Dixie Duel Live Blog, Day One

Day One - Lake Wheeler


Here's the final on the water gallery, featuring Edwin Evers and his Day One.

3:00 p.m.

This is the last blog of the day. I'll be headed down to the check-in dock to get an idea of just how close we've been on our guesses today on this blog and in BASSTrakk. A lot is at stake for me too, I have a fantasy title to defend.

The anglers will soon be idling in and once the weigh-in starts we expect a lot of fireworks. The AOY standings will certainly change, especially when it comes to the Classic and the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week. How it shifts will be fun to figure out.

Tomorrow, we will once again have a contingent on the water and with a little clarity in the points race and and standings should be able to give a good look at how the day progresses. I hope you will join us again.

-- Steve Bowman

2:53 p.m.

David Walker is the sole subject of our second on-the-water gallery,  taken by Rob Russow. 

2:53 p.m.

As the first day of competition wraps up, I thought it was interesting to see all the late-day catches coming in, bumping some of the guys up into contention. Certainly, the vast majority of the fish are caught early, but that late bite has been key. There is a lot on the line at the Dixie Duel, not only the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, but places in Toyota Trucks All-Star Week and the Bassmaster Classic. David Walker certainly helped his Classic case, with the biggest stringer we were tracking, but as he found out last week when he got locked out on the river, all that can go up in smoke in only a day.
There will be a lot of drama and a lot of heartache as the tournament wears on. Just who comes out on top and whose season ends tomorrow is what we are here to find out.
 I’ll be out on the water doing the same thing tomorrow and I love to get feedback from those following the blog. Post your comments below and I will either answer them myself or have one of the anglers I’m with answer your question.
-Rob Russow


2:48 p.m.

An added point to the last blog. There are 47 anglers remaining who haven't had a tracker on them and at least another 12 or 15 that have gone off the radar all day.

Griffin just showed us how little we really know. At least for today. After today's weigh in we will be able to have a better idea of who to watch and how this could shake out. Of course, we could also have another one of those off-the-radar anglers like Griffin bust a big sack and get us off track again tomorrow.

But that's why we love this sport. Anything can happen, and often does.

-- Steve Bowman


2:45 p.m.

It's always what we don't know that we fear the most, or drives us crazy or keeps us worried.

Chad Griffin is one of those anglers who always closes out the year in fine fashion. He won a couple of years ago on Oneida in the last event.

He's having a terrible year this season, sitting way down the AOY list. We've not had a tracker on him. But he just weighed in, which is available to the anglers in these hot weather events, where fish care becomes an issue.

Griffin, though, surprised us all with an 18 pound, 1 ounce sack. It was actually 18-9, but a fish-care penalty cost him a half pound. Obviously he didn't even figure into our mix, but that shifts a lot of folks down.

Undoubtedly, Griffin is fishing for the automatic berth to the Classic that goes with winning. He will certainly be close to that after Day One. But if he doesn't he could also turn into one of those spoiler types _ not only does he take away valuable points, but he can become a tweener, sliding in between people to create distance and more points for an angler.

As an example, Evers needs a lot of tweeners between him and VanDam to win the AOY.

-- Steve Bowman


2:37 p.m

James Overstreet just came back in from his day on the water and offers up a photo gallery ranging from the crowds on the Decatur Flat, to Mike Iaconelli catching them and of course, Kevin VanDam as he tries to win his fourth consecutive Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.

2:22 p.m.

It's always impressive to see the cream rise to the top after one of these tough days of fishing.

Davy Hite, who is having a year that some of us might say is his comeback, is now in third. Ott DeFoe, who has been leading the Rookie race all year, has jumped to fourth and now is challenging for a position in the All-Star Week. His challenger in the rookie standings, Keith Combs is in the top 10.

Love to see Kelly Jordon in the top five. He's gotten married, had a bout with skin cancer and is now a new daddy. He's getting back on track. Terry Scroggins may be serving notice to KVD, Evers and Kennedy that they need to bring the goods in the AOY race. Evers, by the way, has slipped to 16th at the moment.

Then you have Brauer, who is obviously on a roll, and Mark Davis, who needs a top finish, rounding out the top 10.

This event gets more interesting by the second. Remember we only have trackers on 50, and some of them are out of sight.

Skeet Reese, for example, is determined to win this event. Swindle is fishing close to home and we have no idea what either is doing. Outside of knowing he has a decent limit, we really don't know what KVD has.

The weigh in will fun.

-- Steve Bowman


2:08 p.m.

