Joe Lay says he’s hoping his ‘continuous improvement’ skills he’s learned working at the Mercedes Benz plant in Vance, Ala., pay off this week in the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Southern Divisional.

“It doesn’t matter who’s leading the first day,” said Lay, who leads the pack with 18-0. “You want to try to be consistent.”

The Mercedes worker has just moved to the Continuous Improvement department after eight years on the production line. “Now I have closer to a 40-hour week, so I should get to fish more on weekends.”

Lay, a member of the Lake Tuscaloosa Bassmasters, has a 12-ounce lead in the competition on Tennessee’s Douglas Lake, thanks to a spot he found on the last day of practice.

“These fish had just come up shallow,” he said, “and they were eating. I caught some good fish Wednesday — good, quality bites — and I don’t believe anybody else had found them.”

If he gets back on his spot Thursday and other anglers still aren’t fishing it, he said he thinks the fish might hold up. He had four 4-pounders Wednesday — the size many anglers were weighing in for the Carhartt Big Bass of the day.

The angler who ultimately weighed in the biggest fish of the day was Quentin Vercher, who’s only 17 years old. The young competitor caught a 5-pound, 3-ounce bass Wednesday.

Vercher and Lay are both members of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation team, which leads the state competition with 141 pounds, 5 ounces. Alabama anglers hold the Top 3 spots overall with Lay, Coby Carden and Bruce Sargent. Behind Alabama are North Carolina with 126-10 and South Carolina with 117-1.

Lay said he has competed on the Alabama state team eight or nine times, but he has never won. If Lay can hold onto his lead on the Alabama team through Friday’s weigh-in, he’ll be invited to compete in the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle, Oct. 24-26. Other states will send their top team members as well.

Currently in the lead for their respective states are David Boyd, Florida, 15-13; Russell Ludwig, Georgia, 13-3; Drew Sadler, Kentucky, 14-1; Cory Leonard, North Carolina, 15-12; John Proctor, South Carolina, 16-1; and Mark Pierce, Tennessee, 14-8. Pierce went to the championship last year and won the overall Southern division, earning a spot in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

The Southern Divisional competition on Douglas Lake continues Thursday with launch at 6:30 a.m. ET at The Point Resort. The weigh-in follows at the same location at 2:30 p.m. ET. The overall winner, state team winner and team leaders will be decided on Friday, April 26, at the conclusion of the weigh-in. Stay tuned to for coverage.

Image courtesy Bassmaster

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