PARIS LANDING, Tenn. — "Bass are where you find them" is the old fishing axiom that helps anglers rationalize the unexplainable: sometimes, even when water depth, structure and conditions are all apparently the same in two seemingly identical spots, bass will only be in one place rather than the other.
Here in the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake, perhaps the saying should be modified to "big bass are where you find them.
"Though a few lucky anglers such as leader Bobby Lane and Fred Roumbanis (whose 8-pound, 4-ounce bass weighed in Thursday is the tournament lunker so far) have managed to boat larger fish, most of the pros have struck out in their attempts to catch bass heavy enough to help them make giant strides in the standings.
Lane, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese haven't revealed yet where they're fishing, but it's doubtful that their water is much different from anyone else's.
Deep and shallow sandbars and ledges with hard bottom seem to be the structure of choice, and big crankbaits, swimbaits and jigs are tied on to everyone's fishing tackle. A few fortunate anglers are producing stringers with fish that weigh 5 pounds or more each, while most are scrambling to maintain an average between 3 and 4 pounds.
Casey Ashley, in 50th place, provides a good example of this bizarro world fishery where there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to where the big bass are holding. The South Carolina pro is fishing ledges and sandbars with crankbaits, jigs and big Texas-rigged worms. The only difference between him and Lane are 49 places, and a few big bass.
"I must have caught 200 bass on Wednesday [the opening round] and had six double hookups, but there's just no size to them," says the South Carolina pro, who's proud just to be in the money this time out. Ashley has finished 52nd, 54th and 56th in three Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments this season. He was runner-up to winner Tommy Biffle in the Dixie Duel on Lake Wheeler and placed 20th in the Diamond Drive on Lake Dardanelle.
"The fish didn't bite as well Thursday, but I think that had more to do with the cloudy weather that dispersed them. I'm not on a giant wad of bass like some guys are, but I'm pretty much fishing the same stuff with the same kind of lures. I keep thinking sooner or later I'm going to hit a big one or two, but maybe the better fish just haven't reached my spots yet."
Acceptance of one's apparent fate, that he'll catch lots of fish, but probably no big fish, is a danger here. There are big bass mixed in with the small fries, and tales of losing lunkers at the boat are commonplace.
"I weighed in a 6 ½-pounder Thursday, but I lost three others that size or better," said Russ Lane of Alabama, who's in fifth place. "I'm using the same two crankbaits I used at Guntersville (in the Southern Challenge) and I'm getting plenty of bites.
"The better fish seem to be slapping at the lure and maybe just getting one hook in the corner of their mouth. Maybe they're just worn out. There's about a 15-mile stretch of this lake that fishes like Guntersville and about a third of the field is fishing there."
Like other contestants, Alton Jones has been victimized by his own complacency. Jones caught more than 100 bass in the opening round, and 92 on Thursday. His best fish have averaged just under 4 pounds each, but he's hooked bigger bass.
"I lost a 7-pounder Thursday after catching a bunch of small bass one after another," said the Texas pro, currently in 28th place and third in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. "I wasn't mentally prepared to hook a good fish and it caught me flatfooted. It would have really helped me, so the lesson was that I've got to maintain that mindset that the very next cast is going to be the big one."
Davy Hite, in eighth place and having his best tournament of the year, knows whereof Jones speaks. Though the big crankbaits and jigs he's throwing have produced a few 5 ½-pound fish, he's also lost a couple.
"Usually the offshore bass are pretty much segregated into size groups by now," the South Carolina pro said. "I'm getting a mixed bag. I'll catch 20 dinks in a row and then all of a sudden hit a 5-pounder. It's easy to lose focus and when you do, you pay for it."
Bobby Lane is one of the exceptions. Everything he's done so far is golden. If he loses a good fish, as he did Thursday when the biggest smallmouth he's ever hooked came unbuttoned at the boat, another one seems to show up to save the day. He can't explain it, except to say that big bass are where you find them.