STOCKTON, Calif. — How challenging have the first two days of practice been for the 2010 Elite Series TroKar Duel in the Delta?
This challenging: "This is the toughest I've ever seen the Delta this time of year, dude. It's a grind."
Source: Skeet Reese, 20-plus-year Delta veteran.
More? How about this: "Tough. It's been tough."
Source: Gary Klein, 37-year Delta veteran.
The Duel field can thank a three-day series of low-pressure fronts blowing in from the Pacific Ocean for that. After being hammered by 25-mph winds on Monday, Klein, Reese and the rest of the competitors buckled down for more wind-swept scouting on Tuesday, and they got what they were expecting.
Sustained 10- to 15-mph winds continued to plague the anglers preparing for the first stop in the California leg of the 2010 Elite schedule, turning the second round of practice into a bit of a scramble to make up for lost time.
"Anytime you have 20-, 30-mph winds, it makes it real hard to do much of anything," Klein said Tuesday. "Today it was in the high teens and into the 20s, so, yeah, it was a grind. I might sound sick in saying this, but, I kinda like it."
Klein chuckled a little as he said that, but, after fishing this waterway for nearly 40 years, he hit on the ray of hope that every member of the field is clinging to heading into Wednesday's final practice.
"This place can show itself real, real fast, because these fish are healthy," he said. "If you find something in this weather, it really means something. I prefer it when not everybody is out there whacking 'em everywhere they stop. I kinda prefer to grind out five or six bites a day."
Fellow Northern California native Ish Monroe, whom many of the Elite pros are picking as the favorite to win this tournament, wasn't as enthusiastic about the grind-it-out routine.
"It wasn't supposed to be this cold in the forecast — why do the weathermen have to lie to us like that?" Monroe said, noting the morning's patchy frost. "That wind is moving pretty good, and it's a little bit tougher than I thought it was going to be, to tell you the truth. For me, I'm just going to be concentrating on finding the biggest concentrations of fish and staying on them."
The rest of the week, fortunately, is shaping up to be much more similar to the mild forecast Monroe was referring to. The forecast for Thursday's first day of competition is a 65-degree, flat-calm sunny day.
"We're just revisiting a very fickle, very difficult Delta right now, so about all a guy can do is stay confident, stay optimistic and drive around a lot," Texas pro Byron Velvick said. "There are a lot of variables here, but, when the tournament starts, it just depends on what you saw: If you liked the water color, if you liked the wood, if you liked the grass. If you found something you felt good about, you just have to go back and fish it."
Tabling the tides: A quick glance at the tide book for the week shows that tidal movement throughout the San Joaquin and Sacramento river systems is relatively small this week.
Small as in tidal swing. Not so small in the minds of most of the pros competing for $100,000 check.
"I spent three days at home fishing (the Arkansas River delta), which is similar to here but shallower, to help prepare for this," said Louisiana river rat Greg Hackney, who finished 10th in the 2007 Delta event. "My thinking in practice is, if you go into an area and feel like it's got 'em, it's best to come back and check it on a different tide.
"I primarily fished two areas last time we were out here. On one, the lower periods of the tide were best, and the last two hours of the high tide were best on the other one. You had about four hours in each place where the tide was best."
The Elite field will be fishing roughly three hours on a 1-foot ebb as they blast off for the first day of competition Thursday, with a tide change at 10 a.m. pushing a 2- to 2.4-foot swing into a two-hour high slack tide between 2 and 4 p.m. throughout most of the system.
That's a significant softening from as recently as a week ago, when 4 ½-foot high tides followed the full moon.
"This time of year, the tide doesn't matter as much as it does in the summer," said Aaron Martens, who's fished this waterway for 17 years and won the 2007 Duel with 85 pounds, 12 ounces. "To me, it's just like being a little kid reading a book. The first time you try to read it and you're 2 years old, it's pretty hard. You read the same book when you're 11, and it's pretty easy."
But with the bigger majority of the allotted fishing time on Thursday and Friday occurring during a rising or high tide, many of the Elite pros have spent much of their time trying to get a better handle on the tidal influence in the spots they identify as fishy.
"There are certain areas here where (the tide) is critical," said Kevin VanDam, who finished sixth here in 2007. "It's not that one tide is better than another, it's just that when you find something in practice, it's important to figure out what the tide is doing at that time so you can fish it right when you come back to that (spot)."
That is, of course, unless the wind is pushing the tide backwards, like it was much of the first two days of practice. Monday's low-pressure system, which brought 25-mph winds throughout the cuts and open sloughs of the Delta, effectively held the tide at a standstill in certain parts of the fishery that are the most exposed, making it virtually impossible to run spots on both high and low tides.
"The wind was blowing onshore all day, and it just pushes all the water right back in," said Arizona pro Dean Rojas on Monday. "When the tide was trying to go out, the wind was trying to push it back. We had a high tide almost the whole day. The last few hours, it was finally starting to recede."