HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — It's easy to catch bass on Old Hickory Lake. It's difficult to catch five largemouth bass that meet the 14-inch minimum length limit. It's more difficult to do that here than anywhere else the Bassmaster Elite Series has been this season.
So there wasn't much confidence in the air when the Elite Series pros launched on Day Two of the Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn.
"I'm as subject to go out and not catch one today as I am to go out and catch another 17-pound bag," said Kevin Wirth, the Day One leader with 17 pounds, 2 ounces.
"Yesterday I would have been tickled to death with 7 to 9 pounds," said Marty Stone, who is second with 16-5. "That's the goal again today: 7 to 9 pounds. If anything happens above and beyond that — great. This is Hickory."
"It's kind of scary out there," said Todd Faircloth, who unofficially moved back into the lead in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race with his 22nd-place bag of 11-3. "You don't really know what's going to happen."
Nothing is official in that TTBAOY points race until the standings become final on Sunday. But leader Kevin VanDam left the door open to his nearest competitors Thursday with his 63rd-place bag of 7-5.
One thing is certain: If VanDam doesn't move into the top 50 today, he will have left every door in the barn wide open. The field will be cut to the top 50 after today's 2:30 p.m. CT weigh-in at Sanders Ferry Park.
Like Thursday, the pros launched under partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-70s, a forecast high of 90, southwest winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.
Two things are apparent: Hardly anyone has any confidence about repeating a good performance today; and with only two remaining tournaments left in the 2008 Elite Series, the TTBAOY race is beginning to exert some pressure on the points leaders.
"It's kind of hard to keep that out of your mind when you're out there," Faircloth said. "And there's a chance on this body of water that you can go out there and have a real bad day.
"I felt like the wheels were about to come off my bus about 10 o'clock yesterday. I had only two fish and it seemed like I was rushing things. I started feeling a little bit of pressure.
"I just kind of sat down and meditated a little while. I said, 'Alright, come on now. Let's get this thing together.'"
Faircloth was able to do that. Many others, VanDam included, couldn't.
Old Hickory Lake's 22,700 acres are a big part of the high-pressure effect: It's extremely difficult to catch a 14-inch largemouth here, evidenced by Ish Monroe's zero Thursday and Ken Cook's one spotted bass (12-inch minimum length limit) that weighed 14 ounces.
"When you come to a body of water like this, it's very possible (to bomb)," Faircloth said. "We've been to a lot of great fisheries this year where catching a limit isn't that big of an issue. It's more about quality.
"Here, it's an issue of catching 14-inch keepers. Catching fish isn't a problem here, but catching keepers is a hard deal."
Mark Davis estimated he culled through 100 bass Thursday assembling his eighth-place limit of 14-5.
It's always about "the big bite" in these Elite Series events. But the effect of a big bass on Old Hickory is magnified. There was no greater example of that than Wirth's Day One: He's fishing very shallow and generally catching quality fish when he lands one. But he had a dink in his limit around 2 p.m. Thursday.
"I had one barely-squeak 14-incher," said the former jockey from Crestwood, Ky. "I could barely get him to touch (on a measuring board). Right after I caught a 3 1/2-pounder, I told my partner, 'Man, if I could cull that little 14-incher, we're done.'
"The very next deal, I threw in and caught a 6-4. That's fortunate right there. You take that away and I've got 12 pounds or so. But it's so difficult to catch a keeper here, a 14-incher."
Wirth's 6-4 was the Purolator Big Bass of the day.
At least the guys who caught 10 pounds or more Thursday aren't fishing with as much pressure on them today as those trying to make up ground.
"The moon is what I got yesterday," Stone said. "You don't go out on this lake every day and catch a 4-pounder and a 5-pounder. That's not reality."
There is at least one pro who entered the day with some confidence: Dean Rojas, who is in 14th place with 12-6, said he had to hold back Thursday.
"Yesterday the areas I've got produced better than I thought they would," Rojas said. "I thought the weights would be a little bit less than that. It's Old Hickory. I've been here four or five times. I know how tough it can get.
"I'm going to go to all my areas today and try to catch the biggest bag I can."
Rojas is famous for catching bass on the SPRO Dean Rojas Signature Frog. Kermit, as he likes to refer to the topwater bait, hasn't seen the light of day during the last two Elite Series events, where offshore ledge fishing was the dominant pattern.
Rojas didn't want to reveal much of what he's doing on Old Hickory, but he did say, "Kermit's butt is getting a little bit wet."
This afternoon's weigh-in will reveal which Elite Series pros have been left high and dry by Old Hickory's stingy waters.