LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — Seven pounds and 12 ounces. In most tournaments, that would be a difficult amount of weight to make up. But the Bassmaster Legends, the final Major of the 2006 season, hasn't played like the usual tournament.
In fact, recovering that 7-pound, 12-ounce margin of difference seems quite attainable to Gerald Swindle, the man who sits in sixth place during the final day of this event. Shaw Grigsby is the leader and the man Swindle and company are shooting for today on this six-hole course laid out on the Arkansas River.
Grigsby, a tour veteran from Gainesville, Fla., seized the lead Saturday when 12 Elite anglers battled. Surviving the final cut were hometown favorite Scott Rook (7 pounds, 14 ounces), fellow Arkansasan Kevin Short (5-11), former Arkansasan Greg Hackney (4-2), Texas' Gary Klein (4-1) and Swindle (3-9), who is from Alabama.
Those were the weights posted Saturday after totals were zeroed Friday night. The angler with the highest two-day weight total after Sunday's action will pocket $250,000. And as Swindle said, it's entirely realistic that any of the six men could win the tournament.
"Look, this thing is wide open," he said. "Shaw had something worked out yesterday. That's what I'm going to keep looking for."
Swindle's optimism is rooted in reality. The Arkansas River has proved to be an extremely difficult fishery this week. High water temperatures, little cloud cover and a non-existent current have slacked the bite and made zeroes more plentiful than limits. But with that in mind, the anglers know it's possible (not likely, but possible) that Grigsby could draw some of the same poor luck Sunday and leave the door open for one of his peers to claim the championship.
Of course, Grigsby knows that too and is doing everything he can to establish a pattern similar to the one that vaulted him into the lead Saturday. Grigsby caught each of his four keepers in Hole No. 5 Saturday and, not surprisingly, chose to head to that hole to begin Sunday's rotation.
"You react to the conditions you're given," he said. "Honestly, if I don't catch one there, it's going to be a long day. I only had one keeper bite anywhere else yesterday (a fish he lost.) So I have to execute perfectly today. I can't afford to lose a fish, miss a fish. So that's the key. There's nothing else. I can get beat easy. Rook can pass me, Hackney can pass me. This is a great, great pool. You can catch a 15-pound stringer in a heartbeat. It's not fishing strong right now, so I don't think that will happen. But I had the opportunity to do it. So it can definitely be done."
Grigsby, who is leading a BASS tournament for the first time this season, said he's excited about the possibility of winning an event.
"I've fished a lot of tournaments in my life, where you're fishing for a lot of money," he said. "Fortunately, I've been out here a long time where I can say 'Ok. We can do this.' Hopefully I can catch one or two keepers. The first one is going to be really key for me. I may go Iaconelli when I get that one and let out a 'Yeah, baby!'"
Hackney is equally enthusiastic about his chances. After scrapping together a mixed bag of bass during the first day of the tournament Thursday, he boated the biggest total Friday and located some suspended fish in Hole No. 3 late Saturday. He'll head there hoping to bag those fish first thing this morning.
"The morning bite hasn't been key for me, but that's why I'm going there first, hoping to get something going," he said. "I had a big one that came off. If I can get one or two out of there, that would be huge. I know the potential of it. I may be completely wrong, but I think this thing is wide open."
Klein, who is rooming with Grigsby this week, said they shared some information about their catches during practice, but decided to head to opposite ends of the river system when the tournament began. Klein said he wouldn't mind seeing Grigsby win the Bassmaster Legends, but is aiming to pass him on the leaderboard, nonetheless. He'll begin Sunday on Hole No. 2 whiich is adjacent to the downtown ramp where the elites have been launching.
"I caught my first keeper there yesterday," Klein said. "I saw (Mike) McClelland catch a keeper in there early yesterday … So I want to get a shot on that point, some of this rip rip."
Klein said despite the small sacks that have been weighed throughout the week, he knows the possibility of catching a sizable bag exists. After all, he saw his roommate do just that Saturday.
"We're fishing a tough tournament," he said. "We've all done it before. But the fish are there. It gives us more determination to figure out the fish. It's definitely Shaw's to win....But you never know how it's going to work out. I've seen bigger leads go away."
Rook, who has a lifetime of experience fishing on the Arkansas River, figures to be the man with the best chance to catch Grigsby. Rook struggled Saturday morning, but his bite turned on just before noon. He boated three fish and would like to at least duplicate that to close the tournament.
"I think I figured something out," Rook said. "I tried to make them deep. I was throwing crank baits and spinner baits and buzz baits. Yesterday afternoon, I started flipping and started catching them. They were shallow, up in the grass."
Short, who lives in nearby Mayflower, Ark., also has a keen knowledge of the Arkansas River and will begin his day in Hole No. 6. He said there is deep grass and sand bars there that could trigger quality bites. He'll need them to make up the nearly six-pound deficit Grigsby put on him Saturday.
Short welcomes the challenge.
"Anybody can win this thing," he said. "Who's in sixth place, Gerald? He can win it if he gets five quality bites. It can be very easy for everyone in front of him to egg (zero)."
Weigh-in will begin at 4:30 p.m EST at the State House Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.