So which all-star has the most experience in an all-star or postseason format? Well, there are two anglers in the field who have competed in all four postseason/all star formats that B.A.S.S. has used in the past four years — Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese. Edwin Evers, Mike Iaconelli, Aaron Martens and Gerald Swindle have all been to three of these smaller field events. Ott DeFoe, Todd Faircloth, Randy Howell and Terry Scroggins have each been to two. Only two all stars (Brent Chapman and Matt Herren) are “rookies” in this format. Does that make a difference? Probably. After all, being comfortable in your circumstances and the system that is All-Star Week has to be worth something.
Aaron Martens has led us back to the railroad bridge where he began today, and it's crowded with Mike Iaconelli's entourage of spectators. As you know, Ike's on "baby watch," waiting for a phone call to beckon him back home for the birth of his child. His wife, Becky, is two days overdue. Iaconelli told me it's a little hard to concentrate on fishing with the blessed event bound to happen any day now. "I'm doing my best to stay focused," he said. Kevin VanDam isn't making it easy on him. Just before takeoff this morning, VanDam dialed Ike's cell phone, making iaconelli think THE call had arrived. As Iaconelli was scrambling to answer the call, VanDam walked over to him and showed him his cell phone, proving that the call was a prank. All in good fun, I guess, although these pros never resist an opportunity to put a competitor off balance.
Iaconelli hasn't caught a keeper today, although we just watched him swing a 13-incher aboard. Too short to keep. He complained that the fishing here is extremely tough. The water temperature has dropped about 3 degrees (down from 73) since practice. He caught a few fish in practice, and all were related to rocks, he said. He echoed Marten's comment that the water needs to warm up a tad for the bite to turn on. Ike is cranking along a gravel point at his typical speed -- "high 36." It's all we can do to keep him in camera range.
Ott DeFoe told me yesterday that he thought 3 3/4 pounds per day on Shelbyville might be enough to make the top four and advance to the semifinals on Lake Decatur. Now that he’s got several very nice bass in the well, he probably feels pretty good about things. BASSTrakk shows him with three bass weighing a total of 10 pounds. If his assessment of the fishing on Shelbyville is even close to correct, he may have already qualified for the weekend. Ott takes All-Star Week very seriously — partly because he’s a true pro and partly because he won the first one last year and doesn’t want anyone else to win one … at least for a while. Ott’s quiet, very poised and a fun guy to talk with. His competitive streak is a mile wide, though, and he doesn’t display it like some other anglers. When Kevin VanDam is in the hunt, you know it. He’s a shark and he plays all the angles, getting in the head of his competition and generally letting them know that the footsteps they hear coming up behind them are his. It’s intimidating. DeFoe is different. He looks calm, reserved, but that extra gear that not too many have is there, and he’ll use it. The contrast in personalities and styles is fascinating.
We've left Iaconelli for the fast-moving Edwin Evers, who's got a small keeper in the box. He's cranking a stump field with some locals who appear to be perch-jerkin', or doing some other type of fishing. Evers is now dragging something, most likely a Carolina rig. With BASSTrakk showing nine fish caught among 12 anglers, "tough" is a word we'll hear come weigh-in.
Back in the day, Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon had big reputations for figuring out successful patterns quickly and executing them efficiently. It’s why they won so many Classics (four for Clunn) and Megabucks tournaments (four for Nixon).
There’s a special skill to hitting the water cold or with very limited practice and divining a winning pattern, but that’s what those guys in the old formats for the Classic and Megabucks had to do. Today’s pros generally have more practice time. All-Star Week is an exception, however, since they got just one day on Lake Shelbyville and another on Lake Decatur.
We know that Kevin VanDam fishes fast, but he also tends to figure things out quickly, too, as evidenced by the fact that he tends to practice less than most of the Elite pros. Steve Kennedy does the same thing, but he didn’t qualify for All-Star Week this year. Ott DeFoe and Edwin Evers are obviously talented at getting to the core of things under pressure, as evidenced by their success in All-Star competition last year.
Brent Chapman just trolled down a bank in Lithia Creek near a couple of crappie fishermen, and said, "Are the crappie any better than the bass in this lake?"
"Not anymore," was the answer.
Chapman hasn't had a nibble from a black bass since the one he caught first thing this morning. Here's how bad it has been since then: We just overheard Chapman and his Marshal talking about the housing market.
"There's only so much you can do," Chapman said. "Until you get a bite and something you can key on, you've just got to keep fishing."
When asked about this thinking process at this moment, Chapman said, "I'm thinking that some day I'll know what it feels like to catch a bass again."
Optimism is running on empty in Lithia Creek.
Ott DeFoe boats No. 3 — a Shelbyville 3-pounder according to his Marshal, Cory Mundwiler.
Photos by Cory Mundwiler
There's still not a lot of excitement surrounding Mike Iaconelli. He's been doing largely the same thing, cranking and throwing jigs to riprap and shallow flats. He's spending quite a bit of time digging around in the bottom of his boat, too, rerigging and refitting his baits.
Sportsmen are out in force on Lake Shelbyville today. We've seen several recreational anglers, including one who apparently was camped in a spot Aaron Martens wanted to fish. Martens turned the wheel and headed in another direction. At the boat ramp near where Martens stopped, Steve Bowman chatted with a couple of duck hunters returning from a morning's hunt. They said it was slow hunting. They shot two teal, but just as they were picking up the decoys, a flock flew within gun range, they lamented. Bowman is nuts about duck hunting, and it's all he can do to resist looking for a blind tomorrow morning instead of trailing bass pros and shooting their photos. Steve's also a talented lensman. Look for his on-the-water photos on Bassmaster.com this afternoon.
Martens has fished his way down the bank and away from the ramp, catching three non-keepers along the way. Two were shorter than the 14-inch minimum length, and the third was a gar. His crankbait popped out of the gar's mouth just as Martens reached for it. The lure flew up and dug into his shirt. Close call. In two Elite tournaments this year, competitors had to seek medical attention to have treble hooks removed from their bodies. Martens was luckier.
He told us he's been catching one keeper for every non-keeper in these Illinois fisheries. With three undersized bass this morning, he said he's due to catch two more that he can add to his livewell.