Evers' ring of fire
A good sense of feel is critical to a bass angler, especially one in search of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. So when a strange accident put Edwin Evers' sense of touch in jeopardy before the Bassmaster Elite Series Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at the St. Lawrence River, you can bet he was "feeling" it.
"I was putting a new battery in my boat," he said Wednesday, at the pre-tournament anglers' meeting. "I had a ratchet in my hand, and it touched the positive and negative posts. My ring was touching the ratchet. It busted a piece out of that titanium ring. It was on fire. You can see my finger where it burned all the way around it."
The burn was so painful that Evers had to take his wedding ring off, and he wasn't able to put it back on again until Saturday, Day 3 of the tournament. By that time he had finished in 25th place (in fact, he was in 25th at the end of each competition day, posting remarkably steady limits weighing 18-7, 18-10 and 18-0).
"I had the opportunity to have some better bags than I did," Evers said Saturday. "With that said, I feel fortunate to get out of here where I finished."
He leaves the St. Lawrence with a 30-point lead in the AOY race over 2005 AOY Aaron Martens and is 39 points better than seven-time champ Kevin VanDam.
"It's all in my hands. If I go in and have a Top 12 finish (at Lake St. Clair), I'm Angler of the Year."
Speaking of hands, with his wedding band back in place, Evers could demonstrate the force of the electricity that turned his ring into glowing hot metal earlier in the week. On one outside surface, there was a small, uniform indention, as if a fine-tipped soldering iron had been touched to it. On the opposite outside surface of the ring, a chunk of metal was gone, leaving a jig-sawed gap.
"It was electricity that caused that," Evers said of the missing chunk. "It didn't hit anything. The electricity came out there.
"Can you imagine how hot that got, and what it did to my finger? I got it off in a hurry. That sucker was red hot."
But not as hot as Evers has been in 2013.
Upstate New York shows off
It would be difficult to pick a winner in the competition among the superlatives that came from Waddington, New York, and the St. Lawrence River last week.
1. Was it the fishing, which produced big smallmouth bass and lots of them?
Of the 99 Elite Series anglers, only six failed to catch a five-bass limit on both Day One and Day Two. And Brandon Palaniuk's winning total of 88 pounds, 12 ounces says everything you need to know about the size fish it took to win — that's a 4 ½-pound average, for smallmouth bass.
As Britt Myers put it one day, "This is the Zapata, Texas, (i.e. Falcon Lake) of smallmouth bass fishing."
2. Was it the B.A.S.S. record setting crowds that showed up for the weigh-in and the other activities at Waddington?
No one expected attendance records to be broken here, especially after Orange, Texas, set new marks during the Sabine River Challenge, the first event of the season. The population of Waddington is only 2,200. Official attendance for Saturday's events alone was over 14,000, including 6,500 for the weigh-in.
3. Was it the hospitality?
That may be No. 1. On the Elite Series tour, there are many proud men from the South, where hospitality isn't taken for granted. Numerous anglers mentioned it onstage, but J Todd Tucker said it best: "We pride ourselves on this in Georgia, but this is the best hospitality I've seen anywhere I've ever been. I'm not just saying that. Ya'll are all welcome at my house anytime."
(But you might want to call ahead before showing up at that high-dollar quail hunting plantation where Tucker hangs out in the offseason.)
You constantly hear Elite Series anglers talking about decisions – both good ones and bad ones. Fish shallow or fish deep? Run down the lake or up the river? And countless others.
But the St. Lawrence River and nearby Lake Ontario presented the toughest decision of any tournament this season. As Kevin VanDam said, "I've been torn all week about whether to go to the lake. But taking a gamble on a really long run was something I didn't want to do."
VanDam has a Bassmaster Classic berth sewn up. He's still in the AOY race, too. His decision had more considerations than Brandon Palaniuk's. Palaniuk had to go all-in and take the long run to the lake – come hell or high water (high winds and 6-foot waves).
Not many anglers thought you could get to Lake Ontario and back four days in a row. It was a 220-mile daily round trip for Palaniuk.
During the Hooked Up session before Sunday's weigh-in, Tommy Sanders asked Keith Combs, who finished 23rd, whether he would have changed his decision to stay in the river, if he had a chance for a do-over.
"It's a huge gamble," Combs said. "I don't know that many guys would have changed (their decisions) and tried to go there all four days."
Palaniuk noted that his best decision was the one he made on Wednesday's final practice day. For the Monday and Tuesday practice days, he had camped in a park near Lake Ontario. He'd found big smallmouth without having to make the run from Waddington. Wednesday, he finalized his plan by making that run on what turned out to be the roughest water of the week.
"There were 8-foot waves at the mouth (of the river)," Palaniuk said. "I'm glad I did that. It gave me the confidence to know I could get there and back."
Perched on a Rookie of the Year title
Clifford Pirch has flown under the radar for most of his Elite Series rookie season. Fellow rookie Jason Christie was the big story early, when he followed an FLW win at Beaver Lake with an Elite Series win at Bull Shoals. Hank Cherry has been a big story, too, ever since he introduced himself to the B.A.S.S. world with his third place finish at the Classic.
But it's Pirch, a 37-year-old Payson, Ariz., resident, who looks young enough to pass for 25, sitting atop the Elite Series rookie standings going into St. Clair. With his fourth place finish last week, which was his second straight Top 12 cut, Pirch has a 14-point lead over Cherry in what is essentially a two-man Rookie of the Year race. (Christie is third, 58 points behind.)
In the unofficial contest for most interesting note in the 2013 Bassmaster media guide, Pirch has that title wrapped up, with the following:
"I bought my first truck, a Toyota pickup, with money I made collecting and selling elk antler sheds in high school. Ironically, it was a giant bull elk that led to the truck's demise a few years later when it ran across the highway in front of me."