Christie, Welcher Share Classic Lead Heading Into Championship Sunday On Lake Hartwell

With one day remaining, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk could not be much tighter, especially at the top of the standings.

Veteran Oklahoma pro Jason Christie and third-year Alabama pro Kyle Welcher moved into a tie for the lead during Saturday’s second round on Lake Hartwell, and only 7 pounds separate first place and 25th place as the anglers prepare for Championship Sunday.

Christie pushed his total to 36-7 by adding 19-6 on Saturday to the 17-1 he caught Friday. Welcher reached the mark by adding 17-10 to his Day 1 catch of 18-13.

After leading two previous Classics on the final day — only to fall just short of a victory — Christie joked that he was almost happy not having the lead to himself.

“That’s the best you can have if you feel like leading is bad luck,” he said, laughing. “All week, I’ve just felt like it’s my time. If it’s not, I don’t know when it is. I’m getting older and the fish are getting harder and these young guys are getting better.

“So, if this is not my time, I don’t know if it ever will be.”

The fishing, Christie said, was not as good as his 19-plus bag suggested. While he said he believes he’s on the right fish to win, the bites came few and far between.

“Right now, you feel like you could go out and get two bites more or two bites less and change your whole day,” he said. “Today, for me, if it had been two bites less, I would have weighed in somewhere between 13 or 14 pounds instead of 19.”

Utilizing Garmin LiveScope for offshore fishing, coupled with his vast knowledge of shallow-water tactics, Christie used two unnamed lures to catch bass from depths ranging from 6 inches to 30 feet. Unlike many of the anglers fishing this week’s event, he said he hasn’t been able to dial in a pattern around the lake’s massive number of boat docks.

“I don’t know if there are just not that many fish there or if I’m just not around them or what, but I just still haven’t gotten into the groove on the dock deal,” he said. “I keep trying. Today, I even fished new water — went to a creek I haven’t even been in — and didn’t catch anything.

“Tomorrow, I’ll just go run the stuff that’s been working and we’ll see.”

Christie will share the leader’s spot with Welcher — one of the up-and-coming young anglers he referenced.

A 29-year-old pro from Opelika, Ala., Welcher cut his teeth on Chattahoochee River fisheries like West Point Lake, Lake Harding and Lake Eufaula. He said Hartwell reminds him a lot of West Point with clear water, plenty of clay and sand, the same types of rocks and the same depths of water close to the bank.

“I’m doing exactly the same stuff here that I would be doing on West Point — it’s almost identical,” Welcher said. “Since I fish those kinds of areas a lot, I just kind of know where the largemouth get. There’s way more spotted bass in this lake than largemouth, and if you can find those places where the largemouth continuously get, your weight’s usually going to be a little higher.”

On Friday, Welcher weighed in four largemouth and one spot. His ratio was a little off Saturday — three spots and two largemouth — but his two largemouth weighed 5-12 and 4-12.

He’s hoping for five largemouth on Championship Sunday.

“Whatever bites, I want to catch,” he said. “But I would sure like to have another 17 pounds. I think it would give me a good chance. In a perfect world, I’ll weigh in five largemouth — five big ones.”

South Carolina pro Bryan New, who caught 20 pounds on Day 1 to take the early lead, slipped to third after catching only 13-7 Saturday. The bright sunshine from the opening round was replaced Saturday by heavy cloud cover for most of the day, and New believes that killed the dock pattern that was so good to him Friday.

“I knew it was gonna be a little tougher because of the clouds,” New said. “But I didn’t expect it to be as tough. It was literally nonexistent.”

In scramble mode, New picked up a spinning rod and used several baits — including a Zoom Zlinky — to catch just enough weight to stay in the hunt.

“The Zlinky saved me today,” he said. “I caught a 4-4 with 30 minutes to go and a 2-8 that culled a 1-14 on my very last cast. I ran in and had about a minute to go.

“The sun came out at the end of the day today, so that should already help the docks some. If it stays out, I think it could go right back like it was Friday.”

New is holding the lead for Rapala’s Monster Bag prize, which will pay $7,000 to the angler with the heaviest single-day bag during the Classic.

South Carolina pro Brandon Cobb, who was one of the favorites coming into the event, missed the Championship Sunday cut in 34th place. But he took the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with a 6-12 largemouth that now ranks as the biggest bass caught in any of the four Classics held on Hartwell.

The tournament concludes Sunday with the Top 25 anglers taking off at 7 a.m. ET from Green Pond Landing and Event Center. They will be competing for a $300,000 first-place prize, a portion of the $1 million total purse and the most coveted trophy in pro fishing.

Fans can catch all of the action with streaming coverage on The Classic will also feature four hours of live Championship Sunday coverage on FS1 beginning at 8 a.m.

Sunday will mark the final day of the annual Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Marathon at the Greenville Convention Center. Exhibitors will be on-site from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. selling a variety of merchandise for fishing, hunting, camping and more.

The Bassmaster Classic is being hosted by Visit Anderson and VisitGreenvilleSC.