Did I mention that it's rough out here? Randy Howell keeps chasing flocks of birds and schools of bass, and every run means James Overstreet and I get drenched in spray.
"I've got three rainsuits in the truck," Overstreet said just after taking a shower in Oneida Lake water. His hoodie isn't much protection. Bobbing on the front deck, trying to hold his long lens steady, he said, "I feel like Capt. Nemo on the bow of a ship in a freakin' hurricane."
Boyd Duckett didn't qualify for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, after winning it in 2007 at Alabama's Lay Lake and qualifying the next four years. Standing on the sideline in Shreveport this year wasn't pleasant. He never wants to be in that position again. And the way he has been fishing all week, this morning included, Duckett is clearly a man on a mission.
"The Classic is the biggest event in bass fishing," Duckett said Saturday. "You spend your whole life trying to make one. And when you make one, you never want to miss another one. Last year just killed me.
"But it's really hard to get back on track. It's really, really hard."
According to BASSTrakk, Boyd Duckett is tops out on Oneida right now. He's showing 9 pounds, 15 ounces, with four fish. However, we know he has a little more than that because our on-the-water reporters have said he has a limit, likely going 12 pounds.
Behind him is Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brent Chapman, who has reported three fish for 8 pounds, 8 ounces. Nate Wellman has 6-10.
Randy Howell isn't showing any weight on BASSTrakk, but we know he has at least one fish, estimated by B.A.S.S. Times editor Dave Precht at around 3 pounds. That puts him neck-and-neck with Wellman.
You do not want to lead at the end of the first day at Oneida. It's bad luck. This is the fourth Elite tournament on Oneida and the Day 1 leader has never won. In 2006, Lee Bailey led on the first day and fell to sixth. In 2008, Steve Kennedy took the opening round lead and fell to 19th. In 2009, Randy Howell led and dropped to 26th. This year, Mike Iaconelli had a monster Day 1—better than 20 pounds—but collapsed in the second and third rounds and finished 39th. Ike's collapse was the third worst in Elite history by a Day 1 leader. The worst drop happened earlier this year when Kyle Fox fell to 83rd at the Mississippi River. He's the only first round leader ever to miss the first cut.
Bowman, did we really have to leave bucolic Maple Bay? There I could drink coffee in between blog posts. There I could bask in the warm sun and enjoy the view. Now we're back in the rodeo.
Our ride out to Scott Rook was eventful. Heavy wind from the east has kicked up a big chop on Oneida Lake. Our 15-minute ride out to Rook included a half dozen waves to the face. Here's my photo below, and Steve Bowman below me. I'm the handsome one.
Birds are working consistently in the area around Frenchman Island, where Randy Howell caught his first keeper of the day, but I think Howell is growing tired of chasing the phantom schools of smallmouth the birds are supposedly pinpointing. He's settled into motoring upwind and drifting over the same grassbeds -- adopting a tactic for coastal saltwater fishing.
These smallmouth schools are fickle and frustrating. Kelly Jordon told me at yesterday's weigh-in that he and Boyd Duckett, who were sharing a small area loaded with bass, that big smallmouth were in a feeding frenzy for a time that afternoon and neither angler could get a bite. "We threw everything we had at them," he said. Imagine being in contention for $100,000, you're surrounded by money fish, and you can't get them to bite.
By the way, Brent Chapman has moved into the area Howell was fishing, and Howell has motored a couple hundred yards to the west. My boatmate and War Room analyst, photographer James Overstreet, suggested, "There's not a doubt in my mind that Chapman gave this spot to him. He hasn't fished this far down in two days."
As mentioned earlier, Chapman and Howell had a brief pow wow, and it's easy to guess the two shared information valuable to one or both of them. That's amazing, since Chapman has moved into second behind Duckett after catching two bass this morning worth almost 6 pounds. Any help he gives Howell could cost him money. Who says this is a cut-throat sport?
Boyd Duckett just reeled in his fifth keeper. He estimated it at 2 3/4 pounds. We're thinking that gives him about 12 pounds.
The only sure way Duckett will get to the Classic is to win today. Though it's still possible that a strong finish will get him there.
We're heading out of calm Maple Bay to check on Scott Rook.
Boyd Duckett just caught keeper No. 4. He said this one is 1 3/4 pounds.
Before today, Duckett was sharing this spot with Kelly Jordon and Jeremy Starks. We understand that Jordon and Duckett (not sure about Starks) are staying in a house on Maple Bay. Jordon said they've seen fish schooling here in the evening.
Not only has there been more at stake at Oneida than at other tournament of the Elite season — that's always true at the finale — but this has been the closest tournament of the entire year.
Douglas Lake was the biggest blowout going into the final round; the leader had 33 percent more weight than the angler in 12th. At Oneida, the difference is just 11 percent. That means the 12th-place angler in this tournament could conceivably make up the difference and win today. It's not likely, of course (Bernie Schultz would need to leapfrog 11 others to get there), but it could happen, and the stage is set like never before this season.
And if you're wondering what's the farthest back anyone has ever come on the final day to win, it's sixth place. That's where Kevin Short was going into Sunday on the Mississippi River in 2009. He was almost 5 pounds back that day. This year at Oneida, 10 anglers are within 5 pounds of the lead!
A flock of terns diving on bait attracted Randy Howell's attention, and he raced a few hundred yards to where they were feeding. He's tried several baits but hasn't hooked up.
Just prior to that, his close friend -- and newly crowned Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year -- Brent Chapman paid him a visit. We couldn't hear the exchange, but Howell did say at the pre-launch interview that he hoped Chapman would let him know if fish were biting down on the far west end of Oneida where they both fished earlier in the week. Apparently the report wasn't promising enough to get Howell to leave the flat he started on this morning.