MONETA, Va. — Conditions at the dock this morning seemed to suggest that the sight fishing would improve on day three of the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl. Light winds, clear skies and warm nighttime temperatures promised 50 excited anglers a new wave of spawning fish and ample opportunities to catch them. But once they got on the water, a number of circumstances, both natural and man-made, conspired to keep some of them from seeing their finned quarry.
The first impediment was the massive amount of pollen in the water and in the air. A quick scan of the tow vehicles in the marina parking lot showed that most of the dark-colored models had been "repainted" a pukey pea green. It created a similar covering of the water in many protected coves, preventing anglers from seeing many of the beds they had already located, let alone new ones.
That created a difficult conundrum for many of the anglers in the field — stay in the protected areas where it was calm or head out onto the main lake where the breeze blew the pollen away but boat wakes created a similar, if not worse, effect? Temperatures that hovered around the 90 degree mark lured hundreds if not thousands of local residents and vacationers to hit the water. Surely the anglers had noticed that each of Smith Mountain Lake's numerous boat docks had a boat, a jet-ski or several of each tied up and ready to go. Saturday brought them out in force.
Fred Roumbanis said that he chose to focus on main lake areas as the lesser of two evils, but "just couldn't fish with all of that boat traffic." Accordingly, he fell out of the top twelve.
But even anglers who managed to hang onto a spot in Sunday's competition suffered as a result of the increased recreational activity. For Aaron Martens, who claimed to be making up to 60 moves with his outboard each day, that strategy presented a challenge. It took longer to get just about anywhere due to the incredible congestion. As Greg Hackney said, "It was like running a mine field."
Kevin VanDam, who said that his modest flotilla of spectator boats remained respectful, was nevertheless hampered by all of the boat traffic. "It slows you down without a doubt," said the tournament's leader, known for his lightning-quick move and jackrabbit fishing speed. "It gets pretty rough just from the boat traffic and it does slow you down."
But for every angler who rued Smith Mountain Lake's abundant pleasure boat traffic, another delighted in it. Missouri pro Scott Campbell used the boat wakes to his advantage, moving from the last man inside the cut all the way up into 28th on the strength of a 13-05 limit.
"Boat traffic and wind definitely helped," he explained. "I grew up on Lake of the Ozarks and it's a bathtub if there ever was one, so I'm really comfortable in that type of situation. I was on a place where it said 'Caution: Congested Area,' and I knew I needed to fish there. On this lake there are a few places where it bottlenecks and it got pretty nasty in there today. Three- and four-foot waves bouncing around off the shore and off other boats. I had two inches of water in the bottom of the boat all afternoon."
While the wind didn't help James Niggemeyer vault up from 37th place to 9th, he recognized that it would play a role and adjusted his milk run appropriately, hitting his most exposed areas early. "I'm fishing areas that are not what you're thinking of as typical spawning areas," he said. "A couple of my key areas are on points or in real shallow bays that are open to the wind. You had to be able to see them and the boat wakes would've killed you." He said that he was fortunate to start off strong before the truly horrendous boat traffic kicked up.
Sunday promises to offer nearly carbon-copy conditions. Twelve anglers still have their eyes on the top prize, but only one will manage to see enough to claim it at tournament's end.