2012 Elite Series Green Bay Challenge Lake Michigan - Green Bay, WI, Jun 28 - Jul 1, 2012

The most crucial day for AOY?

Green Bay Challenge living up to its billing

James Overstreet
Current AOY race leader Brent Chapman plans to join the crowd at Sturgeon Bay for Day Two in search of points.

GREEN BAY, Wis. — "Titletown, USA" is living up to its nickname.

Day Two of the Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge could well be the most important of any this season in deciding the 2012 Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title.

For all the justifiable moaning and groaning caused by the Wisconsin Department of Resources boundary of Lake Michigan's tournament waters, it made for a fascinating opening day of the tournament.

Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., took the lead with a five-bass limit weighing exactly 20 pounds. But Martens is among those practically bumping boats in the crowd assembled at the northern boundary, near Little Sturgeon Bay.

Adding to the intrigue, Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., stayed minutes from the launch site in the Fox River and caught 18-1, which was good enough for eighth place Thursday.

"I caught 18 pounds in a half-hour or 40 minutes," said Martens. "I threw back a lot of 3 ½-pounders. They're getting beat up.

"I think the weights will have to drop considerably. I can't see myself catching 20 pounds again. I had to catch 50 or 60 fish to get that."

Biffle caught about that many bass as well in reaching his total, but he didn't have to burn nearly as much gas as the estimated 80 anglers in a 98-man field that made the 35-mile-run to the boundary just south of Sturgeon Bay.

And Biffle had the advantage of arriving first at his spot just below De Pere Dam. He may be the only angler who has staked out an area in this tournament.

He can demand that area of the Fox River on Friday, based on the unofficial courtesies of Elite Series anglers.

But he doesn't plan to stay there for four days.

"I think it would be hard-pressed to hold up that long," Biffle said.

"But if I could catch them tomorrow and end up in good shape, that's what I'm looking for."

Then Biffle might join the gang near Little Sturgeon Bay, after the field has been cut to the top 49 for Saturday.

That would give him a little more room to move than anyone had there on Thursday.

Nobody could stake out a spot there on Day One, as anglers kept rotating through the prime areas.

It has practically evolved into a "hole tournament" there — a format where each angler is limited to a certain amount of time on different parts of a lake.

"We're all fishing the same rock for the same fish," said Bill Lowen of Brookville, Ind., in summing up the circus that is Little Sturgeon Bay.

Lots of fish were caught shallow there on Day One. But Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who is 39th with 13-4, predicted that won't happen with the same frequency Friday. Horton guessed that about eight of the top 10 Thursday caught their bass shallow, but most of those fish took a boat ride back to the Metro Boat Launch in Green Bay, where they got weighed and released.

"I couldn't believe that I got to use those Power-Poles to catch a couple of those big ones today," said Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., who is 16th with 16-8.

Friday has the potential to be the biggest single-day shakeup of the leaderboard all season. Just because someone caught them Thursday, may not mean anything Friday.

"This thing is going to change," said Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., who is 27th with 14-10. "They don't have to swim very far to really throw you a curveball."

Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., was a testament to that hypothesis. Elias weighed only one 2-pound, 1-ounce bass, which left him in 95th place.

There's a definite line across Lake Michigan, which the Wisconsin DNR inexplicably established, for this tournament. It runs west to east from the mouth of the Oconto River to the Sherwood Point Lighthouse, just south of Sturgeon Bay.

The tournament anglers have been instructed to rely on GPS waypoints in treating that line like a brick wall — don't even cast a line across it. So Elias threw out a marker buoy at the line Thursday, in an area where he caught bass big-time in practice.

"I'm pretty sure they swam across the line," Elias said. "I caught 20 pounds in about 15 minutes there on the first day of practice. I know they got out in that eight- to 10-foot of water and crossed the line.

"I'll go back in the morning to see if the school is there. If it is, I can catch 18 to 20 pounds real quick. Of course, I can't catch up. But at least I'll get some points."

And in this next-to-last event on the schedule, it's all about the points. AOY leader Brent Chapman of Lake Quivera, Kan., and third-ranked Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., chose to play it safe Thursday and stay in the Fox River, fearing wind would make for a rough day in getting to Little Sturgeon Bay and back.

Chapman survived, with 13-14, which left him in 33rd place; Howell wasn't so lucky.

"That hurt," said Howell, who is 68th with 9-8. "It's all about decisions, and I made a wrong choice."

Both Chapman and Howell are going to make the long run and join the crowd to the north Friday.

"I was really playing the card that the wind was going to make it really tough," Chapman said. "I'm heading out there tomorrow because I've got to catch a bigger bag to have a shot at this thing."

Ordinarily, Chapman would be met with disapproval from his fellow anglers for showing up in a spot that he hadn't fished the day before.

But that's just it — no one has established any territory there; everyone is rotating through the same places, trying to be there at the right time, or catch bass with a different technique than the angler before them.

"If anyone has a place staked out, I'll just have to fish around them," Chapman said.

This situation will make for plenty of sleepless anglers Thursday night. Do you switch from a five-blade prop, which is best for rough water, or do you stick with a three-blade prop, which is best for speed?

Rookie Chris Zaldain of San Jose, Calif., said he passed 11 boats on the journey north Thursday, when the wind speed in Green Bay registered one-mile-per-hour at 7:30 a.m.

Being there first made a difference, according to him.

"I'm throwing swimbaits and having a blast," said Zaldain, who is in a three-way-tie for 10th place with 16-13.

Martens said he ran his boat at 71-miles-per-hour both up and back Thursday.

"I'm hoping we can get two days like that maybe," he said. "What do you think?"

The weather forecasters think the wind will blow 15 miles-per-hour Friday from the west-southwest. As long as it's not blowing directly from the north or south, the wind shouldn't be a problem.

For all the anglers worried about beating up the same fish and leaving them reluctant to bite, Biffle had the ultimate story.

He caught a bass Thursday that had a long piece of fishing line hanging from its mouth. Biffle quickly clipped off the biggest portion of the line before putting the fish in his livewell.

About an hour later, he caught a bigger bass, which allowed him to cull the bass with the line hanging from its mouth.

And about an hour after that, Biffle caught the same unmistakable bass again, on the same lure he caught it on the first time.

"He was either really hungry or extremely stupid," laughed Biffle.

It all adds up to a most interesting Friday in Titletown, USA.

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