Hackney weighed in the largest bass during the first day of the St. Johns River stop when he brought a 10-pound, 9-ounce lunker to the scales to push his five-fish total to 23-14 — a mere 2 ounces behind leader J. Todd Tucker.
Crochet also was within striking distance, less than 4 pounds back with 21-5. He sits in fifth going into the second day of the tournament.
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Tucker anchored his 24-pound sack with an 8-pound, 6-ounce bass he caught off a bed.
He refused to give up on the behemoth bass sitting on the bed. Twice he thought he had her, twice he lost her. The third time was the proverbial charm as the bass committed to Tucker's bait.
"That was the key to my day," he said.
Catching the 8-6 was just how he started his day. He repeated with an 8-3 taken off a bed in another spot. That one was somewhat of a surprise for Tucker, who said he had counted on only one kicker a day from the areas he scouted in practice earlier in the week.
Tucker, of Moultrie, Ga., has three more days before he can claim his first Elite Series win, and there are many challengers for the $100,000 title. Tucker was only 2 ounces in front of Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., who had 23-14 Thursday. Bill Lowen of Brookville, Ind., was third with 22-3; Rick Morris of Lake Gaston, Va., was fourth with 21-12; and Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, La., was fifth with 21-5.
Yet, Tucker hinted, there's another giant out there. He saw it Thursday sitting on a bed. He caught two male bass on the same bed.
"And she left," he said. "I don't know if she'll be back or not, but I'll certainly be checking her out tomorrow. That's all I've got going now, other than being patient, getting on that push pole and easing around, not making any noise at all."
Confidence in what he was doing, and having enough patience to wait until the big fish moved onto the beds was his approach. He stuck to two tiny areas that yielded all his fish. The size of those two spots was the biggest difference between the St. Johns competition this year and last year, said Tucker, who finished in sixth place in the 2011 event on St. Johns.
"Last year, I was on five acres of fish. This year my area is much, much smaller — the size of that stage," said Tucker, gesturing to the Bassmaster weigh-in stage.
First prize in the St. Johns River Showdown is $100,000 and a qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. Pros are also fishing to rack up points that count toward postseason entry, Classic qualification and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
Like Tucker, Hackney landed a huge bass, but he didn't have its twin. Hackney's big one was a 10-9, his anchor and the day's largest bass brought in by the 99-angler field. The catch set the bar for the tournament's Carhartt Big Bass award.
The 10-9 was a one-cast fish.
"I saw just half of her — I thought it was a 6- or 7-pounder. I pitched in the hole and she took it, first cast."
Hackney said some of his fish came from sight fishing tactics, but some did not.
"I'm mixing it up a little bit, he said. "You can catch them both ways."
He said he junk fished many spots along a 60-mile run of the river.
"It's junky, but I knew it was going to be that way today because there are fish coming, and there are fish going (to and from beds). There's not one thing to be doing, but you need one big one every day."
The two Elite Series pros with a home-water advantage, Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., and Cliff Prince of Palatka, ended the first day in mid-field. Prince came to the scales with 15-10 for 24th place, and Scroggins had 14-0 for 35th.
Defending champion Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., who came from behind to win in 2011 on the St. Johns, was seventh after one day with 20-4.