GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Before the last day of every Classic, questions invariably surface.
At the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, they include: Will the leader's pattern or location hold up? Will he stub his toe and leave the door open for a hungry challenger? Or will he close the deal and cement his place in bass fishing history?
We'll have to wait until Sunday evening for the answers. But here are one pundit's thoughts on the dynamics that could come into play on the competition's final day.
This one's omnipresent on the list of contributing factors. It's the single most influential component in fishing. Know the weather, and you'll know the fish.
Weather changes have dominated Classic Week. It started with a frigid practice, warmed rapidly over four days, turned cold again after a front brought heavy rain and thunderstorms Thursday night, and now it's warm again. The forecast calls for a warmer night tonight — mid 40s compared to low 30s Friday night — and a high temperature near 70 degrees with calm winds Sunday.
How will that affect the fish? During the Day 2 weigh-in, numerous anglers said the fish are on the move in a big way. How shallow will they be? Will their backs be showing? Will they still be in deeper staging areas? Or somewhere in between?
Anglers who can adjust quickly — not just from Day 2 to Day 3, but from hour to hour and maybe even minute to minute — will keep themselves in the conversation until the Super Six take the stage Sunday.
2. Dark horses
It happens almost every year: An angler comes from off the pace to challenge the leaders. Remember Hank Cherry's final day on Grand Lake last year? And here at Lake Guntersville, odds are better than even that an angler who looks like an also-ran will make a strong run.
With the number of behemoths that have hit the scales in Birmingham the past two days, who can deny that the possibility exists on Sunday? Need more proof? B.A.S.S. Nation angler Paul Mueller did it here Saturday. Mueller had just over 9 1/2 pounds Friday, and now he's among the leaders with a single-day Classic record of 32-3 on Saturday.
Spectator traffic has ranged from moderate to intense on Lake Guntersville. There were more spectator boats than usual for the first day of a Classic, but Saturday's flotillas were surprisingly smaller than expected. There were still a lot of boats around the leaders on Day 2, but it wasn't the chaotic scene that many pundits expected to see.
Like the weather, that's subject to change. Sunday's forecast calls for beautiful weather, which may bring more fans to the water. And with the Classic picture in sharper focus, spectators know who's in contention and likely will be in hot pursuit of the leaders.
With wall-to-wall coverage of the Classic, even the absence of spectators can have an effect. When the flotillas disappear around an angler, it isn't unreasonable to suspect that fans have read reports of other anglers' successes and decided to chase another contender. That can have a negative impact on an angler's psyche.
4. X factors
This is a catch-all for the many things that could go wrong for the leaders. Stuff happens. Just ask Randall Tharp, the Day 1 leader who fell to second Saturday.
Tharp's lower unit went out Saturday morning, costing him precious time on the water and possibly the lead. Tharp reacted well to adversity, however, but that's not always the case. Who can forget some of Mike Iaconelli's colossal meltdowns in the face of adversity?
You can't prepare for unexpected setbacks like busted trolling motors, but you can react to them in a way that keeps your head in the right place.
There's nothing like the final day of the Classic. For the anglers in contention, it's the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the ninth inning in game seven of the World Series, and the final round of a prizefight all rolled into one.
All of the factors outlined here contribute to the stress. Some anglers perform well under pressure; others do not. Most of the contenders wouldn't be here if they didn't react well to this kind of pressure cooker. But the anglers who respond the best no doubt will have an edge on Sunday.