In his landmark "Beat" novel, On the Road, Jack Kerouac's narrator and another character encounter the Sabine River and decide it's an "evil old river" and "the mansion of the snake," adding "we could almost hear the slither of a million copperheads."
Dozens of Elite anglers would agree with Kerouac. Eighty-eight of them now have the evil old river in their rear-view mirrors, glad to be leaving it behind and moving on to Falcon Lake, where the fishing is a good deal more hospitable.
For three days, the Sabine's been nothing short of brutal. Thirteen anglers zeroed the first day, 20 the second and eight the third. Table Rock Lake in 2006 was just as tough — tougher actually — but that tournament was in September when "The Rock" is notoriously challenging. The pros were on the Sabine in March, when the weather's been mostly good and the bass fishing should be at or near its best.
Instead it's brought the best in the business to their collective knees, shaking their heads and wondering when the nightmare will end.
I enjoy the occasional tough tournament, where limits are hard to come by and a big bass weighs around 5 pounds. That said, the Sabine's been an adult dose, and kicking off the season on such a tough fishery starts things off in a new and different way.
If you're a fan of the Elite Series, you know that these guys whack 'em early in the year — every year ... until now. Limits are the standard and big fish are pretty common. Lots of the early tournaments are sight-fishing battles and weights are typically up, up, up. Not so on the Sabine.
It's usually not until the summer, when water temperatures are high, a thermocline is established and the water's really clear that the tournaments toughen up. By then, things like the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race have already taken shape, the battle for Bassmaster Classic berths settle in for the final rounds.
Such a tough tournament to open things up, though, may change that. Anglers in the race for AOY usually have their worst tournament of the season once the weather heats up ... or right near the end, when the pressure gains intensity. Now, a lot of the top guns have almost certainly posted their worst finish of the year. Ott DeFoe was 79th. Michael Iaconelli was 83rd. Aaron Martens was 85th. None of them can afford another bad tournament if they want to qualify for All-Star Week on the merits or have a shot at AOY.
Of course, the flip side of that is that Dean Rojas, Todd Faircloth, Terry Scroggins, Mark Davis, Alton Jones and seven others are fishing on Sunday, and one of them will win, earn a spot in the 2014 Classic and grab the early lead in the AOY race. At least for the anglers I named — perennial AOY challengers — the early success is a relief and a boon to their season. They avoided disaster on a fishery that offered plenty of opportunity to fail; just ask the three pros who didn't boat a keeper over two full days.
Another way of looking at how much of an anomaly the Sabine has been is to look at tournament limits. Last year, more than a dozen anglers had limited on every one of their competition days going into the eighth and final event of the season. Four ended the season with a limit every day they were on the water.
This year, after only three days of fishing, just six anglers (Dean Rojas, Ish Monroe, Jeff Kriet, Alton Jones, Bill Lowen and Brandon Card) have limited each day, and the odds are better than good that a couple of them will come up short on Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, I'm excited about the prospect of putting Ken's Comeback Formula to the test once again. If you didn't read that installment of Bassonomics, it goes like this:
Take the typical tournament big bass from that venue for that time of year and subtract it from the leader's total. Every angler within that range has a chance — though perhaps a very small chance — to win. Every angler further back than that needs an absolute miracle.
Going into the finals, Dean Rojas leads Todd Faircloth by 3 pounds, 9 ounces. Ish Monroe is in third —6-11 behind Rojas. Big bass of the tournament so far is Terry Scroggins' 6-1 kicker on Day 2.
That tells me it's down to Rojas and Faircloth. Monroe and the guys chasing him are out of it barring some sort of tournament miracle for them and/or a disaster for both Rojas and Faircloth.
Could someone else come on to win? Absolutely, it could happen. Will it happen? The odds are way, way against it. Ken's Comeback Formula has seen very few exceptions over the years.