Open: Cifuentes keeps lead heading into Championship Saturday

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Open: Cifuentes keeps lead heading into Championship Saturday

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — After struggling for a few hours and ultimately making a wholesale game plan change, Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., leveraged a

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — After struggling for a few hours and ultimately making a wholesale game plan change, Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., leveraged a big first-round margin to maintain his lead on Day 2 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes with a two-day total of 39-7.

Cifuentes set the early mark by posting a Day 1 limit of 28-10, which ranks in the Top 15 single-day weights in Bassmaster Opens history. That catch gave Cifuentes a lead of 6-11 over Cole Sands of Calhoun, Tenn., who today slipped from second to sixth.

Adding a Day 2 limit of 10-13, Cifuentes now leads Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Lester of Tennessee by 6-9.

“I barely survived today,” Cifuentes said of his diminished productivity. “I didn’t even get a bite on (my Day 1) spot; it was crazy.”

Cifuentes started his day on the same place that quickly produced his massive Day 1 bag — a hard-bottom clearing amid offshore hydrilla. He fished that spot for three hours Friday but with little to show for it.

“I guess it’s possible that there weren’t as many fish as I thought, or they were just staging there for a little bit and the warming trend prompted them to move to the bank to spawn,” Cifuentes said. “I left there with one small fish, but it really wasn’t on my spot; I was just fishing around trying to find them.”

Once he determined his primary plan was not happening, Cifuentes tried a few more offshore spots, but finally relocated to shallow grass mats near the weigh-in site at Kissimmee Lakefront Park. He punched a Berkley MaxScent Creature Hawg in black/blue fleck rigged with a 1 1/2-ounce weight.

“I was having to fish slow; I had to yo-yo it two or three times,” Cifuentes said. “I finished my limit about 3:30.”

With a cold front heading toward the area, anglers will see winds increasing and shifting from the north. Cifuentes said this will likely impact what he’s able to do on Championship Saturday.

“The temperature probably isn’t going to drop that fast, but if the wind gets bad it might hurt the offshore bite, so I may have to go flipping shallow,” he said. “It might turn on the offshore bite, so I’m going to check all of it. I’m going to start on my little honey hole and go from there.”

Hailing from Fayetteville, Tenn., Lester added 18-1 to the 14-13 he weighed on Day 1 and tallied 32-14. He attributed the increased productivity to the continued warming trend.

“I’m fishing an area that has a bunch of beds in there and they’re coming in,” Lester said. “I’m not actually seeing them bite, but I’m pitching at beds. I’m just seeing a bright spot and pitching to it.

“I’d love to be able to see them, but it’s been so windy I just have to float along with the wind until I see (a bed). They’re actually spawning, but I’m not sight fishing.”

Lester said he caught his fish on a junebug-colored 5-inch soft stickbait. He Texas-rigged his bait with a 3/16-ounce weight, which helped him cast efficiently in the wind.

“I’d just pitch it in there and shake it in place; I didn’t move it much at all,” Lester said. “My biggest fish was about 5 3/4 pounds and I had one about 4.”

Cole Drummond of Effingham, S.C., remained in third place with 32-8. After weighing a limit of 17-9 on Day 1, he added 14-15 Friday.

Drummond again locked down to Lake Cypress, where he fished a 300-yard spawning area where he was catching pre- and post-spawn fish. In depths of 2 to 3 feet, the fish were relating to shellbars scattered amid hydrilla.

“It was a little bit tougher on me today, but I forced myself to stay there because I knew they were there and it finally paid off around lunchtime,” Drummond said. “I caught them on one bait all day. I was just cutting circles around my area all day.”

Elite Series pro Frank Talley of Temple, Texas, leads the Phoenix Boats Big Bass standings with a 9-7 largemouth.

Ron Shakespeare of St. Cloud, Fla., won the co-angler division with a two-day total of 19-10. After taking the Day 1 lead with 13-8, he added another limit of 6-2 and earned $24,820.

Spending his day in Lake Toho, Shakespeare fished hydrilla in 6 to 8 feet and caught his bass on the same bait he used Thursday — a Texas-rigged CPF Lures trick worm in the Dirty Albright color. The color is named for Shakespeare’s team partner, Jerrod Albright of Kissimmee, who won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers for his 7-11 largemouth.

“We stayed offshore for about three hours and I caught all three of my fish by 10:30 and I didn’t catch another fish all day,” Shakespeare said. “We moved around a little bit offshore and then we went flipping to try and find a big one.

“Offshore, we were targeting pockets and thinned-out areas. The bite went away really quickly this morning. My boater caught two and I caught two within the first 30 minutes and then it was just done.”

The Top 10 pros will now advance to Saturday’s championship round with takeoff scheduled for Big Toho Marina (Kissimmee Lakefront Park) at 7 a.m. ET. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.

The tournament is being hosted by the Kissimmee Sports Commission.

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