Hartman maintains Elite Series lead at Toledo Bend

Casey Ashley in 2nd, 3-plus pounds behind

Although he’s admittedly not too familiar with southern fishing, New York’s Jamie Hartman — an Elite Series rookie — takes almost a 4-pound lead into Sunday at the Bassmaster stop on Toledo Bend.

Hartman caught five Saturday that weighed 17 pounds, 14 ounces to push his three-day total to 56-15.

He will lead the remaining 12 anglers into Championship Sunday with a chance to earn $100,000 and his first B.A.S.S. victory. Gonzales’ Greg Hackney weighed in five fish for 11-12 and finished 19th.

“I’m absolutely, 100 percent pleased with the way things went today,” said Hartman, who caught 23-5 and 15-12 the first two days of the tournament. “I’m just winging it, piecing things together, but it’s all working out so far.”

Hartman said he came to Toledo Bend this week expecting the spawn to be over. But when he realized it was still in full swing, he adjusted and turned his attention to spawn and prespawn fish.

They were his target again Saturday.

“I caught three fish on beds today,” said Hartman, who’s fishing only his 13th B.A.S.S. event. “Then after that, the shallow stuff was over. I caught my next 12 fish in 32 feet of water. Those fish in deep water were all prespawn fish — big and fat.”

Hartman’s first fish of the day was a 6-5 largemouth that bit four times before he finally got a good hookset.

“I missed that fish three times,” Hartman said. “Then I finally just let the fish eat it and waited for my line to start going off. I was thankful for that fourth bite.”

Hartman’s closest competition heading into the final round is South Carolina angler and former Bassmaster Classic champion Casey Ashley, who is in second place with 53-3. The remainder of the Top 12 is as follows: John Murray (third, 52-11), Jason Christie (fourth, 52-10), Brandon Palaniuk (fifth, 50-9), Alton Jones (sixth, 49-14), Matt Lee (seventh, 48-10), Jacob Wheeler (eighth, 47-11), Todd Faircloth (ninth, 47-9), Brett Hite (10th, 47-1), Randy Howell (11th, 47-0) and Andy Montgomery (12th, 46-14).

Ashley made a late surge Saturday and finished with 16-7. He exploited the ongoing shad spawn to catch some shallow fish early, but he culled most of those as the day went on.

“My best fish seem to bite a little better later in the day,” Ashley said. “I actually caught four fish early on a spinnerbait, but they were all small. I don’t know what those big ones are doing early.”

Ashley’s solid results on Day 3 helped him rise from fifth place into second, but the biggest mover in the field during the semifinal round was Murray.

The West Coast native, who recently moved to Tennessee, caught 23-7 to jump from 34th place into third. He said simple execution was the key to finally making things work after a tough week.

“I’ve been on a pattern for big bites all week, and I’ve had a hard time boating them,” Murray said. “Today, I just finally got them in the boat.”

Murray said he would reveal the specifics of his methods Sunday. But for now, he only said it’s a technique he has used often on Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico.

“There’s too many good guys on our tour to reveal that kind of information today,” Murray said. “But Skeet Reese, Brent Ehrler and I figured out a little something.

“You don’t get a lot of bites doing it. It’s not a deal where you go out there and catch 20, but it’ll catch the big ones.”

Murray’s two biggest fish Saturday weighed 7-10 and 6-12. Christie still leads the race for Big Bass of the week with a 9-10 largemouth.

The tournament will conclude Sunday with the remaining anglers taking off from Cypress Bend Park at 6:45 a.m. The final weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m.

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