Home away from home

PHILADELPHIA  — Mike Iaconelli, the Day 2 leader at this week’s Elite Series tournament on the Delaware River, hopes to prove that the old adage of “no place like home” holds as true today as it did for Dorothy and Toto. His limit Friday weighed 15 pounds, 1 ounce, and that vaulted him from 22nd place into the lead, slightly less than a pound ahead of Day 1 leader Boyd Duckett.

Japanese pro Morizo Shimizu sits in third place, but behind the three leaders sit a quartet of river rats, ready to pounce on any scraps that Ike or the others throw their way. Ohio shallow-water specialist Bill Lowen sits in fourth, directly ahead of Virginia’s John Crews and Kevin Short, an Arkansas River savant who won the Elite Series River Rumble out of Fort Madison, La., in 2009, an affair that befuddled many competitors just as much as this one has. Directly behind Short is Scott Rook, another pro who’s polished many Arkansas River laydowns with his crankbaits and flipping lures. Rook’s lone win with B.A.S.S. came in the 2006 Major “Legends” event out of Little Rock, which he won with a flyweight creel of 34-09, likely less than it will take to win this week.

While all of the Elite Series pros have fished a variety of rivers around the country, this might be truly the most “rivery” of all rivers to host a professional tournament. Tide, current and timing are everything, and a failure to get on the right rotation is a death knell.

“Other than the tide, this is real similar to the Arkansas River,” Rook said. “When you get in those windy, narrow creeks with lots of wood, it looks just like the creeks at home.” He’s rotating through spots over a 4- to 5-mile stretch of a tributary, keying on “wood which has water on both low and high tide.”

“It’s all about hunting the right piece of cover,” he added. “When you see it, you know it.”

That presumes, of course, that you know what to look for.

While Rook is finding that the Delaware fits his style of riverine combat, he admitted that “I cringed when I saw it on the schedule.” Lowen, on the other hand, said he’s had this one circled on his calendar since the dates were announced last year. When he got here for pre-practice, his hopes were confirmed that it would fish just like his home waters on the Ohio River. “All of the metal, all of the seawalls. They set up in current just like at home.”

While both Lowen and Rook have found the Delaware to be a good fit for their talents, they’ve each found different parts of the tide to be most productive.

“When it’s low tide, there’s very little cover in the water,” Rook explained. “Also, all of the bait is out of the cover. There are plenty of fish there, but it’s all a timing deal.” He also managed to catch three fish today on the high tide, but he knows that those bites cannot be relied upon.

Rook’s tidal findings echo the conventional wisdom, but Lowen said that he’s catching most of his fish halfway through the incoming tide. “I didn’t have my first bite until 11 today,” he reported. “When I first got here, I looked at the tide chart and tried to follow the outgoing tide, but I only have a brief window on the incoming. Once it gets past that, there’s too much water on it.”

What’s his expert opinion on why he catches them when he does?

“I have no idea,” Lowen said. Sometimes the key is to understand how the fish set up in relation to the current in the cover, not necessarily why they are there.

While an understanding of rivers has proven to be an extreme advantage through two days, living close to the Delaware has not. While Iaconelli, sleeping in his own bed each night, seems to be parlaying his tidal-river roots into green gold, Elite Series rookie Joe Sancho failed to break his streak of missing the money on tour. The New York pro had prior experience on the Delaware, and while he tripled his first day (one bass) catch today with three for 3-08, it was not enough to make the check line. Like Lowen, he’d been looking forward to this one all season, and the failure to make the cut stung deep.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that I didn’t do better, he said. “I went out yesterday with the idea of catching a big sack in my head. I fished the main river because I was afraid the creeks would get beat up.

“I grew up fishing the Hudson,” he continued. “I felt very comfortable this week. I’d love to have another crack at it. I want to do good. Any time you don’t do good, it hurts.” Over six months on tour, he’s learned that “these guys are all good. They’re all sticks. They all do their homework, cross their t’s and dot their i’s. They don’t leave any stone unturned.”

Your house or their house, they make themselves feel at home.