Steve Kennedy has been fishing the same backwater lake all week and he told me this morning, "If it wasn't for lost fish, I'd probably be in the Top 5." Because his lake is so far off the grid, he also hasn't had to deal with much tournament pressure.
In fact, it took us more than 30 minutes just to get back to him through a series of cuts and sloughs.
When we finally did, he didn't disappoint by setting the hook on a frog fish as soon as we pulled in.
He's got about 12.5 pounds in the boat already, but has caught more than 40 fish. The difficulty is getting the bigger fish to bite, something all 98 anglers had to deal with all week.
He said he is just going to go back over the sweet spots one more time and then run all new water in the afternoon to try and make a miracle happen.
He wasn't lying about the numbers though. We've been here 10 minutes and he's caught five, none of which helped.
The angler with the most to lose today is Todd Faircloth. He's in the lead after three days, and if he slips in the standings today he'll drop critical AOY points that will cost him in the race ... not to mention $100K for 1st place.
The angler with the most to gain is Randy Howell. After his only bad tournament of the season (75th at Toledo Bend), Howell is back on track. He's 10th coming into the finals, and if he can have a really good day and move up four or five places, he'll be 2nd in the AOY race going into the Lake Michigan tournament. Howell and Faircloth have both had great seasons.
Terry Butcher has put the frog on pause. He made a run to another slough to flip some grass banks and isolated wood, and he is still sitting on about 12 pounds.
Dennis Tietje can't sing like Casey Ashley or dance like Marty Robinson, but this Elite Series angler on medical leave might have the whitest feet on the tour. I had to shield my eyes when he pulled these puppies out. I wonder if they've even seen moonlight.
When you fish do you prefer shoes, sandals or bare feet?
Todd Faircloth is taking good care of his livewell. We just watched him add in ice and Rejuvinade Fish Formula. The ice lowers the water temperature, which naturally heats up during the day. If you can keep the water temperature around the low 70s to mid-60s, you keep the fish feeling better and less stressed.
Rejuvinade is a formula that helps remove human bacteria (after you've handled the fish), and it revitalizes and re-energizes bass. This sounds a bit like Gatorade for fish to me.
This tournament will likely be won by ounces, so today's finalists can not afford a dead fish penalty (4 ounces).
Aaron Martens broke his streak of small fish catches with a big one, but it was the wrong species.
"That might be the biggest walleye I've ever caught," Martens said as he tossed it back in the river. It looked to be in the 6- to 8-pound class.
Martens caught it on the big flutter spoon that he's been throwing intermittently today. James Overstreet and I just witnessed the reasoning behind the use of that bait — a big ball of 6-inch-long gizzard shad that got pushed to the surface near our boat. We saw the flash of a bass feeding underneath the school.
This section of the Black River has an abundance of bait in it, something Martens has mentioned often during the tournament.
Headed into the final stretch of the 2012 Elite season, the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and the chase for Bassmaster Classic berths are in high gear. Taking a look at what's happened here on the Mississippi River and in the last couple of tournaments, there are some interesting trends.
The four hottest anglers on tour are Greg Hackney (23rd, 4th and 15th in the last three tournaments), Aaron Martens (3rd, 25th and fishing again today), Cliff Pace (6th, 15th, 2nd and fishing today in his last four events) and Terry Scroggins (Top 21 in every tournament but one this year).
Then there are three anglers who made some early noise but have cooled considerably: Keith Combs had a great rookie season and started strong in 2012, but in his last three Elite tournaments he's finished 64th twice and 78th. Derek Remitz was bouncing back from a tough 2011, but finished 85th, 66th and 86th in the last three. And after winning at Douglas Lake, Jeremy Starks was 80th and 91st.
Starks is already Classic bound by virtue of his win, but Remitz is all but out of contention, and Combs needs to turn things around in the last two tournaments if he wants to fish the 2013 championship.
We spent about 20 fruitless minutes looking for Bill Lowen and Rick Clunn, but couldn't track either down so we headed to the launch to drop off B.A.S.S. Photographer Darren Jacobson.
Make sure you check out the Day Four On The Water gallery because Darren got some great shots this morning from Rojas, Horton, Scroggins, Prince, Howell and Pace.
Now we're back on the water chasing down a hot tip on where Lowen is fishing, and we'll see if we can track him down.
Todd Faircloth is culling. Dennis Tietje and I think he has gained a few ounces up to nearly 14 pounds. He seems very relaxed and patient, slowly working his way through The Box. The sun is out full force — 85 degrees now. Todd just took his pants off. Just to be clear, he did have shorts on underneath.
We have 14 boats in here watching Todd from a safe distance. He told us this morning not to get too close. You've got to respect that. When a guy is in the lead he doesn't want to take a chance of anyone spooking his fish.
James Overstreet and I just witnessed a textbook Aaron Martens move. He used his electronics to target a bass and then put a drop shot Roboworm right in its face to entice a strike. It was a smallmouth bass, the first we've seen him catch in the Black River, and it went in his livewell. However, it helped only by an ounce or two.
Martens said he's got only 10 pounds. He has probably caught 20 bass today. The action has picked up again in the last 15 minutes, but all the others he's caught in that time weren't even close to being keepers.