GREENSBORO, N.C. — As the 12 anglers remaining in the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts prepared to take to Lake Townsend on Saturday morning, they considered the contradiction ahead of them. The relatively tiny lake would be free of all other boat traffic, but with the six-hole format of the final two days, each angler would be forced to share a sixth of the lake with another competitor.
That raises the question of whether a 1,500-acre lake is really big enough for 12 manic pros all fishing for the $250,000 top prize that will be awarded Sunday.
"It's how bass tournaments should be," said Ish Monroe, who will be sharing water with Brian Snowden. "It's like on NASCAR tracks there are no other cars, and on golf courses there are no other golfers. It's kind of funny, we have more confrontations with the local anglers than we do with the competitors themselves."
Monroe cited his professional courtesy with his friend Mike Iaconelli in fishing an area around a pipe at a Busch Shootout. The two men took turns hitting the area, and it happened that Monroe wound up with a big bite off it.
"There's always places like that, one key structure, might be a point," he said. "But guys will share it. As much as we're all competitors, we're friends. So we try to stay kosher."
On Friday, Russ Lane and Lee Bailey fished near each other, amid 20 other spectator boats that were also fishing. On Saturday, the two men will have a few hundred acres to themselves.
"You just kinda go with the flow," Lane said. "Everyone pretty much gets along out here and respects each other's water. We don't know what's out here anyway. We're just going to be practicing. It's not like we're going to be fighting to get to a spot."
The other hole pairings are Fred Roumbanis with Edwin Evers; Mike McClelland with Mark Tucker; Ray Sedgwick with John Murray; and Gerald Swindle with Dean Rojas. All begin the day with weights reset to zero.
"It's going to be nice," Evers said. "It's just about fishing. There's no hoopla, no fans. None of that stuff to worry about today. How cool is it that we're fishing for a quarter million dollars and we get back to the roots of fishing?"
Asked how he would handle fishing around Roumbanis all day, Evers said, within earshot of his friend: "I'm just going to follow him, see how he's catching them, and try to duplicate it."
Roumbanis shot back: "Hopefully I can do the same for you."
While the sight of Evers and Roumbanis swirling around each other all day would be one to behold, it's farcical. Murray broke down the etiquette on the water like so: "The first guy on a stretch takes command. You might pass each other, you might fish up to each other and have to go around. Usually, if a guy's going fast all around you, you might slow down and throw a jig or something, and vice versa. Observation will help — you'll be able to see whether a guy's catching fish."
Swindle was the only angler interviewed Saturday morning who seemed more concerned with his opponents than with the lack of local traffic.
"I think a lot of people are getting all excited about that," he said. "That doesn't mean they're going to bite any different. I think everybody's like, 'Oh, God, we ain't got no locals! A 10-pounder's gonna jump in!' It really doesn't matter. Most of the time, the locals aren't throwing right on you anyway.
"You're much more worried about that guy in the hole with you than you are the locals. He's actually throwing at you. So play a little defense. You've got to watch that guy in the hole with you."
As for the etiquette in maneuvering around that guy in the hole?
"There ain't none at this point," Swindle said. "It's dog-eat-dog."
And with that, Rojas' weight on Saturday afternoon becomes slightly more intriguing.