AOY might be decided today

Chris Zaldain predicted it on Wednesday, saying the next four days at Lake Tenkiller would decide the Toyota Angler of the Year contest, not the three-day AOY Championship at Lake St. Clair next week.

After one day at Tenkiller, Zaldain's prediction appears accurate. Based on the Day 1 standings, the AOY points race tightened up big-time. Scott Canterbury's lead would be only 2 points over Stetson Blaylock, 6 points over Cory Johnston and 9 points over Zaldain.

Remember, these daily updated AOY standings during a tournament are simply a glimpse at potential change. No points are earned until each angler's place in the standings becomes final. And that's why today is so important. The season-long point totals for 40 anglers are going to become final after today's weigh-in, when the field will be cut to the top 35 in this 75-man field.

"It's not going to be decided at St. Clair," Zaldain said Wednesday. "It's going to be decided this week. The door could be left wide open."

Canterbury finished Day 1 in 30th place. If he doesn't make the top 35 cut today, he will have left the door wide open. But it's a completely different day weather-wise on this extremely tough Ozark Highlands reservoir. And it looks to be the most important day of the season so far for anglers up and down the AOY standings.

Speculation on the AOY/Classic race

Baseball has the magic number, which shows how many wins a team needs to clinch a playoff spot. In fishing it’s harder to project at times, but here is an attempt to clear up some situations.

The projected Top 50 points cut after Tenkiller is somewhere in the region of 511 points. Tyler Rivet holds that spot going into the event with 455 points. That means the projected number is factoring in his average finish thus far into a points total, an expectation of a 45th place finish. Obviously, if all the bubble anglers and cut guys are in the Top 20 it’ll balloon that number.

With 511 being the expected point total for the 50th spot, it means the Top 35 in points are safe from falling outside the Top 50 in points and missing the AOY Championship (unless they zero in this event). The Classic cutline of 42nd place is expected to fall around 534, give or take a few.

There are a select few below 50th still in contention to make it to Lake St. Clair next week. Jesse Tacoronte (58th) seems to be the lowest with a chance to sneak into the Top 50. There is a gap from Tacoronte to Steve Kennedy (59th) of 15 points which pushes Kennedy on the outskirts. Tacoronte would need an 18th place finish or better to hit the 511 point total, but with 8 anglers ahead of him he would have to overcome their finishes as well with some help from anglers inside the cut.

On the flip side; you get 26 points for last place as long as you catch a bass (otherwise it’s zero). The trio of Paul Mueller, Skylar Hamilton and Cliff Prince need minimum points to clinch a spot to AOY next week. But being just above the Classic cutline, they’d need more to stay in contention for the Top 42 in points.

Schultz has a small limit - very small

One angler predicted yesterday that at least one angler in this tournament wouldn't weigh one keeper in two days. That's how tough it has been at Lake Tenkiller. The saving grace for many of these guys today has been the 12-inch minimum length limit on spotted bass, as opposed to the 16-inch minimum for largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Bernie Schultz has a five-bass limit, but apparently they're all about the size of the spotted bass in the photo here. His five weigh an estimated 5 pounds even.

Tacoronte rallies with a big smallmouth

It's difficult to stay focused on a long, hot day like this one, especially when keepers are few and far between. But Jesse Tacoronte's ability to keep his head in the game paid off with this 3-pound, 10-ounce smallmouth bass at 12:15. He's got two fish totaling about 6 1/2 pounds, which is enough to keep you in contention today on Lake Tenkiller.

Morgenthaler lands key fish at noon

Chad Morgenthaler wasn't able to take advantage of the early morning bite. He had only a single 1-pound keeper in his livewell approaching the noon hour. Nothing like a 3 1/2-pounder at 11:58 to improve your outlook on life. Morgenthaler has a lot on the line this week, as he came in ranked 47th in the AOY standings.

The biology of Tenkiller

The fishing isn’t exactly on fire at Tenkiller. We’ve seen and heard many theories about why. Wrong month, excessively hot temperatures, and high (now falling) water. That’s too bad, considering the fact this fertile lake supports healthy populations of largemouth, spotted and smallmouth bass. In fact, Tenkiller ranks as one of Oklahoma’s best smallmouth lakes, if not the best.

Those are facts shared with me by someone who should know. He is Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. Conservation Director and the former assistant chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Gillland joined the department as a fisheries biologist in 1982.

