PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Steve Kennedy had pulled his boat behind that of Timmy Horton, who after two days of the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra had opened a lead of 6 pounds, 10 ounces on second-place Kennedy. Horton was giving an interview that was being broadcast over the loudspeaker, and when he said something about having caught his Day One limit on five casts, Kennedy began to laugh.
"Twenty-one pounds on five casts!" he said. "We're in trouble. We're so in trouble."
That has been the consensus among the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers since about 3:10 Friday afternoon, when Horton was among the first across the scales. He caught his tournament-high 24-12 bag early and took his time getting back, to insure against boat breakdowns. (So early was he, in fact, that he took a little detour along the way to fish for smallmouth bass, a regional treat for the Alabama angler.)
The 10 anglers behind Kennedy are closer to him than he is to Horton. But none of the leaders interviewed before launch on Day Three were willing to concede the tournament to Horton midway through, not while he's traveling as far south as he is, across sometimes punishing waves, to fish for largemouth, which replenish more slower than smallmouth.
Even Horton admitted that he expected 20 pounds a day to lead the tournament, and it might be, if he hadn't have gotten several unexpected bites on the third or fourth spot he hit Friday that allowed him to cull about 4 pounds.
Fred Roumbanis (3rd, 37-4) eased off on both of the first two days of the tournament, and in so doing fell behind the pace both days. Saturday morning he said he was going to ransack his water, regardless of the consequences for Sunday, in hopes of catching Horton.
"I think I can get 20 (pounds)," Roumbanis said. "Maybe I just get 12, but I think I can get 20."
That plan still requires that Horton's fish abandon him or his boat breaks down on the rough commute. Horton said he's hoping to survive until Sunday, when camera boats will be following the anglers. That provides some insurance in case of breakdown. "That's the gamble you take by going south," he said of the wear on his boat.
He also commended Roumbanis for conserving fish — "that was a smart move on his part." Though, in hindsight, Roumbanis may have been better off going for broke early.
"You can't really worry about what other guys are doing," Brent Chapman (8th, 33-14) said. "You've got to go out there and fish your hardest."
Chapman, Dean Rojas, Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam and Steve Daniel all are among anglers in the top 25 who are making the more modest ride north each day. That was a plan built in part around the notion that the lake would chew up many of the riders who tried to run down its length each tournament day. Unfortunately for them, the weather forecast was calling for beautiful, calm conditions Saturday.
"We're just playing the odds," said Rojas (21st, 31-13). "You can catch a 25-pound sack up there, and it's not getting the pressure."
As the angler finding the most success targeting only smallmouth, Daniel (4th, 35-1) is working on the philosophy that slow and steady will win the tournament.
"The guys getting those largemouth, they have to stumble big-time for me to catch 'em," he said. "I guarantee I'm having a lot more fun than they are, though."