Florida Angler John Cox Grabs Second-Round Lead In Bassmaster Open On Chickamauga
DAYTON, Tenn. —

Friday is “Moving Day” in each of the nine Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens held throughout the year.

When an angler makes a mark on the first day, continued success on Friday almost always is the difference in surviving the cut to 12 or heading home.

Few anglers have moved around more than John Cox in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open No. 2 on Chickamauga Lake. And he’s moving right up the leaderboard because of his versatility.

Cox, a pro from Debary, Fla., said he’s covered just about every inch of this 38,000-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River over the past two days. And while that’s obviously hyperbole, what’s not an overstatement is his lead in this three-day tournament.

Cox boated the second-heaviest bag of the day — a 25-pound, 7-ounce limit of five bass that gave him a two-day total of 47-13. That haul has him in a prime position to win the tournament and the bounty of prizes that come with victory, including a Triton/Mercury boat-motor package worth $40,000, $8,000 cash, and most importantly, a berth in the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

On Thursday, Cox said Chickamauga has been a perplexing study. And despite his lead, he didn’t change his tune after Friday’s weigh-in at the Dayton Boat Dock.

“It’s amazing how much this area changes from day to day,” Cox said. “A spot I think is going to have clean water will have dirty water, and the next day it’s clean. So I just keep moving.”

Cox’s biggest bass on Friday weighed 8-15, and he caught the fat female on 8-pound-test line. He said the big bass ran with his lure and put up a big fight.

“I had to chase her like a tarpon,” he said. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was having pains.”

Cox won $250 as the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader. The other 11 anglers who made the cut and will compete on Saturday include Hunter Shryock (second, 44-5); Shaw Grigsby (third, 42-6); Michael Neal (fourth, 41-0); Ish Monroe (fifth, 40-0); Wayne Hauser Jr. (sixth, 38-12); Sam George (tied at seventh, 37-3); and Brandon Lester (seventh, 37-3); Justin Lucas (ninth, 35-14); Bill Weidler (10th, 35-13); Josh Douglas (tie 11th,  35-5); and Wes Logan (12th, 35-5.)

The nearly 400 pros and co-anglers competing in this Southern Open dodged rainstorms throughout the day, but the intermittently foul weather did little to disturb the extremely heavy bites that have been routine on “The Chick” in recent months.

Shryock, Thursday’s leader, was strong again Friday with a five-bass limit that weighed 18 pounds, 14 ounces. The Ohio pro is just 3 pounds and change behind Cox, and is fishing with confidence after making the Top 12 at the first Southern Open of the season on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes in January.

Shryock said his brother (Bassmaster Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock) texted him Thursday night and told him to stick to what he does best — sight fishing. He followed big brother’s advice and found the big females he needed to punch his ticket to Saturday’s final round.

“I went shallow,” Shryock said. “It’s intimidating when you come to a TVA lake and you see 90 percent of the anglers fishing offshore, and you’re one of the few guys in there still sight fishing. I found a new area that had some new fish in it. I feel like there (are some bass) that still are coming up to spawn. You see some of these fish that are full of eggs. I don’t think it’s the happening deal, but there are enough fish for me. I’ll find my five bites and miss the 40 bites that everyone else is getting.”

Grigsby continued to sight fish as he did on Thursday, and the technique netted him a bag that weighed 17-5 and earned him a spot in the Top 12. He was in second place after Thursday, though he dropped to third without the benefit of the 9-12 lunker he boated Thursday.

“I had some nice fish today, but not one of those really big ones that are out there,” the veteran Florida pro said. “There are 11- and 12-pounders to be caught. You get one of those tomorrow, who knows what happens?”

Neal is from Dayton, Tenn., and he is the hometown favorite. He made the final 12 despite not catching a bass heavier than 5 pounds so far in the Southern Open. He’s catching transitioning bass that are heading from the banks to offshore spots, and hopes to do more of the same tomorrow.

He said consistency is key to succeeding on Chickamauga, and he’s shown it with catches of about 23 and 18 pounds. Still, he’d love for a heavyweight to anchor his bag on Saturday.

“I had 11 pounds with an hour to go, and was able to cull up to 18,” he said. “If I can get one of those big 9- or 10-pounders we’ve seen, I’ve got a chance to win this thing.”

North Carolina’s Hauser is in sixth place with another steady bag (19-13) on Friday. He said he’s catching bass on three different patterns and is prepared for anything on Saturday.

“I have no idea what it’s going to take, but hopefully I have enough,” Hauser said. “Making the Classic is a life-long goal. I’ve got a chance, so we’ll see what happens.”

Alabama’s Sam George vaulted into seventh place with a limit that weighed 26-2, which was the heaviest bag of the day. George’s catch included a 10-pounder, and he said he lost an 8-pounder at the boat. As he worked his way back to the Dayton Boat Dock, he said he saw two more fish that were in the 9-pound range.

“Honestly, if I had a couple more hours today, I think I could have cracked 40 (pounds),” he said. “This lake is just incredible.”

Florida pro Darrell Davis had the big bass of the day — a monster 11-5 female he caught in a driving rainstorm at about 2 p.m. That catch put him in the lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award. The angler with the heaviest fish of the tournament wins a $750 award.

The 12 co-anglers who will compete on Saturday are Zach Clark (first, 22-12;) Alan Woodford (second, 22-8;) Barry Stalcup (third, 21-12;) Randy Gardner (fourth, 19-14;) Tim Patterson (fifth, 19-13;) Chuck Thurlow (sixth, 19-5;) Taylor Stumbo (seventh, 19-2;) Garrett Geouge (eighth, 19-1;) Roy Hurst Jr. (ninth, 19-0;) Fred Rigdon (10th, 18-6;) David Gladden II (11th, 17-5;) and Josh Jackson (12th, 16-11.)

Zack Clark is in the lead in the co-angler division with 22-12. The winning co-angler earns a Triton/Mercury boat-motor package. The Top 40 pros and co-anglers in the Southern Open No. 2 earn checks for their showing.

The Rhea County (Tenn.) Economic Development and Tourism Council is hosting the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open No. 2. Anglers from 27 different states and countries are entered in this three-day event.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. from Dayton Boat Dock, though the final day weigh-in will move to the Bass Pro Shops location at 1000 Bass Pro Drive in East Ridge, Tenn. Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 3:45 p.m.