The connection between success and popularity is an interesting one and very evident in the world of bass fishing.
In looking at the four anglers who were voted into the field at Toyota Trucks All-Star Week, all four (Mike Iaconelli, Skeet Reese, Gerald Swindle and Aaron Martens) have won a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and two (Iaconelli and Reese) have won Bassmaster Classics. Of the top 10 vote getters (those already mentioned plus Brandon Palaniuk, Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn, Alton Jones, Chris Lane and Greg Hackney), six have won AOYs and six have won Classics. And though Chris Lane had a strong following before 2012, there’s no doubt it’s much, much larger after his Classic win.
On the other hand, Palaniuk finished fifth in the voting and has neither a Classic win nor an AOY. He’s been able to capture the attention of fishing through his success in the 2010 Classic, an Elite win, his Federation Nation connection and a winning personality. He’s accomplished a lot and positioned himself well in just a couple of years on the Tournament Trail.
Brent Chapman continues to work his way toward the back of Lithia Creek, starting on one side, then moving to the other. He's got a wad of rods and reels on his boat deck. We've seen him throw crankbaits, spinnerbaits and a variety of soft plastics. He's not sticking with anything long, while trying to find a working pattern.
As for fish catches, he's landed a small walleye and a chunky white bass, but that 1 1/2-pound largemouth caught earlier this morning is the only thing in his livewell.
Another report from B.A.S.S. photographer Seigo Saito, and this one's funny: As Seigo was shooting photos of Randy Howell, Howell's good friend Brent Chapman pulled up and asked how he was doing. "Howell told Chapman he has four fish from his deep spot," Seigo reported. "As soon as Chapman left, I talked to Howell to confirm his catch. He said he was just messing around with Chapman. Howell has no fish yet."
If you can't mess with your buddy, who can you mess with?
This is as it should be: Aaron Martens is fishing bridge pilings. If a lake has a bridge crossing it, you're likely to find Martens fishing the pilings at some point in the day. He's a master at catching fish suspended around the bridge supports, and at least one of his runner-up Bassmaster Classic finishes was achieved along bridge pilings. At this railroad bridge on Lake Shelbyville, the water is about 17 feet deep, and the channel is constricted. If there's any current in the lake — caused by wind or river flow — it should be strongest here. Martens pitches a jig to the concrete pilings and feels it as it drops toward bottom.
The tactic didn't work, so Martens pulled up and moved upriver. He's now fishing riprap near an access area. He's taking care to stay the legal distance from the boat ramp, which, for some reason the pros don't understand, the Army Corps of Engineers has placed off limits.
"They've just eliminated one of my best spots," Skeet Reese told me last night at the tournament briefing/media dinner in Decatur. Other pros said they've never heard of that sort of structure being made off-limits, and in Shelbyville, they agreed, it's prime fishing territory.
Twelve anglers is not a lot for a B.A.S.S. tournament, but it is enough. Actually, 12 is about the smallest number that B.A.S.S. has ever had for an event (unless you count sudden death between two anglers or the semi-finals and finals here at All-Star Week). Other than the postseason (2009 and 2010) and the new All-Star Week format (2011 and 2012), the only B.A.S.S. events with as few as 12 competitors were the 2007 and 2008 WBT Championships. What was the largest field for a B.A.S.S. event? It's a four-way tie at 332 anglers for four different B.A.S.S. Invitational tournaments held between 1994 and 2000. That's a lot of competitors!
Ike is still having a tough time, still cranking along flats. Skeet Reese just zipped by us heading south, and we're now adjacent to the launch ramp.
Brent Chapman has moved away from his initial area near the dam and has gone across the lake into the mouth of Lithia Creek, where he stopped for a quick word with Randy Howell.
Before Chapman made this move, he said, "I've fished my pattern twice, now I'm going pre-fishing."
He says he's got one bass in the boat that weighs about 1 1/2 pounds.
What do you do when you know you're around bass but they aren't biting? You call them. At least, that's what Aaron Martens has resorted to doing here at his uplake hot spot. "Here, fishy-fishy," he said. He should know that never works. Martens caught two good fish along this bank in practice, and only one 14-incher this morning. The difference between then and this morning is that he was fishing faster Tuesday, hunting for clues to patterns, when those bass bit. Today, he's soaking jigs and plastics among the rocks, and that isn't working quite as well. He has kicked his trolling motor into high gear now, quickly scraping the rocks with his jig. He's not hanging up nearly as often now.
The sun needs to warm this water up for the fish to start biting," he told us. His most reliable pattern is "sun-related," he said. That must mean he's finding fish around cover, where bass go when the sun is bright. There isn't a cloud in the sky to block that sun, so conditions should get right before long.
The other tactic of desperation, after calling for the fish, is to verbalize a bite into happening. "I'm about to catch a 5-pounder here," he said out loud, so the fish could hear. That didn't work either.
I did a quick, informal survey of the All-Stars lure lineups this morning, and I saw every lure known to man except an Alabama Rig, which isn't legal in this tournament anyway. It's obvious the pros haven't zeroed in on a single lure, technique or pattern. Almost everyone had one or more of these baits tied on at the start of fishing today: spinnerbaits, shaky heads, buzzbaits, topwaters, square bill crankbaits, medium running crankbaits, jigs, creature baits and lipless cranks.
That's usually a sign that fish are hard to come by. Their best hope is to stumble across a fish or two at the moment that bass feels like biting. The variety of lures is necessary to have some offering that fits the situation.
Edwin Evers, by the way, led the All-Star field in number of rods rigged and ready. He had 14 at take-off. Most had nine or 10.
We started on Matt Herren, who began just like he has almost every tournament day this season - as far back in a creek as he can get.
"I like it skinny," Herren said. "But something's going on with this water. It wasn't near this dirty before today."
Herren was flipping isolated stickups without success and moved on from Lithia Creek.
Now we're on Brent Chapman who is working his way down a riprap bank within sight of the dam, where he and Ott DeFoe started this morning.
We're not close enough to visit with him yet, but will soon.