Brandon Palaniuk should still be basking in the glow of his win at Bull Shoals earlier this year. It put him in the Bassmaster Classic and made him $100K richer. Without that one stellar performance, Palaniuk would be having an absolutely miserable year. He's currently 68th in the AOY rankings and his 34th-place finish at Toledo Bend was his second-best of his season.
If Palaniuk doesn't rebound in the final three tournaments, he'll be the lowest ranked Elite Series qualifier ever to go to the Bassmaster Classic. "Win-and-you're-in" is all that's salvaging his season.
Last year, Shaw Grigsby won the season opener on the Harris Chain and punched his Classic ticket before ending the season in 48th place in the AOY standings. All the other tournament winners in 2011 double-qualified by finishing in the Top 28 in the AOY race.
This year, Palaniuk and Ish Monroe (48th in AOY, but the winner on Okeechobee) are singing the praises of win-and-you're-in.
1) Robinson just boated his second keeper of the day. It looked like it might go 2 1/2 pounds.
2) And keeper No. 3 for Marty! He's started a little flurry here. He's casting his jig to the channel break and working it slowly back. This last fish was in the 2-pound range.
3) Marty is rollin'. Keeper number four was just flipped in the boat. It is his biggest of the day, looking to be in the 3 1/2-pound range. He's taking time to retie before casting back to the school.
At the first day weigh-in, Casey Ashley weighed in more than 20 pounds — good enough for fourth place — and said he didn't want to be leading the tournament after the first day. At the time, I thought it was a strange statement — still do.
Why not lead from the get-go? After all, every ounce you get in the first round is an ounce you won't have to catch later. And unless you're Kevin VanDam, Michael Iaconelli or some kind of local icon, spectator boats usually aren't a big issue.
Besides, the first-day leader goes on to win more than 28 percent of the time. Of course, the average finish for a Day One leader is seventh — exactly where Ashley is right now.
You might be interested to know that no first-round leader has ever fallen out of the first cut to 50 anglers, although Kevin Langill almost managed that on the Potomac River in 2006. After taking the lead on Day One, the wheels fell off on Day Two and he limped into the cut, finishing the tournament in 50th place. No one else has come close to that kind of collapse.
Anyone who doesn't want the lead on Day One probably doesn't want pocket aces in a game of Hold 'Em, but I'll take the lead (and the aces) every time.
If your favorite Elite angler doesn't rank in the top 60 in the AOY race, it doesn't look like he'll be fishing in next year's Bassmaster Classic ... unless he can win a tournament this season. Anyone that far back has too much ground to make up and too many other anglers to leapfrog to get into the top 36 or 37 and earn a Classic berth.
That means Davy Hite (66th), Denny Brauer (70th), Boyd Duckett (77th) and John Murray (78th) are all in trouble. They need some magic or they'll be working the floor at the Classic Expo next February in Tulsa.
Robinson went to make a cast and his jig flew off. He went to retie and now hasn't made a cast in 5 minutes. Not really sure what's going on, but I'm guessing he's retying everything on his deck. These Toledo bend stick-ups are hell on line.
"I told you they'd start biting when (Mark) Zona left," shouted Brent Chapman as he landed a 5-pounder at 8:10 a.m.
That's more like what Chapman needs to hang on to his lead today. He's now got two bass in the boat that total about 6 1/2 pounds.
Robinson just made a move. He rocketed about 5 miles farther north. He is now fishing just off the main channel. He's again targeting the 12- to 15-foot range, dragging a jig.
Most of the armada observing Brent Chapman has been courteous. But when Chapman recently moved 100 yards to the west side of this standing timber section, another boater drove right next to where Chapman had left a marker buoy, punched a GPS waypoint, then sped off. That was followed by another boater who trolled over to the marker buoy and started fishing.
Chapman moved back near the buoy, and the fisherman promptly pulled up his trolling motor and left.
"Come on fish, wake up," Chapman said as he continued to work a variety of lures with just one small fish in the boat.
"(Mark) Zona is fixing to leave," Chapman said. "As soon as he leaves they'll start biting."
Dennis Tietje idled up to Chapman's boat to pick up Zona. "Take him very far away," Chapman told Tietje, the former Elite Series angler who took a medical leave of absence this season while recovering from back surgery.
Now that Zona is gone, we'll see if Chapman's luck changes. The weather conditions — breezy and overcast — remain perfect for bass fishing.
At 9 a.m. (CST) we will kick off our War Room coverage of this event.
Part of the lineup includes an initial recap of the event's action at 9 a.m., followed by an interview with Todd Faircloth, one of those anglers many expected to be fishing today but who got bit by the Toledo Bend bug.
After that, every hour at the top of the hour, we will be interviewing anglers and following those up with videos from on the water and reports of catches as they come in throughout the day until 2 p.m.
One of the highlights of the War Room coverage will be the 11 a.m. hour when Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona will call some of the anglers on the water and interview them in the heat of the battle. Given the challenges of cell service in the area, that could be a tough gig, but we are certain to talk to a couple of them, and the insight provided on those calls is like nothing else.
Although Brent Chapman has never won an Elite Series tournament, he has been in this position before — leading after the second and third days of an Elite event.
It happened in the 2007 season finale on the Kissimmee Chain. Chapman grabbed the lead from former Elite Series pro Bill Smith on Day 2 and still had it by the end of Day Three. Unfortunately for Chapman, he couldn't finish it off.
On Day Four, another former Elite pro — Ben Matsubu — found the mother lode and posted the best catch of the entire tournament. Although he trailed Chapman by a single pound going into the finals, he ended up winning the tournament by more than 14 pounds while Chapman finished third.