Anybody's tournament? Think again

The extremely tight race at this week's Mississippi River Elite Series tournament has lots of people talking and saying that the tournament is "up for grabs," that it's "anybody's to win," and that it won't be over until the last cast is made. After all, just 3 pounds separates first place from 35th.

One good fish, one better than average catch, one little break and an angler can jump all the way from the middle of the pack to the top and win this thing, right?

I don't think so. That's not the way it works.

Yes, there are opportunities for comebacks, and lead swings occasionally happen at the Elite level ... though very, very, very rarely.

Truth is, the fact that this tournament is so tight is reason to believe that there won't be a big swing  in the leaderboard and there won't be someone jumping up from way back in the standings to move into contention.

I've said it many times before (and I hope to last long enough to say it many more times): professional bass fishing is not a sport of comebacks. If you don't do well on Day One, you have almost no chance of winning.

In fact, the leader after Day One goes on to win 27 percent of the time. And after Day One, the eventual winner is in the top five 57 percent of the time. He's in the top ten 72 percent of the time and in the top 20 almost 90 percent of the time. Those percentages are even higher in a really close tournament like we have on the Mississippi River.

You see, to have big changes in the leaderboard, you need one of two factors that we don't have this week: (1) huge catches or (2) tough fishing.

Huge catches make big lead swings possible because there can be big disparities between bag weights. For that, you need catches in the 25-pound-and-up range. With catches being small this week, it's not going to happen.

To put the Mississippi's small catches into perspective, Stephen Browning's 4-pound, 13-ounce daily lunker from Day One was the biggest bass ever weighed in at a B.A.S.S. event on that stretch of the river. The previous best was 4-11 in 1984. Without the chance of bringing an 8 or 10 pounder to the scales, there's little opportunity to move way up in a single day.

Tough fishing is the other factor that can create big changes on the leaderboard. Nothing chips away at an angler's total quite like falling short of a limit. (Falling in the standings is easy, by the way; just catch less than a limit, have your fish die or get DQ'ed for being late.) But that's not happening on the river this week. Everyone's catching a limit ... well, everyone but three anglers on the first day.

So, when the fish are small and plentiful, weights might be tight, but the leaderboard is usually pretty stable. Just 2 1/2 pounds separates first from 20th place, but I'll be surprised if our eventual winner is not already in the top 10.

Now, the next time you hear someone say it's anyone's tournament to win because the weights are so close, you can set them straight.

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