Williams moves into lead at Bassmaster Open on Watts Bar Reservoir

After limping his way through Day 1, Tyler Williams enjoyed full use of his equipment Friday and tallied a two-day total of 29 pounds, 5 ounces to lead the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Watts Bar Reservoir.

Williams, a Belgrade, Maine, angler who entered the day 3 ounces out of the lead, will now head into Championship Saturday with a lead of 15 ounces over Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill.

“When my trolling motor clicked on this morning, I’ve never been so happy to hear that sound,” said Williams, whose trolling motor and shallow-water anchors went down on Day 1. “Everything worked fine today.”

Williams actually caught a little more on Day 1 with 14-15, but Friday’s 14-6 was harder to come by. While Day 1 saw a modest front bring cooler temperatures, clouds and wind, the second round brought warm, mostly still conditions, which seemed to return the bass to their generally challenging late-summer disposition.

“It takes a certain way to get them to bite and you have to keep moving until you find ones that want to eat,” Williams said. “It’s a lot of angles and speed. I’m reading fish on my Garmin LiveScope to see how they react.”

Noting that he was fishing “near the bank, but off the bank,” Williams said he was targeting isolated structure. He basically did the same thing on Day 1, but with his trolling motor down, he had significantly less ability to pan his forward-facing sonar transducer.

“Yesterday, I could just make one shot and hope for the best,” he said. “That was almost a blessing because I didn’t fish any of my really good spots. Today, I got to hit those and it was fresh water.”

Williams said he caught all of his bass on a single bait. He kept the details under wraps but said he was fishing a slow presentation.

“It’s timing,” he said. “I was trying to time my areas perfectly. It seemed like I have my rotation okay, but the morning is pretty slow because they’re not pulling any current.”

Williams said he fished the entire length of the lake. For safety, he started at the lower end and worked his way back up. In the event of another mechanical issue, he wanted to make sure he was closer to other competitors later in the day.

But Williams said he enjoyed strategic solitude most of the day.

“I have a lot of water to myself,” he said. “I haven’t seen many boats, other than driving by people.

“This lake spreads people out. I think (most) people are fishing shallow and I’m fishing offshore.

Williams said he’s all in for the same pattern on Championship Saturday. Should all of his decisions align perfectly, he believes a 20-pound bag is not unrealistic.

“If I get my timing right, it could get scary,” he said. “I caught two 6-pounders on Tuesday.”

McKinney placed 13th on Day 1 with 12-4. In the second round, he added 16-2 — the tournament’s second-largest bag — for a 28-6 total.

When McKinney found himself with no fish at 2 p.m., he thought he had blown his day.

“I was spinning out and my mind was going in all different directions,” he said. “I passed (Williams) and he gave me the confidence to get it done.”

Fortunately, the afternoon power generation schedule brought a current increase that triggered the fish. McKinney capitalized on the flurry that spanned the last two hours of his day.

“I went and found some new stuff. I caught a 3-pound smallmouth and my confidence skyrocketed,” he said. “It was one of those comeback days you dream of.”

McKinney caught his fish by dragging a Strike King Structure jig with a Strike King Rodent trailer over offshore structure. Current positioned the bass in predictable feeding spots.

JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., endured a frustrating day that left him with no keepers at 1 p.m. The afternoon current also aided Thompkins, who sacked up 13-5 and moved into third with 25-2.

Thompkins, who placed 17th on Day 1 with 11-13, said his morning brought multiple heartbreaks.

“I lost a 4 1/2- and a 4-pound smallmouth this morning and I tried to boat flip a 3 that came off at the boat,” he said. “I ended up catching all of my weight in the last three hours. I caught a 4-pounder in the last 15 minutes.

“Everything just worked out, even though it shouldn’t have. I’m just super blessed to be here.”

Thompkins threw a topwater and a jig earlier in the day. He ended up catching his fish on a jig with a Strike King Rage Bug trailer.

Ish Monroe of Oakdale, Calif., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with a 5-2.

Sakae Ushio of Tonawanda, N.Y., won the nonboater division with a two-day total of 14-6. His daily weights were 5-8 and 8-14 — the event’s largest nonboater bag.

Ushio won his second of three nonboater titles three months ago at Lake Eufaula. He also won the 2022 title at Lake Hartwell.

Ushio caught his Day 2 fish on a Geecrack Imo Kemushi 95 (a 3.75-inch worm). On Day 1, he used a free-rigged Berkley MaxScent Critter Hawg. The key to his success was making the difficult casts.

“As a (nonboater), it’s very difficult to fish shallow because of the boat angle,” Ushio said. “Three years ago, I worked on becoming ambidextrous, so I can make those difficult casts.

“Also, I was using a Daiwa Zillion 10:1 reel, so I could reel up quickly after each cast.”

Ushio won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize among nonboaters with a 4-8.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:15 a.m. CT at Kingston Boat Ramp. The weigh-in will be held at the Kingston Boat Ramp at 3:15 p.m. FS1 will broadcast live with the leaders beginning at 8 a.m. with continuing coverage on Bassmaster.com.

The City of Kingston is hosting the tournament.