According to Gilliland, smallmouth are native to this part of the state, and mostly in the presence of a stream-based strain. They never became established in area lakes, and the state stocked Tenkiller with smallmouth transplants from Tennessee only once, in 1981. Ironically, many of those transplants came from the lake I grew up on, which is J. Percy Priest Lake, located just outside of Nashville.

“The Tennessee fish adapted really well to Tenkiller because they were more lake oriented,” he said.

Very well, in fact Gilliland told me that Tenkiller produces 20-pound winning weights of smallmouth. Four pounders are common and 6-plus pounders are not uncommon. Some smallmouth caught here push the 8-pound mark. The winter fishing for smallmouth is excellent.

Gilliland also enlightened me on the background of the 16-inch minimum length limit for smallmouth and largemouth.

“The slot limit was put into effect in 1991 after studies showed us Tenkiller was a bass factory that was overproducing,” he said. “As anglers harvested fewer bass, we really started to see Tenkiller becoming overpopulated, and growth rates began too slow.”

He went on to explain the theory behind the slot was to encourage harvesting of fish below the 13-inch slot, to leave more food in place for the bigger fish to grow faster. Between the slot limit and a natural cycle of good and weak spawns the population grew in size.

“Instead of having good recruitments every year it’s helped balance things out,” he said.

He added, “Tenkiller is one of the few lakes in the state where we have over-wintering threadfin shad, so there is a really good forage base.”

What is more, Gilliland said most clubs use the 16-inch minimum length limit for their events.

“It takes 16-inch or longer fish to win tournaments under normal conditions.”

Lake Tenkiller Elite Forecast

The remnants of Imelda will cause some rain issues during the final three days of the tournament, but we should stay dry throughout the fishing day today. The above image shows rainfall estimates of over 1/2-inch to nearly 1-inch for the area in eastern Oklahoma with most of that falling on Friday. I'm afraid that totals are being underestimated, but let's hope I am wrong.

Weather for the remainder of the fishing day looks to be partly cloudy as we'll have some clouds move in from the remnants of Imelda, along with southeasterly winds at 5-10 MPH. Afternoon highs will top out around 85 degrees with dewpoints close to 70 degrees, making the heat index reach close to 90 degrees. There is a very, very small chance of a shower or thunderstorm after 3:00 pm, but those chances are only around 20%.

Rain chances will be much higher on Friday as the remnants of Imelda will be accelerating to the north and moving into the area. Skies will be mostly cloudy and we can expect periods of rain and a few claps of thunder. Some of that rain may be heavy at times. Temperatures will only climb from the upper 60s to the lower 70s throughout the fishing day. Dewpoints will be in the lower 70s and winds will be out of the south-southeast at 5-10 MPH.

The remnants of Imelda will keep a chance of rain throughout the fishing day with skies remaining mostly cloudy. While rain will not be an issue for the entire day, a scattered shower or thunderstorms could occur at any time. Take-off temperatures will be in the lower 70s and the daytime high will top out in the upper 70s. Winds will be out of the south at 5-10 MPH with dewpoints in the lower 70s. The chance of rain will be around 40%.

A pretty-similar forecast to Saturday... There will be a chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms throughout the day due to what is left of Imelda, topping out at 40%. There will be more clouds than sun with temperatures starting off in the lower 70s at take-off and topping out in the upper 70s. Dewpoints will be in the lower 70s and winds will be out of the south at 5-10 MPH.

Huff with a limit

Mike Huff has just finished his limit. Maybe.

He caught one in the 1 1/2- to 2-pound range. And spent a couple of minutes measuring it. It would touch on one side and be short on the other. He put it in the well. But he will likely measure it again.

He will want it to sure enough touch before he heads to the scales.

Classic jitters

If Mike Huff can stick around the top of the standings in this event it could lock him into his first Classic.

I asked him if he was thinking about it.

He quickly replied, “I don’t want to think about it.”

“That word makes me nervous,” he added.

Of course, he has no idea he’s leading at the moment. And there’s plenty of time for things to go right. Or go wrong.

So we won’t bring up the Classic word anymore. At least for a day.

Prince has a limit

Cliff Prince has a five-bass limit this morning, which is no easy feat. More importantly, it continues a strong end to his Elite Series season. The Palatka, Fla., pro had been up one tournament and down the next until a 26th-place finish at the St. Lawrence River and a 10th-place finish at Cayuga Lake. That moved him just inside the 42nd place Bassmaster Classic cut in the Angler of the Year standings. Prince is 41st in the AOY points entering this tournament.