Earlier, Steve Bowman said that statistics "don't amount to a hill of beans" at this tournament. I have a lot of respect for Steve and his knowledge of professional fishing, but I'll disagree with him about that.
You might be interested to know that this tournament stacks up pretty normally ... statistically speaking.
Here are some numbers that tell the story of the tournament:
(A) The bassing average (number of bass brought to the scales each day by the average angler) is 3.9429 — the lowest of the season at any venue. Historically, the Elite Series pros have a bassing average of a little better than 4.5. Anytime it drops below 4, you know the fishing is tough, and tough fishing tells us other things. For one, it allows for big swings on the leaderboard, but mostly in the downward direction. An angler has a limit (five bass) one day and only two or three bass the next is going to fall ... a long way. Because the bass are not very big (we'll get to that in a moment), there aren't many opportunities to jump up on the leaderboard.
(B) And the bass aren't very big here. The biggest was 5-10, which is a terrific smallmouth but it doesn't offer a lot of opportunity for a big swing in the leaderboard unless you have four or five that size. The average bass this week weighs almost 2-12, which, again, isn't bad (especially for smallmouth), but it's below average for an Elite Series event. When the fishing's tough and the bass aren't very big, it's a recipe for big drops in the standings, but not any big rises. That's why none of the Top 12 were lower than 24th after two days. The leader has changed every day, but all three anglers who have led this event are still in the Top 4. Not much is changing, no matter what some people want you to believe.
(C) Keep your eyes on BASSTrakk, but know that today's champion started the day in the Top 4. I'd give Palaniuk and JVD together about an 85 percent chance of taking home the hardware. Martens and Rojas are the only other anglers with any shot at all. Below them, the guys are fighting for points and a better payday; I don't see any of them winning. Yes, there's a real chance that one of the Top 4 will bomb today and fall back, but one of them is going to win. Bet on it!
Leader Brandon Palaniuk has started the day just like he ended Saturday, when he caught a 4-pounder on his last cast. Palaniuk's first fish today was a 4-pounder as well.
We also know that Aaron Martens has two bass now weighing a total of 5 1/2 pounds, and Dean Rojas has a 3-pounder.
Photographer James Overstreet and I are following Jonathon VanDam, who is only 4 ounces behind leader Brandon Palaniuk. And JVD doesn't have a fish so far. The lake is very calm, and that looks like it could be a game-changer.
"I guess I'm going to have to earn it," VanDam said.
Fish catches seem to be a little slow starting the final day of the Green Bay Challenge. But at this point we do know that Aaron Martens has a 2 1/2-pounder in the boat.
Lake Michigan has been unusually kind this week to the anglers making the 35-mile run to Little Sturgeon Bay, the north boundary of the tournament waters. At takeoff the water was slicker than it has been all week, making some anglers wonder if it wasn't too calm. Smallmouth bass fishing generally improves with at least some kind of ripple on the water.
Palaniuk has been fishing his Sammy topwater plug for about 15 minutes with a couple of swirls, and Zona says that a pack of giants just missed it.
Palaniuk is fishing 5 to 7 feet of water, working a topwater over grass, broken rock and sand. He tells Zona he has to have 20 pounds today to win. I can't emphasize enough the flat, dead calm airless atmosphere out here -- bugs everywhere. Zona claims that these conditions will hurt some of our anglers today.
Palaniuk is here, Zona jumps in with him and here we go... he's a little north of where we figured -- it's a big flat that runs all the way to the bank. It is freakishly calm here. Brandon says that every morning it's been this calm he catches 4-pounders.
With Zona, Darren J. and boat guy Josh Pratt waiting at the spot where we expect Brandon Palaniuk to show up. Should be a nail biter with him and J. Van Dam -- maybe coming down to the last fish. That's just wishful thinking of course, but it's what we're always praying for for our show. Just as good, though, would be a rampage by one of the grizzled ones, putting down the uprising.
They are launching in Metro Park right now -- should see someone soon
The boats have left, and this event that was billed as the Mystery Lake has more than lived up to its billing.
Typically, in a Bassmaster Elite Series event, you have a good idea of what will take place on the final day, at the least you can whittle things down a bit. But in the case of this event, there is still a lot of mystery left to it.
During the course of the day, you will likely hear Ken Duke tell you that statistically speaking the Day Three leader goes on to win. But if this event has shown us anything, it's that statistics don't amount to a hill of beans.
Take for example, Kevin VanDam, who has some sort of other-worldly streak going with limits caught during competition on the Elite Series. Yesterday, he showed up with only three in his bag. More notable is his nephew Jonathon not only hit the scales with a limit, he had more than 20 pounds and sits in second place, on the same place KVD was fishing.
The day before yesterday, Takahiro Omori brought the heaviest bag of the event to the scales and followed that up with two keepers in the 4-pound range. Those incidents have been prevalent all week, as guys have piled on top of each other and wrecked havoc on the fish that are living in the confined area of these tournament waters.
Fish are running out, fish are moving, and productive water has decreased are all factors, heaped on the simple question of will the wind blow or not? It's produced a true Mystery Lake experience: 12 anglers spreading in every direction with their fingers crossed and hoping for the best. Not a single one of them thinks they have anything locked outside of a Top 12 finish.
We have a couple of teams on the water today trying to keep us informed, each separated by an expansive bay or river where travel time is stretched out by long idle zones, a BASSTrakk system that is hampered by extremely poor cell service and the whims of electronic gremlins.
All of that has made for an interesting tournament and final day to watch unfold. We see three things potentially taking place.
The first, the two young guns, Brandon Palaniuk and Jonathon VanDam (just 4 ounces apart) battling it out with smallmouth that have proven unpredictable for the rest of the field and downright ghostlike at times for the rest of the field.
Typically their mano-a-mano battle would be the focus. But even in the back of their minds they aren't sure their smallmouth will hold up, while the second potential lays with what takes place in the Fox River.
We've been told there is no way the Fox River can win this event. Tommy Biffle might disagree, especially after watching the falls of several leaders all week. The river has been consistent and it even produced the heavyweight bag for Omori. It bears watching, especially if the smallmouth stay unpredictable.
Then the third potential. Like we've seen all week, a school of big smallmouth will fire for one of the other anglers. With far less pressure than the rest of the week, the truly big sacks of smallmouth could finally start showing up.
Any way you look at it, it's all guesswork. The kind of mysterious guesses that really make this one of those days to watch.