SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Ernest Hemingway, who caught a fish or two in his lifetime, once described bankruptcy as happening "gradually, then suddenly."
Similarly, while every one of the 11 regular season tournaments counts equally during the course of the Elite Series schedule, what looked like a marathon back in March now resembles a sprint. Storylines that have been building on the Elite Series all season long are set for a sudden resolution at the Champion's Choice Presented by Ramada Worldwide. But angling solvency means different things to different anglers.
As the 106 pros and their co-angler partners jockeyed for position along the shores of Oneida Lake this morning, for those on the various bubbles, this will be their last chance to influence the immediate future of their angling careers.
While Todd Faircloth and Kevin VanDam command many of the headlines as they slug it out for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, each of their peers has something else to battle for: whether it's a berth in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, an opportunity to remain on the Elite Series trail or just personal pride.
There are 106 individual stories on the Elite Series trail and each of them will be resolved by the end of this event.
Some will go home happy, others will just go home.
For those who currently sit just inside the Classic bubble, the next few days will punctuate their season, determining whether it is remembered fondly or instead with disappointment.
"This is my whole season," said Ish Monroe, who is currently in 30th in the overall standings. "But that will allow me to fish more relaxed than I usually do. If the cards play in my favor, they play in my favor. I'm usually stressed on the first day and end up having a bad day, so today I'm just going to see how it plays out."
North Carolina's Marty Stone, who missed the last two Classics after qualifying for three in a row, is in 36thin the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, right at the fault line between making the big show and sitting on the sidelines. But while the Classic looms large on his personal radar, he expressed great satisfaction with the way his year has progressed.
"What's more important is that it feels good again," Stone said. "If I make it or don't make it, it won't be because of this tournament. This season has been a true test. We fished in Florida, in Texas and now up north. We've fished offshore and near the bank. I used to say that versatility was for the birds, but this year I improved my fishing — even when I was out of my element."
He believes that while "the consensus is that fishing here has been slow," it may work to his advantage. "I have to be careful. Sometimes when you swing for the fences, you hit it back to the pitcher into a double play. You have to have an idea what pitch is coming. The biggest thing for me is to make the first cut."
Derek Remitz, in 46th, can make the Classic if a number of factors fall into place. "I probably need to have a top 20 to make the Classic," he said. "It's pretty important to my career. That's what we're all fishing for."
After a rookie year in which nearly everything he touched turned to finned gold, his sophomore effort has proved to be more frustrating.
"Last year, even if I didn't find them in practice, I'd catch them in the tournament. This year if I don't find them in practice, I don't do well in the tournament. It's been a grind the whole season. Everything just seems to come a lot harder."
Further down the list is Paul Elias, who followed up a record-setting catch at Falcon with a string of mostly forgettable finishes that have left him mired in 79th, just five places inside the cutoff for Elite Series requalification.
"I've got to catch them to stay in the top 84," Elias said, invoking a position he never thought he'd worry about as recently as four months ago. "I've had a weird season. I've been around the fish, but my co-anglers catch them and I don't. I'm fishing too fast or something. It has been a nightmare. I've only had three bad practices out of 10 tournaments. I start off confident, then I deflate."
He headed to Oneida with little sense of what he's capable of weighing in, but expects it won't be as tough as many of his colleagues claim. He believes there will be many limits caught, so he'll probably try to upgrade with largemouths, once he sacks a decent limit of bronzebacks.
"If I can get up to about 14 pounds, I'll go for largemouths. I had a 6 1/2-pound largemouth in practice, but I fished all around there and never got another bite. She was sitting under a single mat in a bay."
While Ohio's Charlie Hartley believes even a superlative finish won't allow him to move from 101st to inside the 84th place cutoff, if he could move up the list a few places, it "might help."
"This may be my last Elite Series tournament," he said, his ever-present smile turning down at the corners a small amount. "I'm trying to enjoy every minute of it, but at the same time there's a tear in my eye."
Does his undesirable position allow him to fish more freely than normal?
"I swing for the fences in every tournament, but I rarely hit it out of the park," he said. "And it seems like it has just been hard for me ever since the Classic. But that Classic gave me opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise. I've gotten the opportunity to emcee kids' tournaments, take a child to catch his first topwater fish. I've learned that sometimes the trophy is not the greatest reward."
Trophies will be earned on Sunday — both for first place in this tournament and for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. But there will also be dozens of other battles in the trenches without a tangible prize assigned to them. For every angler who suddenly falls out of his desired position, another will use those gradually-improving finishes to claim the vacated spot.