Steve Bowman, ever the analyst in these bass wars, notes that crunch time in this tournament day has arrived. We've seen about half the field go by in the last few minutes. They don't know what the others in the game have in their livewells, but it's obvious they're all disappointed in their catches. Some have said as much. They're stopping briefly on points and creek mouths, hoping for a good bite in all the obvious places.
What they don't know -- but must suspect -- is that one or two decent fish would move them way up in the rankings. If you've ever fished a tournament, you know that last hour of competition is the most gut wrenching of the day.
We're almost to the point where Kevin VanDam should pay Steve Bowman and me to linger near him. After visiting other anglers the last hour, we stopped in on him again, just in time for him to catch a keeper. His second fish -- which joined the 2 3/4-pounder we saw him catch earlier -- should give him about 4 pounds for two bass. His expression is not so dour as earlier.
VanDam was throwing a spinnerbait along a woody point. His bigger fish came on a crankbait he worked over a long, underwater point not far down the lake from here.
Just caught up with the G-Man, Gerald Swindle, whose lone 3 3/4-pound bass puts him in fifth, unofficially. Swindle is bouncing around the lake, looking for keeper No. 2. He cranked a main lake point briefly, then left. "This place is on fire," he said, a bit sarcastically.
The Natural is at it again. In all of pro bass fishing I don’t think there’s a single angler with as much natural ability as Aaron Martens. That’s why I started calling him “The Natural” and why his Bassmaster.com column has that title. In all of the Elites, few anglers are as good at catching a limit day in and day out — though KVD, Ott DeFoe, Todd Faircloth and Gerald Swindle deserve to be in the conversation, too.
Well, Martens just put his fourth keeper in the livewell and unofficially has about seven pounds for the day. It’s not enough to catch DeFoe, who has about 11-8, but it’s looking good to advance him to the semifinals if he has any kind of catch at all tomorrow.
One of the things I admire about Martens is his tremendous instinct for the sport. His decisions are rarely off target, and when he plays his hunches he’s usually near the top of the leaderboard. He’s also uncannily accurate at estimating the weight of his catch. If his marshal is logging the weights that Martens tells him, I guarantee that he’s no more than an ounce or two off the 7-0 you see on BASSTrakk.
I don’t want it to sound like Martens doesn’t work at the sport or that his natural ability is all he has going for him. That would be horribly untrue. No one works harder on his gear or demands more from his equipment. His meticulousness and attention to detail are legendary, and he worked extremely hard to get to this level.
Not everyone knows that Martens taught himself bass fishing. He didn’t have a father or a bunch of uncles to show him the ropes of the sport. He learned it himself from the ground up and he learned it well.
He’s so good and has so much ability, that I often tell him the only person who can beat Aaron Martens is Aaron Martens.
Ott DeFoe, the presumed leader so far on Day One of the Toyota Trucks All-Star competition on Lake Shelbyville, just passed us on the way out of Coon Creek, where he put together a formidable limit. We're not sure what his 11 pounds and change came on, but he's been mixing things up with a jig, a topwater, a spinnerbait and a crankbait. All have been targeted at wood.
I've followed Edwin Evers several times in tournaments and am always amazed at how hard he fishes. When other competitors might be taking in the scenery, Evers is wide open — in both his fishing and boating. He's always safe when piloting his Nitro, but he's either on the trolling motor or has the Hot Foot pegged.
Sometimes he'll pick up a rod and make a single cast then toss it down and feverishly begin throwing another bait. If you didn't know what an even-keeled guy he is, you'd think he was crazy, possibly possessed. It's a pleasure to follow him, if not a bit taxing.
Remind me never to doubt the angling acumen of Ott DeFoe. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, DeFoe told me yesterday that he believed a two-day total of 7 1/2 pounds would get an angler into the semifinals. That’s a paltry 3 pounds, 12 ounces a day.
Now, as I look at the BASSTrakk scoreboard, I see that fourth place is shared by Mike Iaconelli (notorious for overestimating his weights, by the way) and Gerald Swindle with … wait for it! … 3-12. Yes, there’s still some fishing time left in the day, but it’s growing short and that number could hold up for the rest of the afternoon. If it does, DeFoe looks like Nostradamus and other anglers, who grossly overestimated what they could catch today, may feel a little silly and out of touch with their practice experience.
Meanwhile, DeFoe leads the way with 11-8. If everything were to stay basically the same from now to weigh-in and if BASSTrakk is accurate (a couple of very big “ifs”), then DeFoe should be able to sleep in tomorrow and snooze his way into the semifinals. Someone else might take the lead if he were to do that, but it’s unlikely he’d get knocked out of the top four and out of the competition.
If you haven’t glanced at BASSTrakk recently, you may be surprised to know that Ott DeFoe and Edwin Evers are first and second (very unofficially) in the standings. Wow! I’m not surprised that they’re there — after all, they are two of the best in the business — but what are the odds that the top two anglers in last year’s All-Star competition are back this year to defend their status and then grab the top spots right away?
If BASSTrakk is right, the only angler not on the board is Randy Howell, who ironically told Brent Chapman earlier today that he had four keepers early.
DeFoe and Evers are each one shy of a limit, so they’ll be doing all they can to catch that fifth bass. After that, though, they each might rest their best areas in the hopes they’ll recharge and produce more bass tomorrow. And if those areas are small, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two just sit on them and not fish, but keep other competitors away. They knew it would be tough today, and they’re well on their way to the semifinals unless several other all stars can make a jump.
Kevin VanDam is the picture of concentration as he cranks a deep point on Lake Shelbyville, hunting for his first keeper. That concentration pays off as he catches a solid fish at the mouth of a cove. Kevin says the fish will go 2 3/4 pounds. I can tell from two long casts away that he's relieved to get rid of his goose egg.
After Aaron Martens left his railroad bridge for parts unknown, Steve Bowman and I drove downlake to Opossum Cove, where KVD was rumored to be fishing. He had just left when he arrived, but we stopped for a chat and a few photos of Terry Scroggins. Scroggins told me at the briefing last night that the fishing is so tough at Shelbyville right now, "There'll probably be three or four guys who zero tomorrow. And I'm likely to be one of them." Fortunately for him, the second part of that prediction isn't going to prove true. He had two bites this morning, one of them a keeper.
Scroggins left and VanDam roared by, so we pulled into his wake and chased him several miles back uplake to the point where he's now cranking. Ten casts later he caught that heavy (comparatively speaking) bass. He immediately thanked Bowman for bringing him good luck. That lone fish should move him up the leaderboard. VanDam just now skiied in a non-keeper. He's definitely around fish. Whether there are more 14-inchers to be caught, we'll stick around to see.
We've just witnessed our first fish catch; unfortunately for Edwin Evers, it was short. But it was a bass!
Observers are talking of big muskies, pike, walleye and crappie, but the consensus on bass is that this lake can be fickle.
Evers is working the exact same waters Faircloth did less than an hour ago. Maybe he can make it pay off.