UMATILLA -- Usually when someone is handed one of those giant, oversized checks and it has $100,000 stamped on it, it's a life-changing event.
Ron Mace took time out Friday at the Umatilla Marina and RV Park to ponder what it might feel like to stand on a stage and hold such a check over his head.
"That," he said after a pause, "would be something like getting married. Huge."
A good day of fishing today, and Mace just might find out exactly what it feels like. The Kennewick pro stands in fourth place heading into the final day of the FLW National Guard West Series stop on the Columbia River.
Neil Russell of Nampa, Idaho, leads the chase for the $100,000 top prize with a three-day haul of 37 pounds, 1 ounce. But four more anglers are within 2 1/2 pounds, guaranteeing the competition will come down to the wire.
The top 10 pros advanced to today's final round.
The weigh-in is set for 4 p.m. at the Hermiston Wal-Mart (1350 N. 1st St.).
Mace, who is within 1-6 of Russell, is the only local pro in the top 10.
Joseph Caporuscio of Coto de Caza, Calif. (36-8), Ronald Hobbs Jr. of Orting (35-15), Mace and Marc Lippincott of Spokane (34-10) all are within range.
Cody King of Island City, Ore., near La Grande heads the next group of five at almost a full three pounds back.
It was a tough week for the local pros, with Pasco's Gene Batey the only other to cash in the event among the top 28 spots. Batey's three-day haul of 28-4 was good for 14th and made him one of five competitors to net $10,072.
Last year's champion, Kennewick pro Dave Kromm, finished 38th and out of the money after a dismal Day 3 that resulted in two fish and less than four pounds. Mitch Ratchford, the Kennewick angler who was sitting at 10th coming into the day, was blanked and finished 44th. Benton City's Clint Johanson finished 43rd.
Gary Haraguchi of Brentwood, Calif., won the co-angler event and the $14,025 check that went with it. His three-day total of 29-0 was 41/2 pounds better than second-place Patrick Touey of Nipomo, Calif. None of the local co-anglers cashed in the event, with Jim Sall of Pasco finishing one spot and one ounce out of the money in 29th (15-6).
Conditions have gotten tougher throughout the four-day event, with 10-pound bags rare (24 the first day, half that the second and third) and five-fish limits far from automatic.
"I had to work hard today," Mace said of his Day 3 catch of 10-11, his lowest of the tourney. "The water dropped quite a bit. They're skittish in 2 or 3 feet of water."
Hobbs, who came into the day tied with Caporuscio for the lead, failed to fill his limit for a second straight day. Still living off a monster bag of 17-11 on the first day (nearly 3 pounds better than Russell's 14-13 take Friday), last year's runner-up has been feasting on quality, not quantity.
"The quality of fishing up (river) is almost unbelievable," Hobbs said. "It all depends on the bites. If I catch five fish, I'll be fine."
Mace, who placed 14th last year and won $8,212, is looking at a possible payday that could dwarf his $13,662 in earnings on the FLW Series.
"It's a good feeling," he said. "Getting your money back is a good feeling, because you have to deal with the wife if you don't."
FLW West Series
Neil Russell, Nampa, Idaho, 14 pounds, 13 ounces Day 3, 37-1 total; Joseph Caporuscio, Coto de Caza, Calif., 10-14, 36-8; Ronald Hobbs Jr., Orting, 10-5, 35-15; Ron Mace, Kennewick, 10-11, 35-11; Marc Lippincott, Spokane, 10-4, 34-10; Cody King, Island City, Ore., 12-0, 34-2; Ken Wick, Star, Idaho, 11-14, 33-10; Cody Meyer, Redding, Calif., 9-7, 30-14; Randy McAbee Jr., Bakersfield, Calif., 12-3, 30-12; Ishama Monroe, Hughson, Calif., 11-6, 30-6.
14, Gene Batey, Pasco, 9-14, 28-4, $10,072; 31, Paul Wagner, Plymouth, 8-5, 23-3; 38, Dave Kromm, Kennewick, 3-15, 23-2; 43, Clint Johanson, Benton City, 7-11, 22-5; 44, Mitch Ratchford, Kennewick, 0-0, 21-15.
Gary Haraguchi, Brentonwood, Calif., 8-11, 29-0, $14,025; Patrick Touey, Nipomo, Calif., 10-9, 25-7, $7,013; Toby Farkas, Woodland, Calif., 8-2, 24-13, $5,259; Sunny Hawk, Salt Lake City, 7-13, 24-0, $3,506; Chad LeBlanc, Sutter, Calif., 5-7, 23-13, $2,805; Scott Burke, Oakdale, Calif., 9-10, 23-12, $2,454; Marvin Hawkes, Meza, Ariz., 8-2, 22-9, $2,104; Taylor Parsons, Sutter Creek, Calif., 4-15, 22-6, $1,753; James Cadell, Escalon, Calif., 7-10, 22-0, $1,403; Ken DeLong, Kuna, Idaho, 9-13, 21-10, $1,052.
29, Jim Sall, Pasco, 6-10, 15-6; 49, Santos Garza, Othello, 2-7, 11-8; 57, Keith Brodhead, Dayton, 2-13, 10-15; 64, James Leachman, Kennewick, 7-14, 9-15;