RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Ish Monroe stands 5 pounds, 3 ounces behind leader Dean Rojas going into Sunday's final of the of the Bassmaster Elite Series Legends, presented by Ramada Worldwide.
But Monroe thinks he's got as good a chance as any in the this six-man competition for the $250,000 first-place check. Every pro who survived the cut from 12 to six Saturday on Lake Dardanelle's Illinois Bayou six-hole course saw enough to think anything is possible Sunday.
"This lake has the potential of kicking out a 20-pound bag," Monroe said. "If I catch 20-something and Dean catches 15 — and 15 is still a great bag — I win.
"That goes for Boyd Duckett and Jason Quinn and Kevin VanDam. The way Timmy Horton fishes that offshore structure bite, he can catch a couple of 5s and a couple of 3s, then, boom, he's right there."
The Arkansas Big Bass Bonanza was held last weekend on the Arkansas River system from Dumas to Fort Smith. A high percentage of the 2,199 entrants fished on Lake Dardanelle because of its big bass reputation. Every angler in the 50-man Legends field eyeballed the results of that tournament.
"Reality shows (a 20-pound bag) is out there," Monroe said. "In that big fish tournament, there were a bunch of 5- and 6-pounders. The guy I drew (as an observer) the first day said he'd fished it and caught three in the 6-pound class."
Jason Quinn is in third place, exactly two pounds behind Rojas' Saturday bag of 16-14. Quinn had the big bass in the 12-man field Saturday with a 5-6.
"I actually think you'll see somebody with about a 20-pound bag today," Quinn said.
Sunday dawned with a near-cloudless sky, just the opposite of Saturday when a thunderstorm started the day and the skies remained overcast through the end of competition.
"I think the fish will be positioned a little better," said the 35-year-old Quinn, who lives on Lake Wylie in South Carolina. "Yesterday I missed a couple of key bites just because of the cloudy weather and the wind and everything. This (weather) will definitely help what I'm doing."
Quinn is primarily flipping the aquatic vegetation in Illinois Bayou. Rojas will have a flipping stick on the deck of his boat, too. But the Dean Rojas Signature Spro Frog topwater lure is what got Rojas into the top 12 Thursday and Friday, and what propelled him to the top of the leaderboard Saturday, after the first two days' weights were zeroed.
It's pretty much live by the frog and die by the frog with the 36-year-old Rojas. Almost every angler in this field caught at least one bass on a frog Saturday. No one but Rojas threw the frog all day long, however.
"I'll just play out the day and see how it goes," Rojas said. "I'll definitely give (the frog) its chance (before changing lures)."
Monroe, for one, thinks Sunday's clear skies might help Rojas and the frog.
"It will allow Dean to pinpoint the cover he's fishing now," Monroe said. "He can concentrate on shade pockets. Yesterday he had to go down the bank and make a whole bunch of casts. Now he can go down the bank and target those shade pockets where the fish are going to be. Dean is not at a disadvantage (with this weather)."
Kevin VanDam, on the other hand, came back to Lake Dardanelle Sunday morning with another 30 rods and reels, ready to try a wide variety of lures, just like on Saturday. He did, however, dial-up the big bass potential of the lures he tied on.
"I'm going to fish the water with big-fish potential with big-fish baits," said the three-time BASS Angler of the Year from Kalamazoo, Mich. "I'm going to fish deep and shallow and everything in between.
"It's going to be one of the toughest competition days for me in my whole career. I can tell you at the end of day, I'm going to be wiped out."
The format for Sunday has changed only in the fact that each angler will have the entire hole to himself, rather than sharing it with one other pro, as he moves through the six-hole course. The six finalists have 70 minutes in each hole followed by an 80-minute "happy hour" at the end of the day when they can fish anywhere they wish.
The weigh-in at Lake Dardanelle State Park begins at 7 p.m. ET.