PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — It doesn't get much weirder than this on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Here's a brief sampling of the wacky-fest that occurred on Day 1 at the Delaware River: KVD zeroed, Duckett slammed 'em, Elias snagged a condom, Hite hooked a snakehead, Skeet spent at least part of the day on the beach.
— Kevin VanDam didn't catch one 12-inch bass.
When the weigh-in was complete, VanDam hadn't crossed the stage. At the very bottom of the standings – tied for 101st place with five other anglers who didn't catch a keeper and with an assist from the alphabet, there it was – the name of the most decorated man in B.A.S.S. history, 106th out of a 106-man field.
Did he have mechanical difficulties? No.
"I just didn't catch one," said VanDam, in a telephone conversation post-weigh-in. "It's the tide. That's what is really challenging here. Being at the right place at the right time is critical."
VanDam noted that he'd zeroed a couple of times before in his B.A.S.S. history. But it's been awhile. The seven-time Angler of the Year had a streak of 29 consecutive top 50 finishes, an Elite Series record, that came to an end at the St. Johns River earlier this season. In 79 Elite Series events, VanDam has finished out of the top 50 only five times. So, yeah, when VanDam doesn't catch a keeper, it's highly unusual.
— At the top of the standings, after a weigh-in packed with 1 ½-pound bass, former Classic champion Boyd Duckett weighed a five-bass limit that totaled 16 pounds, 12 ounces. Duckett has a 4-pound, 12-ounce lead. To give you some idea how big a lead that is, only five pounds separates second place (Morizo Shimizu, 12-2) from 39th place (Brett Hite, 7-2).
Amazingly, Duckett, who had only six bites all day, is on a "big fish" pattern in a little fish river.
"I haven't caught a bass under two pounds since I got here," he said.
There were only 11 bags Thursday that topped 10 pounds. Brandon Card took big bass honors with a 4-3.
"I thought you'd see several 15-pound bags," Duckett said. "I've got a high tide pattern and a low tide pattern, so I can fish all day."
— Paul Elias hooked a prophylactic.
"It was a big ol' pink one," said the former Bassmaster Classic champ. "Fortunately, it fell off before I got it in the boat."
Elias caught it on a crankbait, but it wasn't a Mann's Hot Lips.
— Brett Hite thought he'd hooked a big smallmouth bass. "It was brown," Hite said. But as he reeled it to the boat, he saw that it was a snakehead, the aptly-named invasive species native to Africa and Asia. This isn't how it came to reside in the Delaware River, but snakeheads can breathe air and traverse dry land. Snakeheads have been known to eat frogs and rats. This one weighed 3 ½ pounds, Hite estimated.
— Skeet Reese, another former Classic champion, spent the first two hours of the tournament cleaning his boat while beached on a sand bar.
"I was high and dry for a couple of hours. I ran about 200 feet in water that was only this deep," said Reese, holding his thumb and forefinger about four inches apart. "Fifteen minutes later, I was high and dry."
The tide was still flowing out when Reese hit the beach. He had to wait until the tide completed its outward flow and came back up enough to float his boat before making his first cast of the day.
"I got bored and wiped my boat down," he said. "I watched Keith Combs catch one right in front of me. I made my first cast at 9 a.m."
Once he was back afloat, Reese salvaged his day by catching four keepers weighing 7-9 to put him in 32nd place. He's only three ounces behind reigning Angler of the Year Aaron Martens, who managed to catch only three keepers (but one good one – a 3-plus pounder). If Thursday's standings were final, Martens would be back in the AOY lead this year, and Mark Davis, the current leader, would fall to fourth. Davis finished in 67th place Thursday.
There may have been weirder days in Elite Series history, but no others come to mind.
The combination of a less-than-stellar bass fishery and a bite that is heavily influenced by a tide that changes the depth seven feet between high and low has made this one tricky river system. There were more failures than success stories, by a wide margin.
"The tide is unbelievable," said Bill Lowen, who is seventh with 11-1. "The most I've ever seen before is four feet. This is almost twice that."
Low tide fishes great, at least by Delaware River standards. Low tide at Philadelphia occurred Thursday at 5:48 a.m. and 5:54 p.m. The tournament started at 7 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. In other words, no fishing took place at the optimum times on Day 1 of the tournament.
"I've never seen a fishery where tide was so critical," said Alton Jones, another former Bassmaster Classic champion. "I had four fish at 9 o'clock and never got another bite."
Jones' four keepers weighed 7-4, leaving him in 37th place.
"High tide scatters the fish so much, it's like finding a needle in a haystack," he said.
Duckett has found the needles.
"I've got a high tide pattern," Duckett said. "That's when I caught my best fish."
Duckett's best weighed 3-13, but the other four were 3-pounders as well. One of those 3-pounders came late in the day, which allowed him to cull a 2-pounder. He had only six bites all day.
"That was a key moment," said Duckett of his only cull. "You know you've got about all the river can put out."
Duckett's 16-14 bag may well be the biggest of the tournament, although the changing tides times will shift in favor of the anglers as the tourney progresses. The low a.m. tide at Philadelphia is 6:46 Friday, 7:41 Saturday and 8:34 Sunday, combined with a full moon that evening.
Duckett said he discovered a big-fish pattern during practice, and he's stayed on it. So maybe he can top the standard he set Thursday. However, it seems unlikely that anyone can repeat anything on this tricky fishery.
"It's unpredictable out here," Duckett acknowledged.
VanDam certainly hopes this comes true, but it would be hard for anyone to argue his point when he said, "You'll see a major shake-up in the standings (Friday). You're going to see a lot of that."
In other words, it may get even weirder on the Delaware River this week.