Even Gene Bishop couldn’t believe the bag of bass he caught in Friday’s second round of the Bassmaster Central Open on Barnett Reservoir, but he figures to ponder on it overnight.
“I doubt I’ll get a wink of sleep tonight,” said Bishop, who lives about a mile from the launch site in Ridgeland. “I can’t believe I’m in the lead of an Open.” (Click here to see the leaderboard.)
Bishop did it with a 26-pound, 1-ounce, 5-fish limit, jumping all the way from 76th position to the lead with a two-day total of 34-14.
That’s one pound, 12 ounces more than Oklahoman Jay Brainard, who at 33-2 is the only one of the top five from Thursday to stay there. Brainard had 11-1 on Friday after opening with 22-1 in the first round.
Both men are basically rookies, with Brainard fishing his first B.A.S.S. Open, and Bishop his second (Barnett Reservoir, 2013). They can look behind them and see some well-known anglers among the top 12 who advanced to Saturday’s final round.
Tommy Biffle, a veteran with 312 starts and seven B.A.S.S. titles on his resume, is tied for third with 30-15.
He shares third with fellow Oklahoman Chris Jones, a journeyman tour angler who won an Open in 2013 on the Arkansas River.
Right behind them is Kansas’ Brent Chapman, who like Biffle is a B.A.S.S. Elite Series angler with four tour wins to his credit. He’s fifth with 29-10.
A former Bassmaster Classic champion, Luke Clausen of Spokane, Wash., is seventh.
Behind him are three Elite Series anglers, all with multiple B.A.S.S. victories —Fred Roumbanis of Oklahoma, eighth with 27-8; Jason Christie, another Oklahoman, 11th with 27-6; and, Stephan Browning of Arkansas, 12th with 27-4.
All that talent, yet they’re still looking up at two unknowns, who both said they had to overcome rookie mistakes.
Bishop can blame his slow start on Thursday to a critical error.
“I fished history yesterday,” he said, referring to fishing spots where historically he’s caught fish in March. “Today, I forgot all about that and just went fishing where I thought the fish would be and, man, they were there.
“What I did was pull out a little bit and fish the edge of vegetation, old pad stems. There were 24 other boats in that area on the Rankin County bank, but I was at least 300 yards away from them. They went further up in the shallow water. I stayed out and I think I was catching the bigger females before they could get to the other boats.”
Bishop stumbled onto a 300-yard hotspot that was full of female bass staging for the spawn.
“They are moving up, and I just happened to get in a spot where they were concentrated,” he said. “I’m really not doing anything unusual, but for me to stay in one spot all day, that is unusual for me.
“I think the place should still hold fish Saturday because I really believe more fish are moving up every hour. But, if we get a wind switch and it blows out of the north or west, and especially the northwest, it will kill me.”
Brainard made his mistake on Friday, but realized it quick enough to save his day.
“I went back to this same cove I fished on Thursday but they weren’t biting my jig like they had been the day before, when they were yanking it out of my hand,” the former free-style bull fighter said. “At noon, I had three small fish and I gave up. I had a couple of other places up the lake, so I went up there to one of them.
“My brother called me to ask how I was doing, and I told him I was messing up, and might not make the cut (to the final 12). As soon as I hung up the phone, I decided I had made a big mistake. I ran back down to my No. 1 place and when I got back, I picked up the same rod I’d been catching them on on Thursday, with the same lure, and I pitched in there and I caught a fish. I ended up catching my biggest fish and caught another.”
Will he make the same mistake on Saturday?
“No, I’ll either be a hero or a zero, but it will be in that place,” he said. “I have it to myself. I can see life all over that area, baitfish, bass moving, birds diving. I’m catching fish from one foot to 12 feet. The fish are there.
“If I don’t win, it will be my fault.”
A local fisherman also leads the co-angler division. Jim McCaskill of Brandon leads with 20-pounds, 12 ounces. Cole Findley is second with 19-15 and Heath Gilmore is third with 19-6.
The top 12 co-anglers will be each paired with a top 12 pro for Saturday’s final round. The weigh-in will be at 4 p.m. at Bass Pro Shops in Pearl.