Anyone can fish on Sunday

The Sabine River featured tight weights and endless opportunities in the last Bassmaster Elite Series event. It's fitting that the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin is doing much of the same this week.

The Top 50 are fishing on Semi-Final Saturday, but it's anyone's game to make the Top 12 for Championship Sunday. From Hunter Shryock in 12th place to John Crews in 50th its only 2 pounds, 14 ounces difference. Anglers who squeaked into payday could jump into contention, steal a Top 12 spot and even gain valuable Toyota Angler of the Year points and Rookie of the Year race.

The difference from 12th to 50th may be just 2-14, but from 1st to 12th it is 3-14. Jumping into the Top 12 is one battle, but staying in striking distance to win is another thing.

DeFoe's big move

Yesterday at this time Ott DeFoe was grinding it out just trying to catch a limit. He did that and more, and he’s doing it again today.

Yesterday, DeFoe vaulted from 82nd place to 18th place on the strength of a limit weighing 18 pounds, 2 ounces, the heaviest limit caught thus far. Now, BASSTrakk shows DeFoe in the lead or the same place he finished here in 2016.

What else is important about this scenario is recognizing that now is the time to begin watching the standings in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. You might recall that last year DeFoe started the season in first place, before gradually sliding down the rankings. He qualified for the Classic, but doing so this year is even more important. The 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods is in Knoxville, Tenn., his hometown.

Zaldain, Martens sharing water

This morning Chris Zaldain told me he’s fishing like he likes to fish. That can only mean finesse fishing. On his front deck was one spinning rod.

Zaldain is doing what he does best, and he’s doing that in shared water with the leader, Aaron Martens.

“I’m on a really good spot, when you cast in there you get a bite every single time,” he said. “My hook to land ratio is good and every time I get one on the hook I land it.”

What else is important about what both anglers are doing is they planned ahead for the rising water.

“I practiced for the flooding waters, spending a lot of time out on the river, graphing offshore areas,” he explained.

“There are two really good schools and the best time is early in the morning.” he continued.

“Aaron’s in the area and there was one particularly good spot I was going to save, but not now. It’s a killer spot and we’re just going to try and stay out of each other’s way."

Highest cut-weight ever at La Crosse

In many ways, this tournament is holding true to form for an Elite Series event on the Mississippi River at La Crosse. However, the Day 2/Top 50 cut-weight was the highest, by far, of the four events.

In 2012 it was 25-8, in 2013 it was 23-5, in 2016 it was 24-12 and yesterday Brent Chapman and John Crews tied in the 49th and 50th spots with 27-7. There was a three-way tie for "bubble boy." Stephen Browning, Micah Frazier and Steve Kennedy each had 27-5, finishing 51st through 53rd.

At the top of the standings, Aaron Martens' first-place weight of 34-3 is second to Ott DeFoe's Day 2 first-place weight of 35-2.

Martens has four for 8 lbs.

Aaron Martens has already employed the one-two punch that has put him in the lead after two days - a big flutter spoon and a shaky head worm. He's caught fish on both in the first 45 minutes. His fourth came on the spoon. Martens has about 8 pounds.

Check out Martens Day 2 action here

Martens starts quickly

Aaron Martens is on his hot spot up the Black River, about a mile from the takeoff site. And it started hot. He caught two keepers on his first two or three casts. They total about 3 1/2 pounds.

Chris Zaldain, who has also fished this spot, went to one of the other places in the Black River where he and Martens have fished this week. It's not an ideal situation for two California natives who have much respect for each other. But they're handling it like the friends and pros they are. Aaron is on "the juice" first.

Steve Bowman and I are with old pal Brian Beebe today, following Martens. I've been here before - with James Overstreet and Beebe when the Hexagenia limbata mayfly hatch broke out en masse in 2013, and totally frustrated Martens, who dropped from first to second behind Tommy Biffle on Day 4.

Martens just landed his third keeper of the day - another one he hopes gets culled eventually, just like the other two.

Forecast update

We will have patchy fog to start off the fishing day at the boat launch with temperatures in the upper 50s, but that fog should lift and leave us with an overall nice day with mostly sunny skies. The temperature at the start of weigh-in will be around 80 degrees. Winds will be out of the northeast to start at 1-4 MPH, but will eventually shift out of the northwest at 2-5 MPH before the end of the fishing day. Humidity levels will be in the upper 50s.

I mentioned a chance of showers and thunderstorms may affect the end of the tournament in my first forecast  morning, and that is still holding true. Skies will be partly to mostly cloudy throughout the fishing day with temperatures starting off in the lower 60s. Looks like the chance of a shower or thunderstorm occurring somewhere over the Mississippi will be during the afternoon hours, but I'm crossing my fingers that the rain holds off to much later after all festivities are over. We'll top out in the lower 80s by the end of the fishing day. Winds will be out of the southeast at 2-7 MPH. The chance of rain will be around 20% by the end of the fishing day, and increases to near 40% just after that.

Is "The Hex" coming?

If today is an indication, we may be in for a serious onslaught of "The Hex." It'll be deja vu for the Elite Series anglers who were here in 2013, and a nightmare for Aaron Martens in particular.

"The Hex" is the Hexagenia limbata, the largest mayfly species in North America. Other nicknames for it are "the giant Michigan mayfly" and "the great lead-winged drake."

Mayflies are aquatic insects, which spend most of their lives burrowed in the mud. As the nymphs emerge and come to the water surface, they enter the adult stage, go airborne, mate and die.

Mayflies are an indicator of good water quality. As the Mississippi River water quality has improved in recent years, the "Hex hatch" has become massive. Local officials have used snowplows to clear bridges of the slick coat of smushed mayflies, and the Hex hatch has shown up on weather radar as a massive cloud.

"They're like Cheez-Its," complained Martens in 2013, after a huge mayfly hatch affect the bite that had given him the lead heading into the final day here on June 23. "The bass are just eating Cheez-Its."

Martens weighed only 13-15 on Day 4 and finished second to Tommy Biffle.

If the big "Hex hatch" is on the way, you'll know it before daybreak tomorrow. Wherever there is a light source, like around local convenience stores and gas stations, mayflies will squish underfoot everywhere you go. And the bass will be eating mayflies/Cheez-Its in the Mississippi River.

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