15.
“This place has a special memory for me and maybe there’s a little bit of good mojo there. I’m trying to keep that going,” Iaconelli said. “I have one really special area and that scares me a little bit, but if that special area keeps producing, I’ll have a good shot to make (Championship Sunday).”
Both days, Iaconelli has fished a small bay in the Flint River. He’s spending most of his time targeting what he calls the last staging point before bass move onto a spawning flat.
On Day 1, Iaconelli caught all of his fish on reaction baits. Today, half of the bass he caught bit a reaction bait and half bit a soft-plastic bait.
“Ninety percent of my weight has come from this area and it’s unlike the way I like to fish,” Iaconelli said. “I’m high-strung; I don’t like to sit still. I’m Power-Poling down and sitting.
“It’s tough for me to fish like that, but it’s a special spot. Fish are swimming past me by the minute. It’s the kind of place that’s feast or famine, so if they stop funneling through that area, I’m happy I made the (Semifinal Saturday) cut.”
Another longtime B.A.S.S. star, Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., is in third place with 38-12. After placing 44th on Day 1 with 14-5, Hackney added Friday’s second-heaviest bag, 24-7.
Hackney said he’s fishing a mix of reaction and slower baits. As he explained, the key to his second-round improvement was calmer weather.
“Yesterday, it was hard for me to be efficient in that wind,” Hackney said. “This morning it was warmer and it was slick and I could be more efficient.”
Hackney said he’s fishing a couple of scenarios, one of which is drop-off related. Water movement, he said, is playing a role in his strategy.
“There’s a lot of fish that are up, but there’s also a lot of fish that haven’t gotten there yet,” Hackney said. “It’s a weird deal; we’ve had such warm weather, but there’s so much water running through the system that it’s keeping it colder. The water temperature’s not warming up with these 80-degree days.”
Jason Christie of Dry Creek, Okla., earned the $1,000 daily bonus for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day with his 6-5. Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., still leads the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the tournament with the 8-1 he caught on Day 1.
Cifuentes is currently in the lead for the VMC Monster Bag award for his Friday catch.
Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 203 points. Cifuentes is second with 190, followed by Kyle Welcher of Opelika, Ala., with 183, Australian Carl Jocumsen with 183 and Brandon Card of Salisbury, N.C., with 179.
Cifuentes leads the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 190 points.
The Top 50 remaining anglers will take off at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday from the Earle May Boat Basin Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:30 p.m., with only the Top 10 advancing to Championship Sunday for a chance at the $100,000 first-place prize.
FS1 will broadcast live with the leaders beginning at 8 a.m. with continuing coverage on Bassmaster.com.
The Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee is being hosted by the City of Bainbridge Community Development.
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