FLORENCE, Ala. — Bassmaster tournament officials turned on the public address system for Saturday's take-off, kicking off the morning with Luke Bryan's song, "Rain is a Good Thing."
Next, anglers and fans heard the voice of Forrest Gump: "We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain, and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath."
Rain was on everyone's mind Saturday morning, and for good reason. A strong storm system developed across the South last night, and weather forecasts are calling for abundant rain and scattered thunderstorms across northwest Alabama.
As anglers assembled for take-off Saturday morning, low gray clouds obscured the sunrise, and strong gusts of wind chopped the surface of the Florence Harbor.
"I don't mind the rain," said Mike Iaconelli, who sits in fourth place with 34 pounds, 10 ounces, a little more than 4 pounds off the lead. "But lightning messes with my head. I think the weather will help the fishing but hurt the fishermen today. It's hard to fish well when you're constantly looking over your shoulder."
Anglers will be wise to keep an eye on the sky as well as the water today. The National Weather Service has issued a Tornado Watch effective until 11 a.m., and a Flash Flood Watch remains in effect through late Sunday.
Radar showed a line of strong storms — the same line that spawned tornados to the west in Arkansas Friday night – moving into western Alabama just as anglers idled out of the harbor into the main part of Pickwick Lake.
"Keep an eye on things," tournament director Trip Weldon cautioned. "It looks like we might catch the southern end of this thing."
Light rain started falling shortly after anglers hit the water, but no severe weather had materialized an hour into the tournament day. But that seems likely to change. And with changing weather conditions come changing fishing conditions.
"It's going to be a little bit different day, maybe a lot different," said Cliff Pace, who's in second place with 35-9.
One weather-related change today will be the lake's water level. The Tennessee Valley Authority had been dropping Pickwick's level overnight, ostensibly preparing for the deluge forecast for today and Sunday. The rip rap lining the harbor showed water had dropped a foot or more.
But tournament leader Kevin Short didn't mind the falling water. Short has posted a two-day total of 38-13 for a 3 ¼-pound lead on Pace by fishing a backwater area that features a shallow channel leading into a deeper pocket of water in the back of a tributary.
"I think it will work out better for me," Short said. "I think it will pull more fish off the bank out to the middle. They have to move or they'll be dry."
Iaconelli also liked the dropping water.
"I'd like more of that," said Iaconelli, who's fishing off-shore structure with crankbaits and jigs. "It gets the fish moving to the places I'm fishing. They start to feel that water fall, and they say, 'Let's get out of here.' Hopefully that will send them to the places I'm hitting."
Iaconelli said he's concentrating on four or five spots where post-spawn bass are staging before adopting summer patterns.
"The key is being in the areas they're coming to," he said.
Anglers have had no problems finding fish, with most reporting incredible catch rates and everyone returning to the dock with limits of bass. But quality bites have been rarer.
"You can do one or two things," Iaconelli said. "You just have to keep working through the small ones until you get a couple of the bigger bites. Or you can throw bigger baits and follow the whole 'big bait, big fish theory' you always hear about."
Regardless of whether rain and storms materialize, clouds will be a factor today.
"The last couple of days, fish have been real tight to wood cover with the bright sun," Short said. "Yesterday, I could literally call my shots. But it's not going to be like that today. They're going to be scattered and roaming."
Iaconelli had mixed emotions about the clouds.
"Typically, they bite better when it's like this," he said. "But deep structure fishermen like the sun because it puts the fish on cover."
Despite the changing conditions today, Short said he'll stick with the plan that has put him in the lead over the first two days.
"There is no Plan B," he said. "We're going to ride this thing into the dirt."