Late big bites power Joey Nania to lead at Bassmaster Open at Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula
EUFAULA, Okla. —

Before the start of Day 2 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Eufaula, Okla., Joey Nania had not caught a bass over 5 pounds. His fortunes changed on Friday, when Nania caught his two biggest bass of the week and weighed a limit totaling 22 pounds, 2 ounces, pushing him into the lead with a two-day total of 36-7.

Finishing the first day in 25th with 14-5, the Cropwell, Ala., pro holds a 5-ounce advantage over Kentucky's Matt Messer, who landed the biggest bag of the tournament thus far Friday with 22-10.

“It was an amazing day. Everything went perfectly and God is good,” Nania said. “I caught 50 or more white bass today and 20 bass.”

Despite the cloudy, breezy conditions that lingered after thunderstorms rolled through overnight Thursday, Nania decided to pull up on a brushpile he scanned during practice and caught three keepers by 8:30 a.m., including a 2-pounder. He then added a 3-pounder at an adjacent brushpile and his fifth keeper a few minutes later, a 4-pounder he coaxed into biting.

From there, Nania ran to the lower end of the lake and found several shallow brushpiles, which produced a 4-pounder and another 3-pounder around 1 p.m. With several hours still to fish, he returned to the area where he caught several of his better bass on Day 1 and landed a 4 1/2- and a 6 1/2-pounder on back-to-back casts.

Those two bass were bigger than any he caught during the practice period.

“At that point, I was feeling grateful for what I had,” Nania said. “To catch the 4.65 and cull up to 18 pounds, I knew I had made the cut. The next cast, I set the hook and it was that giant. I saw it jump and thought it was a 4-pounder. When I got it to the boat and grabbed it, it was big and thick and perfect. It was amazing.”

Both days, Nania has caught bass in 22 feet of water on that spot, which he found with 30 minutes to go on the final practice day. While many other competitors have stacked up in the same area, Nania has only seen two other boats fishing this particular spot all week.

While the current isn’t particularly strong on Eufaula, it plays a big role on the spot. Using his Garmin LiveScope, Nania can see thousands of white bass, many of which attempt to eat his bait before it reaches the bass.

“I let the white bass bump my bait and then I let it fall down below them,” he said. “When it really locks up, I set the hook. I only caught a couple of fish doing it, but I caught two 4s yesterday and my co-angler lost a 5. There are 10 or 15 bass and 2,000 white bass.

“It’s a typical school, but I’ve never seen so many white bass and so few bass in a school.”

Entering the day in 37th place with 13-8, Messer anchored his big Day 2 bag with an 8-1 behemoth largemouth that he landed on his last cast. That bass holds the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament.

At the end of Day 1, Messer found two spots that produced big bass and with 20 minutes to go before check-in on Day 2, he stopped on one of those spots and it paid off in a big way.

“That is two days in a row. Yesterday I caught a 5 1/2 on my last cast on the same spot,” Messer said. “I had 15-10 on my scale with the five I had with a 1-12 as my small one. I was running back and decided to make two casts on this spot and caught it on the first one. I caught it on a 10-pound test on a spinning rod. It was skin hooked too.”

Messer has been fishing isolated cover in around 20 feet of water, whether that cover is a brushpile, stump or a rockpile. Often, the standout from the Kentucky Christian University bass team hasn’t been able to see the bass on his forward-facing sonar, but has been able to find the cover holding the bass with his graph.

“These aren’t places I’m going to catch a (ton),” he said. “Today, I ran to a spot and would catch one and then run back to another and catch one. I went back and forth all day.”

Carbondale, Ill., pro Trey McKinney is in third with a two-day total of 35-3. With catches of 15-7 and 19-12, the 18-year-old Opens Elite Qualifiers Division angler secured his third Top 10 finish of the season. After seeing multiple boats around his Day 1 starting spot, McKinney moved to a flat located close to a drop-off.

While he didn’t see many bass on his forward-facing sonar Thursday, he found the bass had loaded up in that area Friday.

“My co-angler and I had a blast today. We had 25-plus keepers. I turned the LiveScope on in the back for him, and we kept telling each other to get ready,” he said. “I went on the deep side of it yesterday and today I went shallow and had 13 pounds in a matter of 10 minutes.”

McKinney added he would have been in contention for biggest bag of the day as well, but he lost a bass that was at least a 4-pounder and broke off another he believed would have helped.

Japanese native Sakae Ushio secured his second Bassmaster Opens co-angler victory with a two-day total of 20-3. After landing 11-9 on Day 1, Ushio added two bass that weighed 8-10 on the final day to secure the wire-to-wire win. Along with the trophy and the $13,000 check, he claimed an extra $250 for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament, a 6-4 largemouth he caught on Day 2.

“I used a Geecrack Bellows Gill creature bait on a wobblehead and a Berkley MaxScent Magnum Hit Worm on a Neko rig,” he said. “It is amazing. Both days I was the leader. It made my life, I think.”

Oklahoma’s Dusty Duvall finished second with 19-11, followed by Louisiana’s Jason Fontenot in third with 16-8.

The Top 10 pros will launch from Nichols Point beginning at 6 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in beginning around 2:30 p.m. The winner will punch a ticket to the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota in Tulsa. Full coverage will be available on

The tournament is being hosted by the Eufaula Area Chamber of Commerce.