MONETA, Va. — Kelly Jordon, Day One leader at the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl, didn't seem hurried this morning.
Jordon took his sweet time idling over to the launch area through glass-slick waters for take-off, apparently savoring the start of one more day in the sun. But as far as 98 other anglers are concerned, Jordon has a big bull's-eye on his back, one about the size and shape of the nest of a spawning bass.
The field seems to fall into three distinct camps: those who love to fish for bass they can see, those who don't revel in it but do it anyway and those who avoid it at all costs. Marty Stone used to fall into the third group, but now he finds himself comfortably situated in the second.
"We don't get many of these tournaments in a year," Stone said. "Thank God. I don't think my nerves could take it. When I didn't sight fish and we had one of these tournaments, I was just hoping for a top 40. But you can't fish that way at this level. It's no different than any other specialized technique — deep cranking, flipping or fishing a shakey head. It's an art."
Apparently Stone has mastered that art well enough to exceed his previous top 40 hopes. He sight fished his way to 15 pounds, 9 ounces of Smith Mountain Lake bass Thursday, which has him in 11th place.
Dean Rojas, only two pounds behind Jordon in second place, doesn't necessarily mind the fact that he's not the one with a target on his back.
"I like where I'm at," he said. "I wanted to be in the top five after the first day. I like the way the lake is setting up. I can catch a big sack and not draw too much attention to myself."
Skeet Reese, the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion, sits in 45th with 13-3. While the committed sight fishermen hoped for a day like this, with little wind and clear skies, Reese would have rather had breezier conditions.
He had a big fish technique that worked in practice, but it depended heavily on the wind. Accordingly, he abandoned it fairly early Thursday to look for fish on their nests.
"With no wind it was pretty much out of the question," Reese said. "If I knew it was going to blow consistently, I feel like I could catch 20 pounds doing it, but you'd have to grind it out. You can go a long time without getting a bite and then catch two fours back to back when the small window of opportunity presents itself."
Alabama's Derek Remitz, who is in fifth place with 16-15, would much prefer to catch his fish by chunking and winding than by antagonizing bedding fish to bite, but he's torn between the two tactics.
Evidence of that lay on the front deck of his boat this morning in the form of just two rods, one rigged up with a soft plastic lure for bedding bass, the other rigged up with a hard bait that will allow him to cover water. He believes that "just fishing" will continue to get better as the tournament progresses, but in the meantime he'll keep his eyes open for a big spawning fish.
"At some point you're going to run into a 4- or 5-pounder," he said.
Stone agreed with Remitz that the bed fish may eventually run their course before the tournament is over.
"This is a marginal lake at best. It's not like a Toledo Bend, a Sam Rayburn or Falcon," he said. "We might've just looked at the best wave. They're not coming up at the rate we're taking them off. I saw 50 or 60 empty places yesterday."
Nevertheless, Stone said that he's "all in" to sight fish Friday. He'll worry about his Day Three fortunes and strategies tonight, assuming he survives to fish another day.
Reese agreed with Stone that the vast majority of the fish he saw in practice have either abandoned their nests or been caught, but he'll still look for them at least one more day as well.
Thursday he committed "too long" to two outsized fish that each bit once but didn't end up in his livewell. That's the problem with this sort of gamble — it's possible to push all of your chips to the middle of the table and come away with nothing.
Rojas, who set the all-time BASS one-day weight record by sight fishing at Lake Toho in 2001, is once again committed to that technique for the early hours, but stated that he's "leaving (himself) open" to the possibility that he'll have to shift gears if he wants to overtake Jordon before the tournament is done.
Like Stone, he won't think about weekend boat traffic and weather patterns until after the weigh-in.
"That's tomorrow," he said. "I just want to get through today first."
Whether Jordon will be forced to shed his bull's-eye this afternoon remains to be seen, but ultimately it's not the first day lead that matters.
For Elite Series anglers who have had a day cancelled at each of the past two tournaments, stable conditions are a novelty they haven't had to deal with this season. But beautiful weather brings its own set of challenges.
The mercury is expected to rise into the 80s each of the three remaining days of the tournament, and will bring with it an armada of pleasure boaters and vacationers who've likewise suffered through a spring of inconsistent and occasionally inclement weather.
Even if their wakes don't disrupt the efforts of the sight fishermen, surely enough will change between now and Sunday that some adjustment will be required.