Marty Robinson and Iaconelli have fallen out of the top 15. Meanwhile, Davy Hite has jumped all the way up to third and Terry Scroggins has slipped right inside the top 15. The afternoon bite looks to be paying off for some anglers. Kelly Jordan continues to upgrade his catch and Chris Lane has pulled ahead of his brother. This seems to be the time of day anglers where the anglers are able to add a little more weight to their bags before they have to check in. This will be the last BASSTrakk update until tomorrow morning. table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;}

Place Angler Fish Total
1 David Walker 5 19-00
2 Russ Lane 5 16-01
3 Davy Hite 5 15-05
4 Kelly Jordon 5 14-02
5 Kevin Wirth 5 13-15
6 Keith Combs 5 13-14
7 Denny Brauer 5 13-12
8 Mark Davis 5 13-08
9 Peter Thilveros 5 13-00
9 Terry Scroggins 5 13-00
11 Chris Lane 5 12-04
12 Timmy Horton 5 11-09
13 Edwin Evers 5 11-04
14 Ish Monroe 5 11-02
15 Bobby Lane 5 10-14

-- Hank Weldon


2:03 p.m.

I'm sure these guys are way too confident of their own abilities to be thinking about the fact that they're fishing against such talent in close proximity, but I'm certain I couldn't make a cast without backlashing if I was in there with them.

-- Ken Duke


1:54 p.m.

Last week’s spot sharing fiasco seems like a joke compared to how close competitors are fishing here on Wheeler. Ike and Bobby Lane were about 20 feet apart. Kelly Jordon and Edwin Evers were making casts across a spot to the other angler’s boat and reeling back in. Multiple anglers have fished spots that someone caught fish on earlier. With a huge stretch of the Tennessee River to work with, it is amazing how much these guys dial in on the exact same spots.
Riding down the river, there will be a few miles without a boat in sight and then all of a sudden, there are three boats on one spot. Looking at the GPS and graph, there won’t be anything significant there, but those three boats obviously found something worth fishing. Then four more miles of nothing and the mouth of the next creek has five boats within 200 yards of each other.
David Walker said in his boat that it is like fishing against yourself. Your competitors are looking for the same things you are and rest assured they will find them. It makes for a nerve-wracking tournament because you may have found the best spot on the lake, only to pull up and find someone else fishing the spot. Walker himself fished in a crowd of six other anglers this morning and it worked out pretty well for him. What happens on Day Two, we will just have to see, when the flights are flipped and Walker is back farther in the field.
-Rob Russow


1:46 p.m.

KVD, Mile Iaconelli and Boyd Duckett are all within about 75 yards of each other on the downriver side of Finley Island. That's a lot of AOY and Classic titles in a very small area. I don't like the fish's chances here. They're definitely outgunned.

-- Ken Duke


1:31 p.m.

Peter T is also at the mouth of Rocky Branch, and he's tossing ... Jig? Yes, it's a jig and not a Carolina rig, as you might expect. He's catching them on the rig and a crankbait, and trying to upgrade his catch with the jig. The affable Floridian is one competitor who doesn't mind a little conversation with us on the water, even joking around as he fishes. It probably helps that he's catching them.

-- Ken Duke


1:20 p.m.

Duke brought it up so I can't help myself. There are a lot of ideas about Jonathon VanDam and Denny Brauer last week. A lot of this and that over who was wrong and who was right?

My take is simple. Jonathon VanDam did nothing wrong. He got barked at by one of the old dogs of the sport. And that in turn made some folks think that maybe he was infringing on Brauer's territory.

Brauer has every right to beat his chest and try to establish a boundary. That's a part of the game that is as old as Denny is long in the tooth. But that doesn't mean JVD should kow-tow to him.

Sunday while we were blogging and hopping into boats etc., we were able to jump in and check waypoints on JVD's electronics. They were all created Tuesday during practice. He mentioned when we picked him up on Day One that he had lost some good fish in an area and was going back.

At that point, nothing had been said or revealed to anyone. He was one of the first back and the only reason we talked to him was he stopped and brought in a stranded angler who wouldn't have made it back without JVD.

Zeroes are costly in the Elite Series. Bad days are hard to rebound from. For JVD to not go back to a his primary area because Denny was close by would have been suicide, especially after losing a couple of big fish on Day One. For Denny to not mark his territory would have been out of character. As I said earlier, JVD did nothing wrong. There was far more at stake than just money.

They can battle it out between themselves. As fans we may want to take sides, but we shouldn't.

--Steve Bowman


1:18 p.m.

Elias has several buoys all around him. He's likely marking his territory for Keith Combs. As we saw last week at the Arkansas River, old schoolers like Elias and Denny Brauer may have different ideas about tournament etiquette than rookies like Combs and Jonathon VanDam. Likely, their values are just about the same, but why take chances when you can just drop a buoy?

