LEESBURG, Fla. — If you could use some inspiration for overcoming adversity, you need only look at the top of the leaderboard after Day One of the Bassmaster Elite Series Sunshine Showdown presented by Advance Auto Parts.
At 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Bill Lowen had only one 13-inch bass in his livewell. He ended his day as the leader on the Harris Chain of Lakes with 21 pounds, 10 ounces, which included a 10-6 big bass that had a head as big as a flathead catfish.
Bryan Hudgins hadn't been sick in 10 years, he estimated, but Tuesday during practice he came down with a full-blown case of the flu. A $100 dose of Tamiflu and 24 hours of rest left him in good enough shape to catch 21-6 Thursday and be in second place.
Billy Brewer, fishing his first Elite Series event, guessed his wife "was kind enough" to give him the upper respiratory illness she was suffering through before he left Waco, Texas, to come to Florida.
"I'm sick as a dog," Brewer said. "Then I got in my boat this morning and my shoes fell apart."
He was further tested when he lost a 5-pound bass and a 6-pounder right at the boat. But he finished the day with a five-bass limit weighing 20-7, which was good enough for third place on Day One.
Top of the leaderboard? Heck, those three anglers felt like they were on top of the world Thursday afternoon, even during the driving rainstorm that began as the national anthem was sung prior to the weigh-in at Venetian Cove.
"I just really can't wait to get back and see what happens tomorrow," said Lowen, a 33-year-old North Bend, Ohio, resident whose best finish in a BASS tournament is fourth.
Fred Roumbanis feels the same as Lowen but for an entirely different reason. Roumbanis is in eighth place with 16-5. However, that came after an incredible day of practice.
"I probably shouldn't have landed that eight-pounder (Wednesday)," Roumbanis said. "I thought I was going to have like 25 pounds. Sixteen pounds is devastating right now. They just shut down on me.
"Maybe I can slow down a little bit tomorrow. I've still got a good shot at this. It's not over."
No, the Sunshine Showdown on the Harris Chain of Lakes is far from over. The $100,000 first-place check will be awarded on Sunday, and there are certain to be a sack full of good luck and hard luck stories between now and then.
"Everything is cooking," said Dean Rojas, who is fourth with 18-2. "I think I found something this afternoon that's going to help me the rest of the week. I'm really looking forward to fishing the next three days."
Both Rojas and Dave Wolak, who is in fifth place with 17-12, caught big bass weighing 8-1 Thursday. It looked like they were going to split the $1,000 daily Purolator Big Bass Award until Lowen walked up the bank from his boat carrying not one, but two weigh-in bags. The second one was reserved for that monster he caught 10 minutes before his fishing day was done.
He said he had about 25 bites Wednesday while flipping during practice, but set the hook on only three fish. However, with that 13-inch dink being his only livewell occupant at 1:30, he was dazed and confused.
"I was kind of getting bummed out, and I knew the fish didn't leave," Lowen said. "So I just changed up a little bit, adjusted a few things.
"I think a lot of times we get caught in a rut, doing the same things we did in practice. Sometimes we don't change. I was fortunate enough to change and put it together right there at the last hour."
Lowen didn't want to divulge any details of the change he made, but it involved putting down his flipping stick. He caught a six-pounder right before he hooked the 10-pounder. He did say that the lunker came in about four feet of water around some lily pads. He does have some other Elite Series anglers in the same area. "But they're all flipping," said Lowen, in alluding to his confidence about Friday.
There are pre-spawn, post-spawn and spawning bass scattered throughout the 76,000 acres of Harris Chain waters. Before the tournament started, many of the pros expected that anglers fishing visible spawning beds could put up a big number on Thursday, but wouldn't be able to repeat that four days in a row.
Hudgins was the only angler in the top four that caught any bass he could see on spawning beds Thursday, and that wasn't his main route to success. Hudgins lives less than two hours from the Harris Chain in Orange Park, Fla.
"It's not my favorite lake," he said. "But out of every lake I've ever been to, it's probably been the best to me. I've won some local tournaments here, and I finished third in the (Elite Series) Wild-Card tournament (in November 2006)."
Hudgins spotted a six-pounder and a nine-pounder on spawning beds during practice, right next to each other. And that's where he started his day.
"I caught the six-pounder, and the nine-pounder went down to eat (his lure), but then swam off," Hudgins said. "That was kind of a bummer. But that was really the only thing that went wrong today."
Hudgins isn't sure that the other bass he caught Thursday weren't on spawning beds. But in the dingy water that dominates most of the Harris Chain, he couldn't tell for sure.
"There's certain things in the area where they're spawning that I really got honed in on," Hudgins said. "If you've got an isolated (lily) pad clump, that's guaranteed to have a bed on it.
"But you've got to actually visualize a bed being there and have confidence there's a bed there. You can't see them, but you've got to have that confidence to throw in there and fish real slow and methodically."
Brewer surprised himself with his success Thursday. Even if he'd been feeling well, just making the two-day cut to 50 anglers was the goal he'd set for his first Elite Series event. If he were to win the $100,000 first prize, it would be less money than he made in the rookie year of his first career — Major League Baseball.
Brewer was a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher when he made it out of the minors and signed a $109,000 contract with the Kansas City Royals in 1993. He played in the Major Leagues through 1999 as a middle reliever and had stints with the Yankees, A's and Phillies along the way.
"Then I had Tommy John surgery and never recovered," the 39-year-old Brewer said.
He may not have recovered well enough to pitch in the big leagues again, but obviously he's healthy enough to fish in the big leagues.
Friday is a big day for all 109 pros in the Sunshine Showdown field, which will be cut to the top 50 before Saturday's competition. Mike Wurm of Hot Springs, Ark., sits in 50th place now with 9-15. Boyd Duckett and Brian Clark are right behind him, tied for 51st place with 9-14. And hardly anyone has been eliminated, since Clark Rheem, a rookie from Russellville, is in 90th place, but with 6-14, stands only 3-1 behind Wurm.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Sunshine Showdown on the Harris Chain of Lakes, from Leesburg, Fla., March 6-9, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 10 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. ET. And a reminder … Daylight Savings Time starts Sunday, so remember to set your clocks.