DAYTON, Tenn. — When crowded waters prevented John Cox from reaching the areas he wanted to fish today, the Debary, Fla., pro turned to a more familiar Plan B and caught a five-bass limit weighing 21 pounds, 12 ounces to extend his lead on Day 2 of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Lake Chickamauga with a total weight of 48-7.
Cox, whose Day 1 weight of 26-11 led the opening round by 3 pounds, 3 ounces, is the only angler to break 20 pounds both days. His limit today included an 8-pound, 6-ounce kicker that helped widen his lead to 7-13.
Coming off an FLW Tour win on Chickamauga May 5, Cox said Plan B took him back to the shallow zone for which he’s best known. What he found more than made up for what he could not access.
“When I got down to the lower end of the lake, I noticed that there were so many boats on every little spot I had,” Cox said. “I didn’t want to pull right in on the sweet spots, so I decided I’d just go throw at some trees and troll in the clear water.
“I was just throwing around a couple of bluegill beds when I saw that big one out of the corner of my eye. I pitched a Texas-rigged Berkley Max Scent General over to her and she inhaled it. I caught the rest of my limit doing that.”
Sight fishing for cruising bass is addictive to Cox. “My problem is once I see a couple up there swimming, I’m doomed; I’m not going back out,” he said.
Cox made one stop on the way back to check in and fished a similar shoreline scenario that had a cluster of bluegill beds. Here, he threw a swim jig rigged with a white Berkley Max Scent Meaty Chunk and scored back-to-back catches, one of which was his second-largest.
“I lost my Meaty Chunk on that last fish,” Cox Lamented. “I was digging in my box for more, but I didn’t have any left in white. I tried green pumpkin and everything else, but I couldn’t get them to eat anything else.”
Cox said he’s hopeful that Saturday’s smaller field — only the Top 12 boaters and 12 nonboaters fish in the final round — will allow him to fish his mid-depth spots. Fewer boats will likely make the quality fish more likely to move up anyway, he said.
“Those bigger fish aren’t going to set up on that stuff with all the pressure; the small ones do, but not the big ones,” Cox said. “I’m thinking that maybe tomorrow with fewer boats, maybe some of those areas can rest.
“Hopefully, I can leave the trolling and looking because you have to throw a few inches in front of that fish’s face and the bait has to fall without spooking him. There’s a lot of luck involved.”
Chad Pipkens of Lansing, Mich., is in second place with 40-10. Mounting the day’s biggest comeback, the seventh-year Elite angler followed up his disappointing Day 1 catch of four bass for 10-15 with a massive second round limit of 29-11, which propelled him from 93rd place into the No. 2 spot.
“It’s all about timing out here, and I got the timing right a couple of times today,” Pipkens said. “I caught a big one quick and from there, I was catching a fish here and there. I knew I needed to get a couple of keepers in the boat because you can spend a lot of time and get either nothing or a giant.
“I was able to catch a limit by 11 and cull a couple of times. Then, I got on some big ones in the afternoon and caught that giant one — a 9-8 — and lost another that was 10 or 12.”
Pipkens kept mum on his bait selection, but he said the key to his success was paying attention to the feeding windows in which opportunities might arise.
Buddy Gross of Chickamauga, Ga., is in third place with 39-4. After finishing second Thursday with 23-8, he added 15-12 today. Relying mostly on crankbaits and swimbaits, he’s been targeting the 14- to 18-foot depth range and fishing spots off the beaten path.
“I’ve been fishing ‘scab’ places every day, places I don’t typically fish so I can stay away from the crowd and try to get a few quality fish during the day,” Gross said. “Tomorrow, all the community holes will be a little less covered up, so I think I can catch up a little bit.
“If we get lucky and they (the TVA) run water tomorrow, I can give him a run for his money. But if they don’t, it’s going to be a John Cox show.”
Pipkens is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-8.
Ross Rhodes of Paw Paw, Mich., leads the co-angler division with 20-1. While his pro partner flipped shallow cover, Rhodes took a different route and fished a 3/16-ounce Owner shaky head with a Strike King Fat Baby Finesse worm in the red bug color.
“I like that this rig covers the bottom structure well, and those fish that just got done spawning are lazy; they’re not going after those moving baits,” he said. “They’re just hunkered down, and you have to put it in front of them. The bite is really light on those things.”
John Goul of Philadelphia, Miss., holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 9-7.
Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:15 a.m. ET at Dayton Boat Dock. The weigh-in will be held at Bass Pro Shops, 1000 Bass Pro Dr., East Ridge, TN 37412 at 3:15 p.m.
The event is hosted by Fish Dayton.