Joe Balog’s hopes of running the table in the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open #3 presented by Allstate could be blowin’ in the wind here on Lake St. Clair Saturday.
Balog slapped an impressive 25 pounds, 2 ounces of smallmouth bass onto the scales Friday, expanding his first-day lead to nearly 4 pounds.
But a forecast calling for a turnaround in the wind — from the southwest to the northwest — gives him pause for concern.
“I’m really fishing something ‘off the wall,’ and I’m concerned what the wind change might do to my fish,” said the Harrison Township, Mich. angler.
Perhaps it should. Fellow Michigan angler Chad Pipkens, anchored in second place with 43 pounds, 10 ounces, expects the wind change to benefit him greatly and give him more time to fish his most productive area.
“I’ve had to leave (my spot) early every day this week because the wind made it difficult to fish,” he said. “If I could get a couple more hours there, I’ve got a shot.”
The field will be cut to the Top 12 on Saturday. Canadian Chris Johnston is third with 43-12, Michigander Ben Nielsen is fourth with 42-13 and Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock of Ohio is fifth with 41-14. Johnston’s brother, Cory, is sixth with 41-14.
William Langille of Ohio took over the top spot in the co-angler division with an 11-14 sack on Friday for a two-day total of 24-11. He leads Jeff Jenema of Michigan who has 23-7 and Justin Lonchar of Pennsylvania, who sits in third, with 23-6.
Balog said he’s not catching many fish, but the ones he’s getting are good ones.
“I may go an hour or two without a bite, but when I do get one, it’s a 5-pounder,” he noted. “It gets into your head and you wonder, ‘are there just a few there or is it just a matter of me making the right cast?’ I just keep casting and casting through this area, and then suddenly one bites it.”
Pipkens said he has seven places that offer the same type of pattern that he’s been fishing to climb into second, but he’s only been able to fish three of them because of the wind.
“I’m only getting a couple of hours of fishing a day because of where I’m going and what the wind does to my spots,” he explained. “That north wind could make a huge difference.”
The wind could make a difference in more ways than one. If Balog stumbles and Pipken’s wins, Pipkens punches his ticket for the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic. Balog, on the other hand, will not earn a Classic berth if he wins because he has not fished all three of the Northern Opens this season.
Co-angler Jay Ahonen’s first-day lunker of 6-10 maintains the lead for the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament.
Pro Luke Clausen won the Allstate Good Hands, Great Day Award for advancing the farthest up the pro leader board on Friday. His jump from 85th to 36th won him a $250 bonus. Kenneth Taylor of Michigan won the same co-angler Allstate Award by moving from 120th to 43rd.
The Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2 was given to Balog. The Day 2 leader on the co-angler side, Langille, received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.
The 12 finalists will take off from Metropark in Harrison Township Saturday at 7 a.m. and weigh in at the Bass Pro Shops Shops in Auburn Hills beginning at 4 p.m.
Image courtesy James Overstreet/Bassmaster