FORT MADISON, Iowa — With the first day of fishing under their belts at the Genuity River Rumble, few anglers felt comfortable about their position in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Even among anglers who managed to bring limits across the scales — just 28 Elite pros — few think their spots will hold up for four days of fishing pressure.
That means the Mississippi River could shake up the standings more than many anglers, especially those at the top, would like. Skeet Reese, currently second in TTBAOY points, weighed in 7 pounds, 1 ounce, barely above the 50-cut for the tournament. If he doesn't see a change in luck, he could drop several spots in the TTBAOY standings by the end of the week.
"I'm going to punt and see what happens," Reese said. "I've gotta come up with a new game plan tonight."
Same goes for Alabama's Aaron Martens, who brought just one fish to the scales and is currently tied for 81st place. He knows he should concentrate on fishing day-to-day, but dropping in points is still a possibility.
"I wanna make the top-12 cut, of course," he said. "When you do this for a living, you just try to stay focused. I think I can pull it back around tomorrow. With 8 or so pounds, I could stay in it."
Keeping a good attitude is important to finishing out the season close to the top. A chance to fish in the inaugural Toyota Trucks Championship Week makes that top 12 a magic number, and making up ground here in Iowa becomes all that more important for anglers within striking distance.
Below the cut, many anglers are struggling to take advantage of a chance to shake up the points. Byron Velvick was in 15th place after Kentucky Lake, and was just 33 points behind 12th-place Cliff Pace. But after a disappointing Day One, Velvick did not perform up to his expectations.
"I was fishing to make that Angler of the Year," he said. "But I'm struggling to catch them out here. I just gotta get through this."
Like Velvick, some anglers are convinced the weights will fall off on Day Two, which would leave many pros searching for new spots. With multiple pools along the Mississippi available for this event, taking the time to lock through to the next pool can be a crucial decision.
Oklahoma's Fred Roumbanis locked twice on Thursday, reaching a pool that didn't produce like he had hoped, but that he is still convinced can get him the weight he needs to finish well.
"I had an area that had some bites, and I think I can catch five there tomorrow," he said. "I'm going to get there, I just don't know if I can get back."
Roumbanis finished Day One with just one keeper weighing 2 pounds, 8 ounces. With 19 anglers weighing in just one fish, many anglers are in the same situation as Roumbanis. One of them is Greg Hackney, who was also dangerously close to the top 12 cut in 14th place before the tournament began.
"I took a chance and stayed in this pool today," Hackney said. "I'll probably run and gun a little bit tomorrow. I had a spot to myself and was catching them, they just weren't keepers."
But the decision to avoid locking was not an effort to play it safe for Hackney. He, like most Elite anglers, is just trying to do his best for this event without over-analyzing the situation. Mississippi's Cliff Pace, 12th in TTBAOY points and currently tied with Martens in 81st place, doesn't think it matters what the points are.
"It is the same strategy every time," Pace said. "Catch as many fish as possible."
For those farther down the TTBAOY points ladder, this event is proving to be a struggle to make it to the weigh-in stage, let alone make any big jumps in points. The top 36 anglers receive automatic invitations to the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, and that has become the goal for pros who feel the TTBAOY title or the top-12 cut are out of reach.
Jason Quinn, currently 41st in TTBAOY points, decided to lower his goals when he realized this event will not be his chance to bring in any big bags.
"I caught one, and I feel good about it," Quinn said. "There was a good number of fish caught, but it was just a merry-go-round."
With multiple anglers targeting the few successful holes, big bags are even harder to collect as the bass are spread across multiple anglers. Whether they are aiming to make the 12-cut or the 36-cut, every fish means more points.
Alabama's Greg Vinson was just five points shy of 36th place coming in to the Genuity River Rumble. Unfortunately, the 2-pound bass he brought to the weigh-in on Thursday won't help him move up in the points standings. But, like many struggling anglers, he hopes to improve the rest of the event and remain in contention.
"This is tough to swallow today," Vinson said. "But there is always tomorrow."