FORT MADISON, Iowa — For anglers trying to make up ground in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, what could be better than a tough river system that is anybody's game?
But for those already near the top of the standings, hanging on can be tough when the number of anglers weighing-in nothing is nearly as high as those with full bags. And it's not just cellar-dwellers that have pulled in goose eggs in the first two days of the River Rumble — Bobby Lane, champion of last week's Tennessee Triumph finished Friday without a single fish.
A big factor playing into that uncertainty is a lack of safe strategies on the Mississippi River. Trying to win the event and trying to maintain your TTBAOY position becomes the same race when you are fishing on a tough river.
On many of the dream fisheries the Elite Series visits each year, there are patterns that will be relatively sure to produce a healthy weight. But often, they will be heavily trafficked, making it difficult to pull in tournament-winning bags. To win on this kind of lake, it often pays to stick your neck out and try something different from the crowd.
Here on southern Iowa's stretch of the Mississippi River, any fish is good fish, and if any anglers have a safe, sure way to catch bass, they're probably right up at the top of the standings.
Here's a look at how a few anglers have used this week's opportunity in their climb to the top of the TTBAOY standings.
Steve Kennedy (TTBAOY standing: 22nd place, 1423 points)
After a ninth place TTBAOY finish in 2007, and a 16th place finish in 2008, Steve Kennedy was expected to finish near the top in 2009. But, he struggled with average finishes at the first three Elite Series events, and it wasn't until a 13th-place finish at the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl at Smith Mountain Lake that Kennedy really put himself within striking distance of the top pros.
After finishing sixth on Kentucky Lake, Kennedy jumped in the points again, and the Genuity River Rumble has given him the opportunity to land comfortably within Bassmaster Classic contention. Of course, the tough fishing so far this week did not give him an easy pass — he has had to share his fish with several other anglers.
"I had to expand on my water a little bit today," Kennedy said. "Tomorrow, I think I'm gonna have it all to myself. No one there is going to make the cut except for [Brian] Snowden."
Relieving that pressure should allow him to keep catching fish, but that is not a guarantee when average weights are dropping day-to-day. The only sure thing is that Kennedy needs to fish on Sunday if he wants to make a run at making it to the Toyota Trucks Championship Week.
Shaw Grigsby (TTBAOY standing: 14th place, 1478 points)
"I'm just having a blast," Grigsby said. "Any time it's a tough bite, it is fun. Because any time you stumble you can make it up."
Sitting in seventh place at the Genuity River Rumble, the Gainsville, Fla., pro is obviously on the right water, and is staying focused.
"Tomorrow I may not catch them, but that's part of river fishing," he said.
What does Grigsby think of the rollercoaster ride his TTBAOY position has taken the last few events? If he doesn't know it's happening, then probably not much.
"I don't look at the points until after the tournament, and then I say, 'Well, there you go.'"
Billy McCaghren (TTBAOY standing: 37th place, 1336 points)
Having a decent rookie season, Billy McCaghren was picked by some pundits to excel on the Mississippi River, most likely because he qualified for the Elite Series by fishing river systems. Up until now, he has been struggling right around the midpoint in the TTBAOY standings. But a solid finish at the Genuity River Rumble could see him jump all the way into the 2010 Bassmaster Classic cut.
McCaghren weighed in a spectacular 13 pounds, 1 ounce on Day One, and kept that momentum with a 10-pound, 10-ounce limit on Day Two. That puts him in second place, just 6 ounces behind current tournament leader Alton Jones. If he holds that position, it will put him right at 37th place in the TTBAOY standings, but holding any sort of position has proved difficult on this stretch of water.
"It took me a little longer to get my fish today, but I got five in a couple of hours," McCaghren said. "I knew I had to have two really good tournaments. Any time I can find the fish and win, I'm going to go for them."
With a lackluster performance so far in the season, the Arkansas pro hasn't threatened to unseat the top point leaders in any previous events. But as McCaghren knows, a lot can happen from tournament to tournament.
"You never know when you're going to stumble on a wad of fish that'll put you in contention," he said. "I always gun for them."
Terry Scroggins (TTBAOY standing: 45th place, 1269 points)
With two top-10 TTBAOY finishes in the last two years, it is surprising to many fans to see Terry Scroggins struggling to make the Classic cut, let alone the post season. And with zero fish to the scales on Day One of the Genuity River Rumble, he wasn't doing himself any favors in the season standings.
But Scroggins changed his game plan and ended up making the 50-man cut, bouncing him right back up in both tournament standings and TTBAOY points.
"I just got started a day late," Scroggins said. "I moved around and fished some new water today. Shaw [Grigsby] let me come in there today. I didn't have a fish at 1 p.m. and what I have right now I had at 1:20."
That flurry of fish is something he will be looking to repeat on Saturday, but it means his new pattern will have to hold up for one more day of punishment.
"Depending on how [Grigsby] does today, I might let him have it tomorrow," Scroggins said, showing sportsmanship common to the Elite Series.
Grigsby is currently sitting in seventh place and has moved up to 14th place in the TTBAOY standings. Scroggins may step aside if he feels Grigsby has a chance to fish on Sunday, but he hopes there are enough fish for both of them.
Of course, every fish counts when TTBAOY points are on the line.