MANY, La. — In one sense, most bass tournaments are won by someone catching a big fish. But the Evan Williams Bourbon Elite Series Tournament at Toledo Bend has taken that to a higher degree of certainty than normal.
To recognize that, all you had to do was listen to the anglers who made the Top 12 cut for Sunday's final. Jared Lintner, who moved from fourth place to third with 17 pounds, 8 ounces, is a good example. Lintner's marshall kept count of the casts he made Saturday.
"I made 1,700 pitches, caught eight and missed two," he said. "That's 10 bites in 1,700 pitches. It's brutal. Today was even more of a grind (than yesterday). I caught a 5 ½-pounder yesterday and a 6 today. Without that big one, I'd have had like 12 pounds today." (See Lintner's day on the water here.)
Mark Davis is another example. He moved from 8th place to 7th with 15-14.
"I caught a 5-pounder with 30 minutes to go," he said. "That made a huge difference. I went from 12 pounds to 15 pounds."
And, of course, the prime example is Dean Rojas, who had Saturday's big bass of 7 pounds, 2 ounces, which gave him 17-14 on the day, and a first place three-day total of 62-11.
"I told myself, that's a game-changer," said Rojas. "Without that, I've got 10 pounds."
That's why anyone in the Top 12 can win Sunday. Only 8 ¼ pounds separates first from 12th.
"Those big fish don't bite for me every day," said Davis. "But I could bust a 30-pound bag so easy."
As could probably anyone else. It's just that no one has any confidence in doing so. If that sounds like the winner Sunday will have to be lucky, well, that's not exactly true. Of the top 12 anglers in Friday's standings, 10 of them made Sunday's final. Those guys have figured out something over the past three days. But, yeah, there will be some luck involved Sunday.
Skeet Reese admitted he "stumbled on" to the 8-pound, 3-ounce big bass Friday. It helped move him from 28th place into fifth place Friday. He only dropped one spot Saturday, so he's got something working for him.
Although some key players, like Davis and Randall Tharp (4th place, 58-6) aren't looking at spawning beds and casting to them, they are keying on the late spawn taking place at Toledo Bend and everywhere else in the U.S. seemingly.
"I'm looking for hard spots in a void of grass," Davis said. "Bass are spawning there and some are hanging around after they've spawned. Bluegill are bedding there too, so there's a lot going on."
On Friday, Tharp mentioned the new wave of spawners moving in. He's catching them going and coming in aquatic vegetation growing from six-foot depths to the surface. But for the most part, he's pitching to targets in the grass; he can't see the fish.
The hottest day of the week is coming Sunday. It's supposed to reach the high 80s. That won't do anything to slow the new wave.
Finally, Scott Rook didn't make the Top 12 cut, but he rallied from 46th place to finish 17th with 19-12 Saturday.
"I know exactly what I'd do if I was fishing (Sunday)," Rook said. "I'd go sight-fishing."
Rook spotted a tiny spawning bed that had a decent fish on it Friday. He went back to look at it Saturday, and found something new nearby.
"There was a big bed, it was about 2 ½- or 3-feet in diameter, where they'd just cleaned out the grass. They'd just come up. There's no doubt there are still fish coming."
And there's no predicting who will stumble upon Sunday's game-changer.