Sabine: the unknown of unknowns

The Elite Series event on the Sabine River hasn’t started and already there is a buzz in the air.

It’s like that every year and in every circuit, from the Elites to the Mighty Hookers Bass Club in Evening Shade, Ark.

You have to understand that to get a full appreciation for what is about to take place.

For starters, there is not an angler in the field whose eyes are not on the Toyota Angler of the Year trophy. Prior to Thursday’s weigh-in, all 100 anglers searching for keeper fish in the Sabine River and the surrounding fisheries are tied for one of the sport’s most coveted titles. They're dreaming about that, along with a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

While no single event determines who will win or lose the race, that dream will start to define the reality of the Elite Series season in a few months. There are single events that serve both as launching pads and crash sites.

Thursday is a day of hanging tight to hopes and hating the cold slap of reality.

After this derby – after only one event – some dreams will be dashed. The probability of winning an AOY title will be relegated to the same place as an angler trying to flip thick brush with 4-pound test: Not going to happen without a whole lot of luck and intervention from higher powers.

Looking back from 2006 to last year, each of those seasons was similar to this one from a scheduling standpoint. If you look at the last seven years, the lowest an AOY winner has started his season is 31st. That was in 2008 when Kevin VanDam won the title. Interesting enough, he won the next event, so he dug himself out of a hole pretty quickly.

His two events serve as an indicator of why an angler must get started on the right foot. Of the last seven AOY winners, including Skeet Reese during the AOY playoff years, the average start for the eventual winner was around 15th place.

I don’t get too hung up on numbers. This sport is often more about passion and the veins of confidence that flow within, along with the whims of a green fish driven by survival, than it is about statistics. There are always numbers-busters, when you consider all the variables.

That brings us to the Sabine River, the biggest unknown the Elite Series has seen since the first season in 2005.

As far as footprints, the potential tournament waters could leave first- and second-place anglers as much as 350 miles apart. As a reporter, I’m praying that doesn’t happen.

Likewise, as a reporter, I can’t get a good feel for what could take place in terms of catching fish. I’m not Nostradamus. I know only what the anglers tell me. In this event, like no other, there isn’t much to know, just a lot of assumptions – too many to dole out.

That presents a hazy forecast. The only certainty is that fuel will be burned in epic proportions. The Sabine River represents bass fishing's version of finding a needle in a haystack, while jumping high hurdles. There is so much water to cover and no easy way to get there.

Catch rates are expected to be high. Five-bass daily limits are expected to be at a premium, and average bag weights are predicted to be low. Regardless, at the end of this event there will be a winner and a list of names in varying order below them. In between, the usual levels of competition, drama, euphoria and heartbreak will be spread among the field.

And at this event's conclusion, only a select group will remain in position to win the AOY trophy, as it is every year.

There might be as many knees knocking and hands shaking as there were during the Classic last month. But the shakes will be strictly from nerves, not freezing weather.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might as well have been talking about this Elite Series event, instead of Iraq, when he said the following:

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know.

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

Stay tuned for four days of "unknown unknowns" on the Sabine.

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