FORT MADISON, Iowa — The unofficial award for biggest recovery belonged to James Niggemeyer.
After finishing dead last at Kentucky Lake, 98th place with 12 pounds, 10 ounces, the young pro rebounded in a big way at the Genuity River Rumble by boating 11 pounds, 7 ounces, good enough for 16th after Day One.
"Getting back in this race is everything," Niggemeyer said. "From the beginning of the year, the Classic has been on my mind. I don't care what happens as long as I make the Classic."
Niggemeyer fell from 10th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race after Lake Guntersville to 29th after the Kentucky Lake fiasco. The top 36 in the standings receive automatic berths to the 2010 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Ala.
With a strong showing on the river, Niggemeyer looks to be solidifying his position, but he remains a long shot to get back inside the top 12 for a shot at the postseason.
"I probably focused on the postseason top 12 more than I would have if there wasn't a top 12 at the end of the year," Niggemeyer said. "Sometimes that can mess with your momentum, but as I've heard it said, you are fishing with guys that are the best at forgetting about bad events."
As the 2009 Elite Series season nears its end, many top anglers are feeling the pressure of making it to the inaugural Toyota Trucks Championship Week. One such pro is Byron Velvick, currently in 15th place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, and just 33 points shy of making the postseason.
Velvick had a realistic dream Wednesday night that he weighed in four fish on the first day of competition. He awoke, excited to have fished better than expected at this tough event, but the thrill quickly disappeared as he realized he hadn't even made a cast.
"I remember flipping by a log and I caught a good one," Velvick said. "It was so vivid."
With the 50-cut currently at 6 pounds, 4 ounces, it won't take many keepers to make a big move in the standings. With that volatility, anglers can make up ground in the TTBAOY race, but that also means they can drop.
"I have been worrying about this event so much that I have been dreaming about it," Velvick said. "That's how much this river is eating me up."
More than 10 percent of fantasy fishing managers had frog-fisherman extraordinaire Dean Rojas on their team for the Genuity River Rumble. Unfortunately, the only thing rumbling on Day One for Rojas were the trains passing through town after only weighing in 1 pound, 7 ounces, good for 89th place.
"I had five bites on the frog today, but they were all 13 15/16th inches long," Rojas said, referring to the 14-inch minimum length. "Everything was good and kosher, but I just didn't get the bites I needed. I'm going to go by the weather tomorrow. I'll have it tied on and ready to go, but we'll see what happens."
Jim Murray Jr. only crossed the scales with four fish on Day One, and it was the one that didn't get away that turned out to be most frustrating for the Arabi, Ga., pro. Fishing early in the morning, Murray hooked his third fish of the day, which appeared to be a solid 2- to 2.5-pound bass.
After boating the fish, Murray quickly realized that the fish was missing most of its tail, falling just short of the 14-inch minimum length limit.
"It looked like something had taken a bit out of his tail," Murray said. "It was 13 7/8 inches long and probably weighed more than the fish I already had in the livewell, but they have to be 14 inches, so I had to let it go."
His four fish weighed 7 pounds, 12 ounces and left him in 37th place, still almost 4 pounds outside of the top-12 cut.
Thank you Iowa
Kevin Wirth owed the crowd of fans gathered for the Day One weigh-in a big thank you. After acknowledging the troubles that the Iowa citizens had to endure as a result of the flooding last year, he also capitalized on it by winning his first Elite Series event when the tour relocated to Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee.
"Thank you," Wirth said. "Flooding out last year pushed us to Old Hickory where I was able to win."
What is Wirth's opinion of the river now that he finally gets the chance to compete there?
"I'm not much on river systems like this," Wirth said. "Flooding was really detrimental to the fishery, so you have to be fortunate to get the bites you do. Things will really change big time tomorrow because a lot of guys are fishing the same small area with limited targets."
"It's not muddy until you can see coon tracks floating by." — Ken Cook
"When you don't set the hook on fish in practice you really don't know what's there. Today I commenced to catch about 100 pounds of catfish and grinnell." — Denny Brauer
"I caught a 2.5-pounder that wouldn't measure 14 inches…he was missing his tail." — Jim Murray Jr.
"I worked 10 bushes to catch all my fish — it was like fishing in a pond." — Randy Howell
"Usually when I catch them, everybody's catching them." — Vince Fulks
"I only had three keeper bites in practice." — Steve Kennedy, after weighing in 10 pounds, 7 ounces
"I like fishing rivers, just not this one." — Scott Rook