MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Eighty miles of the Alabama River are open to the eight finalists in the Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota Trucks All-Star Week three-day final event. And the anglers are using all 80 miles.
Mike Iaconelli said he spent $135 on gasoline each of the two practice days. Gerald Swindle said he burned $170 worth of gas the first day. Casey Ashley doesn’t know how much he spent, but it was a lot.
“These days when I pull up to the gas pump, I cover up the dollar sign with my hand,” Ashley said. “Otherwise, it hurts your feelings.”
When the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship begins at 7:30 a.m. Friday, the gas burning will continue.
“I’m literally going to fish end-to-end,” Iaconelli said. “I’ve got eight places in that giant stretch of river. I’m going to stop at each one on the way down, then turn around and stop at each one on the way back. That’s going to give me one pass on each place, then I’m going to give it a chance to rest and hit it again.”
In this match-fishing format, the anglers have been seeded according to their finish in the two-day Ramada All-Star Semi-Finals held on Lake Jordan last weekend. The pairings set for Friday are as follows: No. 1 seed Ashley vs. No. 8 Skeet Reese, No. 2 Ott Defoe vs. No. 7 Iaconelli, No. 3 Aaron Martens vs. No. 6 Edwin Evers, and No. 4 Terry Scroggins vs. No. 5 Gerald Swindle.
Evers finished second in the postseason event on the Alabama River last year, and he’s the pick by his fellow finalists to win it this year, since Kevin VanDam, last year’s winner, was one of four anglers eliminated at Lake Jordan last weekend. The competition last year was a two-day, total-weight event. This match-fishing format has Evers wishing for a scoreboard.
“I just wish I knew where I stood every hour,” Evers said. “That would make a huge difference. The way it is now, you’ve got to start pulling back the reins at 14 or 15 pounds, because if you go above that, you’re going to be using up a bunch of fish that you’ll need to win this.”
That’s part of the intrigue in match fishing. You could catch the second biggest five-bass limit of the day, but if your opponent has the biggest, you’re going home. Conversely, you might advance to the next round even with a bad day, as long as your opponent has a worse one.
If practice was any indication, the tournament will be won shallow. Several anglers have admitted being frustrated by the deep-water bite, which hasn’t been consistent.
“Off shore is where most of the fish are, but they are biting funny,” Martens said. “It might be more consistent in the backs of the creeks. But I can do that, too.”
Martens was one of four Elite Series anglers voted into All-Star Week by B.A.S.S. fans. The others in the original 12-man field were the top eight in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Three of the four fan selections have advanced – Martens, Iaconelli and Reese. Martens came to Alabama on a roll, having won the U.S. Open on Lake Mead last Wednesday before making the 1,700-mile drive to central Alabama.
“When you win a tournament, you get fired up,” Martens said. “I’m fired up.”
Catching a three-pound bass will get any of the finalists fired up Friday. Those three-pounders are the key to getting in the 12-pound range with a five-bass limit. While catching a limit hasn’t been a problem in practice, catching three-pound-plus fish has been.
“The first day of practice I caught two over three pounds, and (Wednesday) I caught only one,” Iaconelli said. “You’re going to need two of those a day to advance to the next round, and that’s if everything goes right.
“You’ll need three of those 12- to 14-inch fish that weigh a pound to a pound-and-a-half apiece and two of those 17- to 18-inch fish that weigh three pounds or better.”
Ashley, who took the top seed by catching 25-8 in two days at Lake Jordan, thinks this will be a junk fishing extravaganza where you might catch your five keepers on five different baits ranging from topwater to deep cranking.
Iaconelli says he has established both a deep and a shallow pattern in his two days of practice. Some anglers, like Defoe, who shines in shallow water, may spend their entire day in the backwater areas of the Alabama River.
Swindle, like Martens, has been frustrated by the lack of a consistent offshore bite. He’s hoping that longer periods of water releases through the Robert F. Henry Lock & Dam will help relieve that frustration, but he’s not counting on it.
“It’s not giving them a reason to bite right now,” Swindle said. “I’m looking at them (on sonar). I know they’re there, and I can’t catch them. It’s killing me. There’s nothing worse than knowing you’ve found them, and you just can’t get them to bite.”
The winners Friday will be paired in two matches Saturday. The finalists will compete one-on-one for the $100,000 first prize Sunday.
Daily check-in times are 4 p.m. at the Montgomery Riverfront Park. The weigh-ins will be held at Union Station beginning at 5 p.m. each day.
On the water coverage begins Friday morning with the Live Blog, BASSTrakk, BASSCam videos and photos. Dave Mercer’s Live Video updates will air at 10 a.m.and 1 p.m. CT each day. Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona will host Hooked Up! shows at 5 p.m. each day leading into the live weigh-ins.