WETUMPKA, Ala. — Kelly Jordon still isn't sure whether he got caught in a time warp, or just plain ran out of luck here during the opening day of the Berkley Powerbait Trophy Chase. Any way you cut it, the tournament on Lake Jordan started a day late for the Texas pro.
On Friday morning in the final practice round, Jordon hit a stretch of bank that yielded two bass that weighed more than 7 pounds. A bit farther along, two more spotted bass eagerly nailed the lure he was casting or pitching to shoreline cover.
By day's end, Jordon figured he could have caught 14 pounds of fish, counting the bass that he simply shook off or that hit a spinnerbait with the hook bent over. Small wonder Jordon was so excited when he left the landing at Lake Jordan Marina at 6:15 this morning.
By check-in time, however, Jordon's bubble had burst with a loud bang. He went to the weigh-in with three bass that totaled 4 pounds, 1 ounce, which put him in last place in the 12-man field, far behind first-day leader Tommy Biffle, who had 15 pounds.
"I don't know what happened to the bass in this one spot where I was sure I could get some good fish," Jordon said. "It wasn't like the current was running in practice and they were turned on or anything like that; they just left and I couldn't get on them again today."
Jordon isn't the first angler to succumb to the lake's finicky spotted bass, just the latest victim. And he wasn't alone. Though most of the tournament field had decent stringers in this, the first round of a two-part Toyota Championship Week that will see the crowning of the Bassmaster Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year next Friday, many of the pros were just as baffled as Jordon by the turnstile nature of this fishery.
"There are so many variables with spotted bass that the fishing can change overnight," observed Cliff Pace, currently in third place with 12-14. "There's the weather, and the current, and the boat traffic, and the availability of shad. If any of the variables chance, the fishing can change drastically. You've got to be prepared to change with the circumstances."
Pace's assessment was supported by others. Angler after angler reported that he caught a keeper along the bank or from under the dock, and then caught more keepers from offshore structure. Boats were running back and forth between deep water and shorelines, picking up a fish here and there, and then repeating the round-robin approach.
Largemouths also were inscrutable. Few were caught, though all of Mark Menendez five weigh-in fish were largemouths. Go figure.
"There are some big largemouths in this lake and they are up against the banks," Alabama pro Randy Howell said. "They're just not dependable right now. The weather is supposed to change to rain Sunday and that might get them activated. If that's the case, it's going to be a different ballgame."
Mike Iaconelli is up for any kind of change at this point. In second with 14-12, he caught his biggest spotted bass in one small area during a flurry of activity that spanned about 30 minutes. Then it was over and Iaconelli was left pondering what to do next. The same pattern didn't work anywhere else he tried.
"I went two hours without a bite doing what I caught fish on Friday, than switched to a different routine and got my best keepers today. But then that didn't hold up," the New Jersey pro said. "So tomorrow I'm switching to a secondary pattern that started working for me later on Saturday. I'm going to try it first thing until it gets a bit lighter in the morning, and then switch back to what I was doing to catch my best fish and hope it works again."
It could be a plan, or not; Alton Jones would approve of the concept, as confusing as it might seem. Jones, one place ahead of Jordon, made note of the fact that no fishing pattern is a lock. He thought he had something going in the practice round, but it too let him down Saturday. Throughout the day, however, Jones caught fish employing a different approach and planned to concentrate on it Sunday.
"I caught all my weight (9-7) doing one thing that I got on this morning and just kept trying here and there the rest of the day," Jones said at the weigh-in at the Wetumpka Civic Center. "I hope it works for me the last day on this lake. One thing about it: the guys who had big sacks today are probably locked in to something tomorrow, but I don't think anybody can count on the same thing working two days in a row."
Of course, it's never safe to say that things won't work out the same for Tommy Biffle, the current leader with 15 pounds. A working man's kind of bass fisherman, Biffle does a lot of things fairly well, but one thing exceptionally well: fish shoreline cover by pitching or flipping jigs or soft-plastics into it.
Nobody expects Biffle to change his approach here, but why should he? If spots roll up from the depths to grab a shad snack, he'll be there waiting for them; if largemouths have an ambush point staked out, Biffle will find them. He covers a lot of bank and he focuses on the probable, rather than spending too much time trying to figure out the possible.
"I had places in practice that I thought I'd catch bass today, but I'll still go back there tomorrow and try it again," he said. "I think the bass just move in and out chasing shad. If you're there at the right time, you'll catch them. I'll start out doing just what I did today, and keep with it."
Plain and simple, but as effective as any other pattern on Lake Jordan this weekend.