2009 Elite Series - Battle on the Border Lake Amistad - Del Rio, TX, Mar 12 - 15, 2009

Lake Amistad: A three-horse race?

After two days on Lake Amistad, can anyone catch Klein, Duckett and Jones?

Gary Klein

 DEL RIO, Texas — In first place, you have Gary Klein, with his two Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, eight career BASS wins and, most important, a 7 pound, 8 ounce lead.

 In second, though, you have Boyd Duckett, the fastest millionaire in the sport's history, the victor in the Bassmaster Classic in 2007 and a Major tournament that same year. Cats and cucumbers together rarely reach his level of cool.

 Then, in third, 11 ounces behind Duckett, is Alton Jones, last year's Classic winner, an angler on a yearlong roll and, like only the two anglers ahead of him, the architect of two 20-plus-pound limits on Lake Amistad during the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border.

 Significantly, none of those three pros has relied on a freak fish to build his bags (though you could perhaps allow Duckett's 9-14 Day Two big bass). And none has a reputation for withering down the stretch.

 Anglers have a way of winning the lottery on Amistad; just witness Mark Tucker's ascent from a 12-10 Day One bag to the 28-0 he mined out of the lake on Day Two.

 "If the leaders stub their toe and you catch 30 pounds, you are right back in it," said Todd Faircloth, who surged into fifth on Day Two with a 24-3 limit. "Take last year, I came back from eighth place going into the final day to win. I have two days this year."

 But aside from Faircloth, anglers interviewed before launch on Day Three were virtually of a consensus that it would take a monumental comeback for someone in the field to overtake all three of the frontrunners.

 "I'll put it this way," said veteran pro Denny Brauer. "None of those three are going to choke because of pressure. All three would make good champs, but I'd like to see Gary win."

 Even fourth-place Mike Iaconelli, who led on Day One on the strength of two kicker fish that weighed about 21 pounds, admitted he was on the outside looking in, and happy just to get the TTBAOY points from an event he thought he'd bomb.

 "Even if I can't make the cut, I'm escaping this with my life," he said.

 Ish Monroe, himself a former winner on Amistad, pointed out that the lake can produce big enough fish to make anything possible. He recalled seeing a fish he estimated at 14 to 16 pounds a couple of years ago. He was casting to a male near a log, he said, when "all of sudden, the log decides to move."

 Twice he got the enormous female to swallow his bait, and twice she spit it back at him.

 When fellow pro John Crews pointed out that Klein was quoted somewhere saying that the pattern he was running was easy, both Iaconelli and Monroe balked.

 "That's bad," Iaconelli said.

 "The fishing gods don't mind confidence," Monroe added, "but they don't like cockiness."

 
Maybe it's cocky, or maybe it's just the reality of the situation. Klein has made no secret that he's fishing Amistad the same way he always has — with a jig — and in some of his old haunts. In practice, he didn't fish at all, preferring instead to spend his days scouting water.

 "Gary will win the tournament today," said Mark Menendez (35th, 28-7). "He's catching good fish, not a big fish with a bunch of smaller ones, and he's fishing deep, so the weather won't affect him."

 Klein's bite — which only improved on Day Two — will have to drop off somewhat for anyone to have a realistic shot. Duckett's best chance will be if he lands more of the bites he gets on a swimbait. His five bites on Day Two netted Duckett two fish that between them went 16 or so pounds.

 Jones has the potential to make up in quantity what he has so far lacked in quantity. He's finding quite a high number of fish; if one or two of them look like the 7-plus-pounders that have graced the scales this week, he could be hard to leave.

 Klein, though, will likely remain the sentimental favorite if nothing else. The 51-year-old from Weatherford, Texas, is known as a consummate pro, fishing in the first BASS event since the Classic — the sport's crown jewel, which he famously hasn't won in 26 attempts, a record for futility.

 Klein's age, said Mike McClelland, "does give me hope that I've got a long career ahead of me. I'm 41, not one of the young young guys out here. But maybe I've got another good 10 or 12 years before I retire."

 McClelland, a three-time Elite Series event winner, sits in 12th place — yet more than 17 full pounds behind Klein's 54-7. Like most of the field, he can hope he comes across the sort of log Monroe once found. But he's also far enough back that he's allowed a rooting interest other than himself.

 "It's one of those leads that's almost insurmountable," McClelland said. "I hope Gary puts this away today."

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