"Can you believe this?" said West Monroe's Mark Smith, after learning he would be fishing an extra day against Bassmater Elite Series pro Edwin Evers in the circuit's final stop in the Atchafalaya Basin.
Smith of West Monroe held the lead after each of the first two days of competition, but Evers jumped from third to tie Smith when the scales settled on identical weights of 35 pounds, 9 ounces.
The anglers will fish a full day tomorrow and they will meet back at the dock at 2:20 p.m., at which time the winner will be decided. At stake in the competition is a top prize of $45,000 (based on a full field).
The two anglers' confidence going into the extended tournament was polar opposites.
"My bite is severely used up," Smith said. "This is the first time (in the tournament) I don't have much confidence."
The first two days' limits for Smith came from one stretch of water, but he was forced today to move around and pick off enough fish to build a five-fish limit.
"I think the east wind got me today," said Smith. "I had no wind on my bank."
Evers, on the other hand, said he his bite was just beginning to pick up.
"I just got a little more familiar with where they're hanging out," said Evers of Talala, Okla.
While the tournament win remained in limbo, two important matters were decided when the scales closed.
In the Central division points race, Bassmaster Elite Series pro James Niggemeyer sewed up the win.
"This is huge," said Niggemeyer, who won the season's first divisional in a fish-off. "The central part of the United States has some of the stoutest fishermen around. To win the first event really gave me a huge boost. To win the points was a real blessing from God."
With the points-race win, Niggemeyer double qualified for a 2010 Bassmaster Classic spot. And his Classic qualification will come from the Opens, opening the way for Elite Series' Mark Tucker to move into the championship based on his position in the 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Louisiana's Cliff Crochet placed second in the divisional points race, locking up the second Classic spot from the Central Opens.
"Nothing's sunk in yet," Crochet said as he wiped tears from his eyes. "It's a dream come true."
Crochet also qualifies for the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series. Joining him and Niggemeyer as Elite Series qualifiers will be Evers, Texas' Chris McCall and Texas' Todd Castledine. The top seven will qualify and the full points standings can be found below.
In the co-angler competition, Louisiana's David Cooper wrapped up a wire-to-wire victory after knocking Arkansas' Jeff Wade off in a final-day tie breaker. Each angler weighed a total 21-11, but Cooper won the tie-breaker with the largest single-day weight.
Cooper said his win came primarily by pitching flooded cypress trees. He earned a Skeeter/Yamaha boat package valued at $32,000.
The pro competition wraps up tomorrow with a 6:15 a.m. launch and a 2:20 p.m. weigh-in at the Belle River Boat Landing north of Morgan City, La. All events are open and free to the public.