HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — Fishing off the back of the boat is rarely a cinch for Bassmaster Elite Series co-anglers, but even for the Day One leader in the Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn, it wasn't too far removed from mucking out a stable.
"It was like two dung beetles," said co-angler Steve Greene, who fished with Day One leader pro Kevin Wirth. "He did a little pushing and I did a little pulling."
A retired Navy aircraft technician, Greene is leading with just 8 pounds, 14 ounces. For him, it was a case of having three of the right fish. The Lebanon, Tenn., angler even got to cull once.
He was the exception. Only 78 of the 106 co-anglers weighed even one fish, and only 41 had more than one fish. Because of concerns about fish care in the summer heat — handily over 90 degrees during this afternoon's weigh-in — BASS has reduced the co-anglers' limit from five fish to three for the remainder of the season. Still, only a fifth of them managed that.
"It was generally tough," said Greene, who lives about a half-hour from Old Hickory Lake. "But (Wirth) has it going on."
Brutal as the fishing was, the consolation is that a decent fish or two will still propel just about anyone to a paycheck. Anglers on both ends of the boat said they caught plenty of fish — but few long enough to surpass the local slot limits of 18 inches for smallmouth, 14 inches for largemouth and 12 for spotted bass.
"You've just got to weed through the little ones," said Jim McDevitt, who tied for sixth place with 6-13.
Got just one fish? If it's the 5-6 big bass that 17-year-old Ryan Piersdorf heaved onto the scale, it'd be good for 16th place. As it happened, Piersdorf caught a second fish that pushed him to third with 7-14, an ounce behind Jason Luszcak.
Piersdorf, the cousin of reigning Rookie of the Year Derek Remitz, was among several anglers to fish this tournament after originally getting wait-listed for the ninth tournament of the Elite Series season. When flooding prompted BASS to move this tournament from Fort Madison, Iowa, to middle Tennessee, registration re-opened.
Piersdorf signed up and drove with his family 900 miles from Forest Lake, Minn., to make the most of day on the water with Shaw Grigsby. When that kicker fish struck his Shakyhead, he said, Grigsby cringed a little bit. It was the first decent bite Piersdorf had felt all day.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," the rising high school senior said.
Tony DeVolder, a recent graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, was another co-angler wait-listed for the Iowa tourney. He would have preferred to fish familiar water, but was willing to chance the new fishery.
"Where we were fishing, you'd be fishing in the boat ramps," DeVolder said. "That's how high the water is."
He and his brother, Tim, had plotted exactly the rods and tackle they needed to fish the Mississippi — but knowing little of Tennessee, had to bring the kitchen sink to fish Old Hickory.
"We brought everything we own," DeVolder said. The only similarity to the Mississippi, he said, was that he caught a couple of fish on a frog.
But Roger Koopman of Andalusia, Ill., who also was on the waiting list for the Iowa tournament, said he was "right at home" fishing Old Hickory, using a crankbait in shallows that he said made fishing here "pretty much the same deal" as in the big river.
"Even though," Koopman added, "I only caught one fish."