Premier crankbaiting specialists headed for a showdown
By Steve Wright

GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — Yes, the comparisons between Kevin VanDam and Tiger Woods have grown tired.

But when you’ve got two-time Bassmaster Classic champion VanDam and four-time Bassmaster Classic champ Rick Clunn ranked one-two after two days, you can’t help but think about a Tiger Woods vs. Jack Nicklaus golf tournament.

VanDam kept the lead for the second day running, but Clunn jumped into second place at Kentucky Lake with the big bag of the day Friday in the Bassmaster Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.

“They’ve got this commercial now called ‘Beer Heaven,'” said Clunn, who caught a five-bass limit weighing 24 pounds on Day Two. “You can call this lake crankbait/ledge heaven.

“This is, without a doubt, the premier crankbait, ledge-fishing lake in the country.”

And, without a doubt, the two best crankbait, ledge-fishing anglers in BASS history are 40-year-old VanDam and 61-year-old Clunn. VanDam backed his Berkley Big Bag of the tournament (24-13) on Day One with 21-9 on Day Two for a 46-6 total. Clunn jumped from eighth place Thursday (19-12) to second Friday with a two-day total of 43-12.

Clunn also trumped VanDam’s 6-7 Purolator Big Bass on Thursday with a 7-2 Friday.

“I’m just doing the same thing,” Clunn said. “I’m finding more fish.

“It’s looking good right now. I think the guy who wins this tournament will be the one who manages the (boat) traffic best. If I can survive (Saturday), hopefully I’ll have a shot at winning.”

Clunn, who lives in Ava, Mo., said he caught most of his fish both days on a Lucky Craft RC 3.5 DD crankbait, but also caught one fish in his bag each day on a jig.

VanDam, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., has been fishing various Strike King Sexy Shad crankbaits primarily, then following up with everything from spinnerbaits to jigs to spoons.

Managing the boat traffic, which Clunn mentioned, has been a major part of this tournament: Two other big tournaments will be held Saturday on Kentucky Lake, and in the previous two days, many anglers practicing for those tournaments have been following the Elite Series pros.

No one quite knows what to expect Saturdaym when those other tournaments begin. Both will have earlier start times than the 9 a.m. ET Bluegrass Brawl launch.

VanDam said he’s got some backup places he hasn’t yet fished, but he won’t hesitate to go to the spots that have produced almost 50 pounds for him in two days.

“You’ve still got to fish it right,” VanDam said. “I’m doing something a little bit different. You’ve got to have the angles right.

“Even if people are on it, I’m going to pull up and fish.”

VanDam has a 2-pound, 10-ounce lead over Clunn. In third place, 6-15 back of the lead, is Mike McClelland with 39-7. The Bella Vista, Ark., pro was second on Day One with 23-6 and had 16-1 Friday.

“I may have been a little too hard on my fish (Thursday),” McClelland said. “I thought I had a chance at an extra $10,000 (with the Berkley Big Bag of the tournament on Thursday).”

McClelland, who has caught most of his fish on a 3/4ths-ounce Jewell football jig and Zoom Brush Hawg trailer, estimated he caught 30 bass over 3 pounds Thursday. But he was catching fish more in the 2 1/2-pound range there Friday.

“I’m a little bit concerned,” said McClelland of the boat traffic expected Saturday. “But I also feel like it’s a pretty precise deal where I’m at.”

Oklahoma’s Bradley Hallman moved up from sixth place Thursday to fourth Friday with a total of 38-11.

“I’m young, and I’m just getting started,” said the 33-year-old Hallman. “But I saw the light (Thursday).

“The hard part is finding them. But when you do, the motherlode is there.”

Paul Elias, another noted BASS crankbait specialist, stayed in contention despite his mistake on Thursday, when he brought six bass to the weigh-in scales instead of five. His two-day total is 37-4.

However, Elias’ bag Friday didn’t include anything as big as the 6-1 smallmouth subtracted as a penalty from his bag or the 6-0 largemouth he caught Thursday.

“I think the hazy day scattered them,” Elias said. “I just didn’t get a big bite.”

Elias had 1 pound of his penalty from Thursday restored by a rules interpretation Friday morning. But he still lost over 3 pounds from his total weight due to his miscounting mistake.

“I got rid of it,” said the Laurel, Miss., pro of mentally dealing with the mistake. “But I’m just glad Kevin and everybody else smoked them. I sure don’t want to get beat by 3 pounds.”

The 107-pro angler field was cut to the top 50 after Friday’s rain-soaked weigh-in at Kentucky Dam Marina. Sharing the cut mark with 30-6 were Gary Klein, James Niggemeyer and Pete Ponds.

The field will be cut to the top 12 after Saturday’s 6 p.m. ET weigh-in. Those final dozen anglers will compete for the $100,000 first-place check in the Bluegrass Brawl on Sunday.