ZAPATA, TEXAS – Two things were certain Thursday morning during the take-off of the first day of the 2013 Elite Series Rigid Industries Falcon Slam.
One, the place was crowded with boat trailers in parking lots and also with boats on the water.
And two, the guys who took off first at 7:30 a.m. read like a Who's Who in the bass fishing world.
Consider the first 10 guys leaving this morning – Bill Lowen, Cliff Pace, Davy Hite, Randy Howell, Brent Chapman, Matt Reed, Marty Robinson, Tommy Biffle, Keith Poche and Bobby Lane. In that number, you'll find guys who have won Bassmaster Classics and Angler of the Year Awards and numerous pro events. You also have a couple of guys who many are thinking have perhaps the best chance to win this derby because of their familiarity with the fishery.
Normally, a chance to be first on a body of water such as Falcon Lake would be like winning the lottery. After all, the place has produced the heaviest winning total in Bassmaster Elite Series history and is world-renowned for its ability to produce 10-pounders, and larger – WAY larger.
But most pros this week have said they don't expect the same 100-pound totals this week, or if that IS the winning weight, most think it won't be much larger. They say the water level has been down, and the fish aren't moved fully offshore yet this year.
Of course, they could be pulling everyone's collective legs, trying to keep the biggest of the fish for themselves, but their comments by and large dictate otherwise.
So make that three certainties at today's take-off – no one is certain how this hallowed lake is going to play.
"If you were fishing offshore, it would probably help you to have the Number 1 spot," Lowen said while preparing to back down Thursday morning. "But I haven't found anything really out there, so I'm just going to be flipping all day. I don't know if the Number 1 helps me at all."
What if the tournament was being held a few weeks later and the water a few feet higher? Some have suggested that might continue the legendary bite at Falcon.
"It all depends," he said. "Later would be better because the fish would be more out on the offshore structure. That's where it may be the biggest key. But whatever it is, it is. All we can do is fish."
Cliff Pace, the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion who took off second Thursday morning, reiterated Lowen's take – with a caveat.
"The early draw would be great if you can find what you need to find," Pace said. "I've had a pretty good practice. It's never a bad thing to have an early draw, but you see the thing is, you only have a chance to do that twice in a season....I said when I won the Classic that it wasn't go to change me and how I fished, but I lied. I kind of spent my entire practice offshore here to find fish to win. And I just never did put that together. Last year, I would have spent more time fishing shallow, trying to find a pattern. But I have a few places offshore ... I'm going to go try them and see how it works. If it doesn't, I'll have to lay down and go flipping."
Chapman, the 2012 Toyota Angler of the Year, said he wishes he would have some special spot he could hit early. Didn't happen, he said.
"I wish I had something awesome that I could have started on," said Chapman, who went off fifth. "I don't really have that so it's not as exciting. At this point, I'd rather be in that last flight both days so I can have that extra half hour to 45 minutes of fishing time. But, it is what it is. And at least I know if I do know where I want to start, I should be able to get there first."
And how about you, Matt Reed? You fish on this lake for approximately 80 days a year and are a pre-tournament favorite, for sure. Does starting sixth in the Falcon Slam help you?
"It's funny," the Madisonville, Texas, pro said. "I really wanted an early draw before I got here, but it's kind of confused me. I have a spot where I think I gamble and catch a really big size. But I think I'm going to stay somewhat safe and hopefully I can get on it later. When we came in here, I really thought I'd have a school of fish to go to that would make me happy to have an early draw. Then I got it and it was like 'Man, that one spot has some big ones, I know it has some big ones.’ But I'm going to wait, maybe that's just too big a gamble.
"I may have to try to get a good sack and then go over there and try for the really big ones."
Reed knows that if he waits to go for the spot he feels has the biggest fish, he's taking a huge risk of losing it to a competitor.
"You're darn right that can happen," he said. "These guys don't miss anything."