If Randy Howell and Brent Chapman would finish the Ramada Championship first-and-second on Sunday, like they're ranked currently according to BASSTrakk, it would be a fitting end to the Elite Series regular season. These two best friends were ranked near the top of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings throughout the first half of the season.
Then Howell got a bad case of "the bends." If you're a scuba diver, or old enough to remember Lloyd Bridges starring in the TV series Sea Hunt, you know "the bends" is a decompression sickness that occurs after surfacing too quickly.
But Howell's illness was different, it was "the Toledo Bends." As is always the case, the smile never left his face Thursday as Howell explained his most painful memory of the season, a 75th-place finish at Toledo Bend that opened the second half of the season.
"That's the one I'd like to have back," Howell said. "I just never got on anything down there."
That's when the big split between Howell and Chapman occurred in the AOY race, as Chapman won at Toledo Bend with a four-day total of 83-9.
Simply by comparing the seasons of those two guys, you can see the limit of mistakes permitted in order to win Angler of the Year: One.
Chapman's only finish lower than 27th (at Green Bay) was his bomb at Douglas Lake, where he finished 68th.
Howell had two: 75th at Toledo Bend and 58th at Green Bay. He had some mechanical issues at Green Bay, so he can forgive himself for that one. But not those two days in Texas where he managed a total of only
18 pounds while Chapman whacked 'em, that one left a bruise.
"I'd be right in the hunt if I'd just finished in the top 40 at Toledo Bend," Howell said Thursday, smiling all the while.
Seigo Saito, Mike Fox and I are still on the water, capturing images and soaking up the New York sunshine. We've returned to check on Todd Faircloth, just in time to see him cull a bass. He told us he has about 13 1/2 pounds today. If that estimate is correct, he should have nearly 28 pounds all told, counting yesterday's 14-5 limit. That should push him up into the Top 10, assuming BassTrakk has accounted for all the important catches. As Steve Bowman has pointed out, though, only 50 of the competitors' Marshals are equipped with the reporting units, and we are in the dark about some of the leaders from yesterday.
Faircloth is out in front of Bullhead Bay, where the water depth drops from 12 or so feet down to about 17. We're sitting over 17, and I assume he's at the edge, where bass tend to hang out. All his fish are smallies. We think he's throwing a drop shot rig around the drop, although it's impossible to confirm that from a distance.
He's had mixed success on Oneida. He was 23rd with 41-10 in 2009 but 93rd in 2008, the year he was leading the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Race going into the tournament. That enabled Kevin VanDam to take over the top spot and claim the first of his four AOY titles in a row.
Faircloth could redeem that forgettable experience here this year, but Brent Chapman has demonstrated in two days of fishing that he's not about to crash and burn for lack of effort. Still, the AOY race appears to be tightening. At least, it probably won't be decided today.
Brent Chapman just caught his sixth fish. It was close enough in size to his others that he stopped and weighed all of them. He ended up tossing back the fish he had just caught. But in the process he ended up getting a more accurate account of his total weight, at least according to his scale. That was 14 1/2 pounds, which puts him in great shape for this tournament and in a very strong position for Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Things have slowed considerably for Randy Howell, whom BassTrakk has holding the lead right now with 32-2. We've been dogging him from a distance for the past 20 minutes, and we've seen him catch a throwback. He's out in open water, as most pros are this time of day, chunking a topwater plug across unseen grassbeds. He told us his best period was from 9 to 10:30 this morning, "but it's slow now." He's hoping his noisy topwater plug will wake up whatever's down there.
Howell has plenty of company in this area, and some of them top contenders on Oneida. Clark Reehm of Shreveport, La., who was fourth after Day 1 with 15-15, and J Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga., who was third with 16-6, are just 150 yards to the north of Howell. All are facing and casting downwind. Just this moment, Reehm and Tucker jumped behind the consoles of their boats and raced south, pulling even with Howell before shutting down their engines. The two of them are a long cast apart now -- apparently both spotted the same bunch of fish schooling on the surface and raced to get in a few casts before the fish sounded. Neither hooked up in the flurry, best I could tell.
No one was more shocked than Mike Iaconelli himself when he caught a bag weighing 20 pounds, 3 ounces on Day One of the Ramada Championship. It was totally unexpected, he said, after his three days of practice produced only "seven bites the first day, five the second and then three or four." A bad start seemed headed farther downhill.
But Thursday was "one of those magic days," Iaconelli noted. A school of smallmouth burst to the surface near his boat early in the day, allowing him to complete a limit, then go hunt for largemouth.
