DEL RIO, Texas — Ish Monroe's four-day, 20-bass total of 104 pounds, 8 ounces, supplied the fireworks for a rousing start to the Bassmaster Elite Series a year ago on Lake Amistad. Although the bass haven't moved onto spawning beds like they had during that tournament, some pros are predicting the winning total could be even bigger this year.
"I think it might take less weight to draw a check, but more weight to win it," Alton Jones said as the anglers gathered to sign autographs and pose for photos Wednesday at the Del Rio Civic Center. The first day of the four-day Battle on the Border is Thursday.
Monroe, who is from Hughson, Calif., liked Lake Amistad so much last year he has since bought a house near the lake.
"It's the best big-bass lake in the country," said Monroe, who will be trying to repeat for the $100,000 first-place prize. "You can't go out on this lake and try to catch a limit. You've got to fish for the big ones."
Jones lives in Waco, only a five-hour drive from this 67,000-acre impoundment located on the Texas-Mexico border. After fishing it for the first time a year ago, Jones had made this his "home lake" of sorts.
"I probably fished it 35 days during the off-season," Jones said. "I didn't catch any monsters, but I caught plenty of 7- to 9-pounders."
Monroe weighed three 9-pounders among his 20-bass total a year ago, and two pros tied for big bass honors with 10-5 lunkers. There are bigger bass in the lake. In fact, Terry Scroggins caught a 14- to 15-pounder on the lake during practice.
But they will be caught in the pre-spawn mode during this tournament. That's why Jones thinks 100 pounds will be topped again, but lesser weight than a year ago will put you in the money.
Amistad is a deep, clear lake and therefore slow to warm. Although temperatures are predicted to be in the 80s all week, it's been an unusually cold winter. Del Rio even got snowfall in January, the first in almost a decade here.
"The fish are really grouping up now, getting ready to spawn," Jones said "You can go long stretches without getting a bite. But when you do find those big fish, you can make five casts and load the boat."
Jones said he found a pattern to do just that during practice this week. But with the warm weather predicted for the tournament, there will probably be subtle changes in that pattern each day.
Jones has found water surface temperatures around 55 degrees in the mornings. A year ago, the water was about 10 degrees warmer and the spawn was in full swing.
"They are just one step back from that right now," Jones said. "When it gets right, they are going to come on like a herd of elephants."
You might see some of those "elephants" at the Diablo East Marina, where the anglers will take off and weigh-in during the tournament.