Jason Williamson, of Aiken, knew it was a good day when his first bite produced the largest fish landed so far in the Bassmaster Elite series Pride of Georgia tournament.
"It was old-school fishing," he said. "It's the way I grew up."
After hauling in a 7-pound, 12-ounce bass just after 7 a.m. Saturday, the day only got better, yielding a five-fish limit that put the 29-year-old pro squarely at the top of the leaderboard going into today's final round.
His three-day total -- 45 pounds, 12 ounces -- was well ahead of Louisiana's Cliff Crochet, whose second-place total was 41 pounds, 9 ounces. Third place was held by Terry Scroggins, of Florida, with 39 pounds, 12 ounces.
Saturday's elimination round began with 47 anglers. Today, the top 12 will compete for a $100,000 first prize and sizable portions of the tournament's $630,000 purse.
Williamson said it has always been his dream to win an event on his hometown water.
"I'm fishing areas that I've won a lot of stuff in already," he said. "And it's always been better in May than any other time of the year."
His successful casts came at the lake's upper end -- a 35 to 40 minute run from the tournament headquarters at Wildwood Park.
Williamson started 23rd on Thursday and moved up to fifth Friday. He seized a relative sizable margin -- more than 4 pounds -- after toting 19 pounds, 2 ounces, to the scales Saturday.
Despite cloudy weather, fans turned out in force to enjoy the outdoor expo and meet the pros, who converged at Thurmond Lake earlier this week from nearly three dozen states.
Ten-year-old Mikey Armstrong spent much of Saturday afternoon staking out the weigh-in area, where he got autographs from a half-dozen of his favorite pro anglers, including New Jersey's Mike Iaconelli -- a Bassmaster veteran.
Shawn Grigsby, a pro from Gainesville, Fla., said the Thurmond Lake event is one of his favorites, mainly because it draws such an enthusiastic crowd.
Today's final round gets under way with a launch at 6:10 a.m. at Wildwood Park. The outdoor expo opens at noon with demonstrations of gear and other features. Final weigh-in begins at 3:30 p.m.