Pro angler Pat Golden found a 4-pound bass hanging around a stump on Day Two of the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive. He cast to it, watched as it chased his bait — and then watched it bang its head on a cedar twig. He left the spooked fish for an hour, then cast to it again; the fish hit his bait, but missed the hook.
He told his observer then that he'd be back for her on Day Three. He didn't know at the time that the third day of the tournament, Saturday, would be scrapped on account of high winds on Lake Dardanelle. Golden finished the tournament in 19th place, 1 pound and 11 ounces outside the cut of the top 12 anglers who will fish Sunday, the new Day Three.
"I wish I'd have stayed and caught that fish, because I'd have made the cut if I would have caught her," Golden said. "I felt like I had a shot. The main reason was, I was all alone. I knew where a lot of the other guys were fishing, and they'd taken a lot of weight out of there.
"I figured out exactly where they were," he continued. "I had a lot of confidence." Then he laughed. "That's how it goes, tournament fishing."
The all-day wind advisory that prompted BASS officials to cancel Saturday's fishing came during a rough week of weather in central Arkansas. After a fog delay crimped three hours off of Day One of the Diamond Drive, the 100 Bassmaster Elite Series pros wanted every moment of fishing they could get.
Naturally, with an extra three hours on the water on Day Two, several made substantial moves. Greg Vinson vaulted improved from a 9 pound, 1 ounce bag to a 21-14 limit on Day Two, pushing himself to ninth overall. Bradley Hallman also snuck into the top 12, with an 18-4 encore to a mere 10-10 on Day One.
Then you have guys like Tim Horton, who corrected his single-fish 2-6 sack of Day One with a 20-3 sequel. He was still only in 40th place — but ahead of him, Golden, Mike McClelland, Randy Howell, Guy Eaker, Kevin Short, Terry Scroggins and Casey Ashley all improved by more than 5 pounds apiece over their Day One showings. They were on the move.
Then came Saturday morning, and suddenly the 50-cut after Day Two had become a 12-cut.
Naturally, those outside the top 12 would have preferred to wet a line. Instead, they were left to contemplate next week's event, on Alabama's Lake Wheeler.
"I have absolutely no idea why I'm not fishing today," said Kevin Short, who was in 24th place. "I have absolutely no clue. I understand the wind was going to blow, the wind was going to blow across the lake, not up and down the lake. If the wind had been blowing down the length of the lake, up the length of the lake, I would have been the first one in line saying we need to think about this.
"The lake is not that wide. You get on the south bank, you can run all the way to Ozark, 55 miles, wide open. I just do not understand that at all. I feel like the guys in first through 12th place just got a free pass, and the guys 13th through 40 got hosed. Anybody above 40 who had a good day yesterday probably had a good shot of making the top 12."
Short's fuse is understandable. After coming down with an excruciating case of shingles during practice, the Mayflower, Ark., pro fought to catch just 9-6 on Day One, 40 minutes from home.
On Day Two, though, he hit a spot that time hadn't allowed him to reach on Day One. He whacked 16-13, "left 'em biting," and had every expectation of catching 16 to 18 pounds on a third day.
Aside from earning a check for his second-straight top-25 finish to start the season, it was a lousy week for Short.
"You think what the hell could possibly get worse here?" he said. "And then it's like, What the hell? Wait, what? We don't get to go fishing today? I hadn't thought about that. Damn. Oh, well. I'll take my points and take my check and get over to Alabama."
Of the eight anglers in the field with strong Arkansas ties, the highest finish belonged to rookie Billy McCaghren, who finished 14th also just a hop and a skip from his hometown Mayflower. The first thing he did when he found out the day was canceled was talk fishing with friends who were camped near the lake. BASS rules prohibit competitors to discuss a fishery with locals within 30 days of a tournament.
"I kind of spilled my guts today," McCaghren said.
"It's tough to be right there, so close," he said of missing the cut. "I've not been to these lakes we're fishing this year, so I was needing to make good on what little local knowledge I had. Fourteenth against these guys? I don't care if it was on little Lake Conway where I grew up. I know these guys would go out there an figure them out and catch them. I wanted to win this thing at home, but I'm happy with 14, if that makes any sense."
James Niggemeyer one better than McCaghren, in 13th, a mere 7 ounces south of Hallman. His biggest consolation for fishing just two days was that he'd get to hang out with his wife and two young children for a full night before packing up and heading to Alabama. "We'll be able to get together and sit down and have dinner like a normal family," he said.
But like Golden, McCaghren and Short, he left a productive area on Day Two, and was looking forward to testing its limits one or two more times. Had he known the final cut was that day, he might have pounded them a bit harder with the Strike King Zero he used to catch most of his fish.
"The more I think about it, it's great to finish in the top 15 — you get a lot of valuable points," he said. "But I absolutely wanted to go fishing today."