FORT MADISON, Iowa — When the fishing is tough, every cast means more chances to land a bass. And for the Elite Series pros at the Genuity River Rumble, nearly every bass landed has mattered, with only six anglers weighing in limits every day.
So the decision to run 50 miles and pass through two lock systems may be a tough one, but that is what it takes to fish the waters of the Mississippi River's Pool 17.
Among the notable anglers who have risked the long trek this week are Brian Snowden, Steve Kennedy, John Murray, Fred Roumbanis, and as of Saturday, Skeet Reese.
"The area I was fishing was several acres, but there were seven or eight boats in there during the tourney so it was hit just as hard as the lower pools," Snowden said.
After a good start on Day One, Snowden's weights dropped each day and he finished in 27th place with 21 pounds, 9 ounces.
"I should have had a limit yesterday and I just didn't get many bites today," Snowden said after bringing just two fish to the scales on Day Three.
But the drop in weight hasn't been unique to Pool 17. Average weights slumped by over a pound on Day Two and rebounded only slightly once the field was cut to the Top 50 anglers.
One Elite Series pro who has weathered the storm is Mike McClelland. He has been able to stay consistent and move up in the standings, making the Top 12 cut by just one ounce. And he understands the tough decisions that anglers must face when they pick what water to focus on.
"I stayed in Pool 19 on Day One and didn't get the bite. Although I caught my two biggest bass in Pool 19, I don't think it reloads fast enough," McClelland said. "I definitely feel like I have to lock up. The problem is, once you lock up, you are there for most of the day."
An angler who knows exactly what he means by "most of the day" is Alabama's Steve Kennedy. He has locked up to Pool 17 each day, and now sits in 10th place with 29 pounds, 9 ounces.
"I'm actually having fun out there," Kennedy said. "I only caught three in practice and I've caught a limit every day."
Although Kennedy believes he has found a good bite, he hasn't been able to spend as much time in Pool 17 as he would like.
"I haven't had more than four hours up there per day because there's always been a barge," he said. "I called the lock master today and he said to get back by 12:30 because there was a barge coming."
Those situations are a natural part of fishing on a river system, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for anglers already on a shortened schedule. Luckily, Kennedy hasn't had to rely solely on those few hours he has spent up river.
"I had three in my box when I left Pool 17," Kennedy said at the Day Three weigh-in. "I ended up catching two fish in Pool 18 and lost another. And I caught another on my fifth flip down in Pool 19."
With only 12 anglers competing on Sunday, the popular areas will feel relatively empty. And of the Top 12 anglers, only Kennedy has indicated he will be locking north twice. Plus, Kennedy is convinced that the water in his northern spot is improving.
"I'm going back up there tomorrow," he said. "I lost a 5-plus-pounder, so I think there are more in there."
If Kennedy can catch a kicker fish like that, it'd be the big bass of the tournament. But either way, he is planning on getting to the northern pool as soon as he can to maximize the trip.
"Tomorrow, I'll try to push until 1 p.m.," Kennedy said, confident that spending the time in Pool 17 will pay off with winning fish. "We've just gotta get back with them. That's the scary part."
For some anglers, waiting for the lock has not been a total waste of time. In fact, Alton Jones caught one of his largest bass while waiting for the lock to Pool 18.
Currently in fifth place with 31 pounds, 9 ounces, Jones will probably stick to his main spot in Pool 18, but he has been sharing it with fellow pro Kelly Jordon, who has also made the Top 12. That means Jones will be sharing his fish again on Day Four, and the pressure may see his weights continue to fall.
Several anglers predicted that this tournament would be won by a person who found fish to themselves. Kennedy might just have that tomorrow with Pool 17. And with the alluring possibility of 5-pound bass, he might have the ammo to jump to the lead. But all of that doesn't matter if he doesn't make it back before the check-in time.