Just a few days after Halloween, the freak show continued on Lake Guntersville as predictions of a tough tournament were shattered by three bags over 20 pounds, topped by Ralph Steve DeBord's 22.48 pounds.
"I only had six keeper bites throughout all of practice, but caught eight keepers today," DeBord said. "If I can catch two or three more keepers tomorrow, I'll be happy."
Not far behind DeBord was Galen James of Sale Creek, Tenn., in second place with 21.11 pounds. Louis Aebersold Jr. of Louisville, Ky., landed 20.58 pounds to claim third.
Rounding out the top five was Justin Lynch of Chesterfield, Va., in fourth with 19.36 pounds and Nick Kincaid of Tulsa, Okla., in fifth with 19.19 pounds.
The rainy conditions in northern Alabama Wednesday were ideal for fishing and seemed to ignite what was a difficult bite in practice. DeBord, who hails from Martinez, Ga., reaped the benefits, but like many of his competitors, worries about what the passing of the front will do to the fishing.
"I hope it isn't going to touch what I'm fishing," DeBord said. "I fished here the same time last year and trust me, I've got one little thing I'm doing that I guarantee no one else is doing."
DeBord was understandably tight-lipped about what exactly helped elevate him to the top of the leaderboard, but he'll need to continue to put up numbers to fend off the stiff competition and overcome the cold front that will soon be coming to town.
Within striking distance is James, who brought in the day's biggest bass, a 7.22-pound monster largemouth that hit a topwater bait early on Wednesday.
"I saw it roll up on my bait and as soon as I saw it, I knew it was a big one," James said. "It took awhile to bring in, and it was nerve-wracking because I could see it the whole way in."
Like many of the other anglers, James also had a tough practice, but was able to capitalize on the conditions. He knows he will have to change it up, however, when cold weather makes the bite tougher.
"I'm throwing reaction-type baits and so I know I'm going to have to change what I'm doing if I want to keep catching them," James said. "I actually had to come in three hours early, but still managed to catch a 5-pounder while I was back here close."
Most of the top finishers had a good kicker and Aebersold was no exception. At 2 in the afternoon, he had a solid limit and made a move to help his non-boater fill his limit. Not long after they arrived, Aebersold boated a 6.29-pounder that pushed him over the 20-pound mark.
"I expected to catch fish today, but not a 20-pound sack," Aebersold said. "They should replenish and I don't think the weather will hurt me. I've caught them on sunny days, rainy days and cloudy days."
On the non-boater side, Dana Foster of Ocala, Fla., made a commotion when he pulled out a 7.45-pound largemouth, part of his Day One leading three-fish limit of 13.73 pounds. Foster utilized his knowledge of Florida lakes and grass fishing to boat fish in practice and the tournament.
"The big fish hit at midday and short-lined me, so I didn't have a whole lot of time to think about it," Foster said. "If conditions are like this tomorrow it will stay good, but if the sun comes out, it will get tougher. That definitely makes me feel good about today."
James Caruso of Millersville, Md., caught 10.99 pounds, good enough for second place. Patric Hulsey rounded out the top three with 10.93 pounds.
Over 2,500 pounds of bass were caught by the 400 competitors Wednesday and all but two of them were released alive back into Lake Guntersville.
Competitors will again launch at 8 a.m. ET from Lake Guntersville State Park, weighing in at 4 p.m. ET. Anglers still have two more days of competition before the field is cut to the top 25 for Saturday's final round, when the National Champion is crowned. Complete results can be found by going to www.abaproam.com.