PARIS, Tenn. — Fans who arrived merely on time for the first day weigh-in at the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph may not have seen some of the day's biggest catches.
Multiple anglers, including leader Bobby Lane of Florida and perpetual superstar Kevin VanDam, currently in second, returned to the launch site and had their fish weighed well before their required check-in times.
It only took Lane until 10:30 to amass his 29 pounds and 14 ounces, so he didn't see much value in staying out any longer. A 3- or 4-pounder that might help him tomorrow would have been a throwback today. He cast a lonely shadow sitting at the dock well before 3 p.m., but he was more than satisfied with the way the day played out.
"This is the third time here and I've never cashed a check," he said. "So I committed to learning how to fish it and I really put my time in."
"I'm putting a few things together with a big Berkley worm," he said, a statement which begged the following question — if he's not 100 percent dialed in yet, what will tomorrow bring?
VanDam was at the dock nearly an hour before his flight was due in at 3:40 p.m. He said that there's no reason to stay out "when you have a bag like that. You can't keep catching 4-pounders. I had a real good day one but it's a four-day tournament."
VanDam typically crams more casts into four hours than most of the field can get through in eight, so maybe the early finish wasn't a huge handicap. Either way, most of the field would probably like to see KVD's days shortened on an ongoing basis.
Alabama's Greg Vinson, currently in 33rd with 19-8, offered another reason to get back early. He said that these post-spawn fish are fragile, and once you have a decent bag it's necessary to balance the opportunity to cull against the chance that the fish will die in the livewell.
At a certain point today he told his Marshall that they were through — "I was less likely to upgrade so it wasn't worth losing 8 ounces (for a dead fish)," he said.
The storms that rolled through the area right around the time most anglers were due back provided still another reason to cut corners.
James Niggemeyer and Jim Murray had to stop and beach their boats to avoid getting hit by lightning.
"It hit at 3:20 and I was due in at 4," Niggemeyer recalled. "I didn't know if I was going to make it back on time."
Fortunately, the worst of the electrical storm broke up by 3:40, and they both made it in with time to spare.
Byron Velvick had even less time at his disposal than did Lane or VanDam, but he made the most of it. His best five keepers weighed 27-6, which has him in third place, two and a half pounds behind Lane and approximately a pound and a half behind KVD.
That still puts him almost 10 pounds over the cut weight. But early this morning he doubted whether the day would progress so well. He had outboard troubles at take-off, and when he tried to come back in on the strength of his trolling motor the cable snapped.
"There are some heroes there at the service yard," Velvick said. "I lost an hour or an hour and a half at the most. But I was a basket case for the first two hours after I got out there."
Once he sacked five big bass he decided to truncate his day on the back end as well.
"I came in early because the way things were going I was afraid one of the lightning bolts was going to hit me," he said.
While some anglers reported an early bite or an all-day feed, Mike Iaconelli said that his best fish came late. He didn't have his 23-pound plus catch until around 3 p.m.
"The water movement is key and today there was real late current," Ike said.
Once he had that limit in the livewells, Iaconelli still wasn't inclined to return to the dock until the absolute last minute.
"I always push the limits, regardless," he said, confirming what many fishing fans already suspected.
For Lane, the experience of being the first one back to the dock, well before he was required to be there, was a new one. Asked whether he'd emulate Timmy Horton, who came in well before lunch time on the fourth day of the 2007 Champion's Choice on Lake Champlain and had a pizza delivered to the dock, Lane was noncommittal: "It's not the end of the tournament yet," he responded.
"And I'm not a big pizza eater," he added.
Talk to him three days from now. The top prize of $100,000 allows you to add a lot of toppings and tip the delivery guy pretty well.