It's not like Iaconelli hasn't done this before at Oneida. In 2008, he caught 20-1 on Day Two, which rocketed him from 40th place to first.
It's believed Iaconelli is the only angler to catch a 20-pound bag on Oneida in the now four-plus Elite Series events here since 2006, and he's done it twice.
But those "magic days" are just that — uncommon occurrences. Iaconelli's four-day totals from 2008, when he finished third, were as follows: 12-11, 20-1, 14-4 and 12-4.
It looks now like he'd give anything for one of those 12-pound bags today.
Our boat driver Brian Eisch brought along his son today, Isaac. Isaac is getting ready to start 9th grade at Sandy Creek High School, 30 miles north of Syracuse. He's also a member of the Good Ole Boys Jr. bass fishing club.
Here he gives his dad, a veteran of Afghanistan and a Purple Heart recipient, an on the water massage.
Brent Chapman's fifth fish may have been a "big relief" to him, but for those chasing him to the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, that could be the nail in the coffin.
Mathematically, he can still be caught: Faircloth would have to turn up the heat and Chapman would probably need to zero tomorrow. The latter is unrealistic. And he still has the rest of the day to add to his weight.
Stranger things have happened, though; for example, Ike's dream day and today's day for example. So you can't say "it's completely over."
With Chapman apparently hanging on, his best move of the season might have been sticking to the river at Green Bay, rather than mixing it up on the bay with the rest of the folks. His performance there, along with stumbles by Faircloth and Howell, opened up the gap that is allowing him to breath just a little easier at this moment.
Brent Chapman just pulled in keeper number five. A 2 1/4-pound smallie. We're estimating that gives him 13 1/4 pounds in the livewell.
After catching his 5th keeper Chapman said, "That's a big relief." He went on to say that gives him a 14-pound average for the first two days which he felt good about.
"My dad was nice enough to make it right for me last night," said Chapman, referring to his lure. "You don't want them to look pretty. So he roughed it up for me."
The wind has died down. "This is perfect right here, with a nice ripple on the water," he said.
We were keeping track of the hourly BASSTrakk totals for awhile
yesterday, but the numbers seemed to lose significance as the morning
went on, so we left that line of thought.
Bad idea. Should have stuck with it. Thanks to Ryan Watkins, we've
been able to put together some numbers from all the information
gathered yesterday and so far today. Again, remember only the top 50
AOY points leaders have BASSTrakk these first two days, so there are
47 other anglers out there.
Thursday, the noon hour was pretty strong, and the best hour of the
day - both in numbers and total weight - was 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., which
barely edged 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Here are the hourly totals from yesterday:
|11 a.m. - noon||33||78-11|
|noon- 1 p.m.||24||55-7|
|1- 2 p.m.||20||42-12|
So far today:
|Time||# Bass||Lbs. - Oz.|
When you see hourly variations like that, it's only natural to think
of Solunar charts for the Syracuse area. But we're essentially in that
half-moon phase now, when the Solunar tables aren't as meaningful as
they are nearer the full moon and new moon phases.
But here's what they show:
- Thursday there was a major period that barely extended into
tournament hours, from 5:44 a.m. until 7:46 a.m.
- Thursday's minor period during tourney time was 1:17 p.m. to 2:17 p.m.
- Friday's major period was 6:44 a.m. to 8:44 a.m.
- There's a minor period from 2:24 to 3:24 this afternoon.
My boatmate, Seigo Saito, whose work graces the pages of Bassmaster Magazine as well as bassmaster.com, does a good bit of freelance work for magazines in his home country of Japan, so it wasn't a surprise that he wanted to detour from tracking the leaders at Oneida to snap a few photos of his compatriot, Morizo Shimizu. Morizo just put his third fish in the boat for the morning.
Seigo had told Morizo that I was in the boat -- all I understood of the exchange in Japanese were the words, "Bassmaster magazine." He responded, "Oh, my God. I need to catch a big one now to show him what I can do." Three seconds later, he set the hook and hauled in a 1 1/2-pounder. It wasn't the big one he wanted -- what he calls a "big mama" in his broken English -- but I was definitely impressed with the timing. Seigo says Morizo is the Mike Iaconelli of Japan, having parlayed his fame from tournaments in the United States into a television show, a slew of instructional DVDs and lucrative sponsorships. One of his sponsors, United Airlines, enables him to make frequent trips back to Japan. I am amazed at how the Japanese contingent has done so well in adjusting to our culture when few of them had any working knowledge of English. My hat's off to them.