PARIS, Tenn. — A bluebird sky returned to Kentucky Lake and the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph on Friday, but at a cost to many of the competitors. As a rain front scooted out of the area Thursday night, gusting northwest winds moved in and presented another challenge to the top 50 anglers vying for a spot in Saturday's final round.
Don't count tournament leaders Bobby Lane or Skeet Reese among those who were bothered by the breeze, however.
Lane is on such a magic spot that he didn't even notice which way the wind was blowing; he was too busy catching fish and adding distance between himself and the rest of the field. Likewise, Reese's 23-pound, 5-ounce haul gave him little to complain about. It put him in second place, and he said he fished Friday exactly the way he fished the previous two days.
Although some of the Top 12 anglers such as Lane and Reese seem to be settled on bulletproof fishing holes, many of the fishermen headed home after the Top 50 round grumbled about the effects of the wind on their efforts to gain a berth in the final round.
Having to slow down to cross whitecapped water and being robbed of fishing time wasn't the only issue. Because the big Tennessee River impoundment runs roughly north to south and follows the river's course toward its confluence with the Ohio River near Paducah, Ky., a northwest wind tends to work against any current that's generated when damkeepers open the gates downriver.
When current slows, as it did through much of Friday morning when the wind was howling, bass aren't as active. But that wasn't the only problem for the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers to surmount. Depending on who was doing the talking, there was a range of windblown patterns.
"I was fishing riprap and docks along the western shoreline of the lake and the wind muddied up the water," said North Carolina pro Guy Eaker, who had a 23-pound, 11-ounce stringer on Thursday and was in 33rd place going into Friday's round. "I caught a pair of four-pounders in one area on Thursday and didn't get a bite there today. So I wound up running and gunning, except there wasn't much gunning to it."
Eaker, who had three keepers Friday and wound up in 50th place with 43-11, was in a chorus of anglers bemoaning the wind.
"I'm bummed, I'm hurting," grumbled Byron Velvick, whose fifth-place position suggests he's not suffering beyond all hope of recovery. "I lost a couple of really good fish because I would drift in to them and set the hook, but not as solidly as I could have otherwise.
"I also had problems feeling the fish before they felt me. I was using a half-ounce TruTungsten weight, so I could feel the bottom good, but I was having to reel in slack when I drifted downwind and once in a while I would tug the worm out of a bass' mouth."
Some fishermen altered their presentations or changed rigs to accommodate the wind. For instance, Alabama fisherman Russ Lane downsized his fishing line from 12-pound-test to 10-pound-test so his crankbait would reach the depth where the fish were even with shorter casts.
"Thursday, it was no problem," added Lane, in fourth place. "I could haul off and throw the 12-pound line as far as I needed to and crank it down to the fish. Friday I couldn't make the long casts upwind, so the answer was to use lighter line that would let the lure get down quicker."
Likewise, Kentucky fisherman Kevin Wirth had no choice but to cast into the wind at his primary spot, but couldn't get the distance he needed to get the big deep-diving crankbaits he was using deep enough. He opted to leave the fish alone until the wind laid around lunchtime. Then he returned to it and caught three solid keepers on deep-diving crankbaits. He wound up in 22nd place.
"The place where I was fishing was shallow enough so that the wind definitely affected the current," noted Aaron Martens, who finished 17th. "The bass would actually reposition in the current, depending on what the wind was doing. I thought I had it figured out finally, but when the wind laid and the current picked up, the fish repositioned again and I spent 15 or 20 minutes trying to find them."
To veterans such as Kevin VanDam, currently in third, dealing with such environmental nuisances as the wind is all in a day's work. Instead of fighting the wind, VanDam positioned his boat so that he could fish perpendicular to it, or lob casts with his Strike King Series 6XD crankbaits that quartered upwind.
"Boat positioning is always a problem in a high wind," said the Michigan pro. "It's not just a problem because it makes it harder to fish and feel your lures, but it moves the fish around. Sometimes the wind is a good thing because it activates fish, if it's not blowing against the current. It did here today; so, yeah, it hurt a lot of us. But that's fishing."