DEL RIO, Texas — Bill Lowen says he hunts ducks "religiously," mostly around the Great Lakes.
Next time he's in a blind, he'll be the only hunter who can claim to have killed a water bird with his face.
On Day Two of the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border, Lowen ran up behind some coots while speeding down Lake Amistad. "I couldn't go any faster," he said.
Before he could even see the birds, one had smashed against his face. Action photos taken from a few yards away revealed what happened: While one of the little birds flew low and perpendicular to the boat, the second bird flew directly away from Lowen's boat — right at eye level.
"I watch for them all the time, and this one — I don't know where the hell it came from," Lowen said. "Next thing I know, it felt like somebody punched me in the face."
The coot bounced back over the back of the boat, dead as disco. Lowen lost both his hats but didn't even get bloodied. His neck, however, bothered him the rest of the day, and by the weigh-in, the pain had moved to his lower back.
He was lucky to wind up with only whiplash from his bird crash.
"I sat there for 20 minutes, maybe, and I didn't know where I was at," Lowen said. "I think it hit me in the forehead. If it had gotten me low, it would have knocked teeth out, maybe."
It's possible the birds simply didn't see Lowen coming. After all, his boat is the only one on tour wrapped in a duck camouflage design. It's for his sponsor Feather 'Flage, whose tagline is, "Ducks in a Row Camo."
Randy Howell made a decision on Day Two that very nearly cost him a chance to fish Saturday. As it was, his 26-pound, 8-ounce total put him in 50th, the last cut spot, just 4 ounces ahead of Todd Auten.
After filling out his limit early, Howell figured he had enough to make the cut and decided to go deep after a big fish. He spent the rest of his day without a bite.
"When I got to the weigh-in my fish didn't weigh quiet as much as I thought," Howell said. "I was afraid I had missed the cut and it would have been that decision to go deep that would have cost me."
Had he stuck with the smaller fish, he likely could have culled up slowly and given himself more breathing room, but as it turned out, he still had those 4 ounces to spare. Now he is in a position of power going into Saturday.
"I can't fall any lower," Howell said. "The weights are stacked tight, so one big bite can really help me. Every place counts a lot — I'm fishing for points now."
Big bites, little bites
The decision to fish shallow or fish deep, fish for big bites or a limit, go for the top-50 cut or the win puts constant pressure on Elite Series anglers at each tournament. That tension was especially evident in Battle On The Border.
By the time the Day Two weigh-in scales closed, many of the anglers still didn't know what the key was to consistently weigh in a solid stringer of Lake Amistad bass.
"If you want to win, you have to commit to bigger bites," said Day One leader Mike Iaconelli, who fell to fourth. "I think there are a couple of ways you can do that. First, fish a swimbait and fish it all day. Second, fish real deep — work a big worm or a drop shot out there in 40 to 60 feet of water."
His commitment to bigger bites worked on Day One to the tune of 27 pounds, 9 ounces, which included a 12-13 kicker. On Day Two, the big bites disappeared and Ike only managed 15-15. With two days left, he is optimistic he can sack another big stringer at least one of those days.
Aaron Martens, on the other hand, is suffering from a plague of small bites. On Day Two, he managed to catch 30 to 40 fish, but they were mostly in the 1- to 2-pound range.
"That 2-pound mark is a barrier where I'm fishing," Martens said. "I believe it is all about the area. I'm fishing areas that just are not that good. These days you can go just about anywhere on the lake and catch a bass, but catching a bigger bass is hard to do."
That seems to be the struggle most anglers are having: to consistently plug a big bass each day in order to keep their weights up.
Gerald Swindle thinks that most anglers are overthinking it. For him, catching a big fish is all a matter of luck.
"Dude," he remarked. "If there are 20 guys throwing a brown jig and all 20 of them catch 10 fish and three of them catch two 8-pounders, that's luck. The only difference between 20 pounds and 12 pounds is that you get lucky and get a giant bite."
Quantity, not quality
In pronounced contrast to most of the field, Mark Davis isn't living on fewer than a dozen bites a day.
Instead, he's whacking something on the order of 50 a day. That's more like what Lake Amistad is known for producing. Only trouble is, he only caught 11-1 on Day Two, and barely survived the 50-man cut, in 48th.
He said he figured, "If I just play the odds, I'll be fine." But the big bite never arrived. "You catch that many bass and not catch a 3-pound bass?" he said, half-stunned, half-disgusted.
Bernie Schultz, who finished 96th, ran into his own embarrassment of riches, whacking gobs of miniature fish.
"I caught them in 2, 6, 10, 15 and 25 feet of water," he said. "They're all the same size."
Jami Fralick (19th, 32-9) committed a monster gaffe on the way to launch on Day Two.
"I forgot all my rods," he said after the weigh-in.
Basically, the pro got in a hurry. He's staying with Matt Reed and Brian Snowden on the road, and they were ready to go, and then his Marshal arrived, and normally Fralick makes one more sweep around the house to make sure he has everything ...
"I just didn't make that last pass through the house," he said. It wasn't until he was preparing to launch that he realized his rods were still leaning against his couch. He raced back to his house, and missed his assigned launch time. That he managed to catch 14-15 on the day was nothing shy of a brilliant recovery.
"I'm kind of out of my element in this clear water. I'm more comfortable in 2 feet of mud." — Pat Golden
"I have a tendency to lean up towards the bank, but you don't need to be up there right now." — Greg Hackney
"I caught just enough fish to get the weekend off." — Terry Scroggins
"I was fishing close to this beehive and this hawk that kept bringing back dead mice. It was like fishing in Jurassic Park in that place." — Dave Wolak
"I don't know where they are, I don't know where they live. I'm on my way to drink a margarita." — Bradley Hallman
Once you get in scramble mode, you're dead in the water with these guys." — Clark Reehm
"I just suck at fishing clear water. There's no other way to put it." — Rick Clunn
"Just getting a bite was my biggest challenge today." — Shaw Grigsby
"Yesterday I was in 3 feet of water, today I was in 30 feet. All that says is I was confused." — Denny Brauer
"I'm not sure I'm around big fish. I haven't seen anybody around but myself." — Kotaro Kiriyama
"I always win practice." — Guy Eaker
"I don't know how you catch 50 bass and only have 11 pounds." — Mark Davis
"You just go home." — Bernie Schultz when asked how a Florida angler adapts to cold-front conditions.
"I throwed that big tennis shoe for an hour. I call it the oooh-oooh bait, cause all you do is reel it in and 'Oooh-oooh! There's one!'" — Gerald Swindle, on throwing a swimbait for part of the day