-- Ken Duke


1:15 p.m.

Keith Combs and Paul Elias are at the mouth of Rocky Branch. Combs is cranking a ledge and Elias is throwing a Carolina rig. Elias says he has about 16 pounds. It's a far cry from what he did on Falcon Lake in 2008, but he won't need 132-8 to win here. That might win this tournament twice!

-- Ken Duke


Elias needs to have the type weight he has building. Without it he's well away from striking distance to get in the Classic. Going into today, he was in 58th in the AOY list, somewhere around 150 points out. If he can win that's automatic, but if he can stay in the very top he could knock out a hopeful with a last-event awesome tourney.

-- Steve Bowman


1:10 p.m.

A couple of things: Chris Lane has joined the party. He is one ounce behind his brother, Bobby Lane. Also, check out Kelly Jordan. Rob Russow talked earlier in the blog about Kelly having to sit back and watch Edwin Evers catch fish after fish. Well, it looks like Kelly found his fair share of bass as the day has grown older. table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;}

Place Angler Fish Total
1 David Walker 5 19-00
2 Russ Lane 5 16-01
3 Kevin Wirth 5 13-15
4 Mark Davis 5 13-08
5 Kelly Jordon 5 13-07
6 Peter Thilveros 5 13-00
7 Denny Brauer 5 12-00
8 Keith Combs 5 11-13
9 Edwin Evers 5 11-04
10 Ish Monroe 5 11-02
11 Timmy Horton 5 11-01
12 Bobby Lane 5 10-14
13 Chris Lane 5 10-13
14 Marty Robinson 3 10-11
15 Michael Iaconelli 5 10-08

-- Hank Weldon


1:05 p.m.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that the late bite on Wheeler is critical. I think it will be the early bite though that wins the tournament. As we saw with Jeremy Starks the last time the Elite Series visited Wheeler in June, catching the best fish happens in the first hour or two of competition. Plus, they are taking off a little later, 7:45 a.m. ET and the sun is getting pretty well up by then. When Starks won, he caught his weight in the first hour and then defended his spot for the rest of the day.
The fishing isn’t as good this time around, but they are still catching them early. We watched Edwin Evers first thing this morning catching fish on cast after cast. Some were white bass and some were shad, but many were largemouth and he had a limit and was culling within 45 minutes. On the way back up the late recently, I saw two different anglers fishing that same spot. Evers pulled off of it after a few hours and it seemed to be a well-known spot. Still, if he gets there first again tomorrow, he could sack them up again pretty quickly.
-Rob Russow


12:49 p.m.

Boyd Duckett is fishing the power line at the end of Decatur Flats. It's an area he found several years ago and which was reportedly stolen from him by another competitor for that event. Now he has it all to himself, but it's not working out that well. "Where'd all my big ones go?" he says as he works a soft plastic jerkbait through the area. The 2007 Classic champ is another angler who has to win if he wants to fish the 2012 Classic. He's dug a deep hole, and it'll be tough to climb out.

-- Ken Duke


12:42 p.m.

For you fans trying to keep score at home, you can see Kevin VanDam came into this event with a 55-point lead on Edwin Evers in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.

What you might not have is the 2011 B.A.S.S. media guide, which breaks down points awarded for each position. Now, these points aren’t final until the angler’s fishing is done, but the AOY standings should update each day after weigh-in, once the computers do all their ciphering.

You might already know the winner of the Dixie Duel will get 300 points, plus 5 bonus points each day he led. Somebody could haul in 320 points, like Brauer last week for winning wire to wire.

Second place garners 295 points, and the points decrease five per position through fifth place (280), then they drop four per position (sixth, 276) through 10th (260). From 11th to 15th, there’s a three-point decrease, 257 to 245, respectively, and after that there’s a two-point drop through the remainder of the field.

For any ties, the points for those spots are added then divided. Finally, anglers don’t get points if they don’t weigh a fish.

As an example, say Evers leads all four days, that’s 320 points. It would give him 1,996 for the year. For him to win his first AOY and stop KVD from his fourth consecutive and seventh overall, KVD would have to be ninth or worse.

A wire-to-wire win for Steve Kennedy, currently third in AOY points 114 behind KVD, would give him 1,937 points. KVD would have to finish 35th or lower and Evers couldn’t be higher than 10th.

Are you playing at home? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

-Mike Suchan


12:29 p.m.

There are boats stacked around Decatur right now. I watched Kevin VanDam for a short while and he was away from the crowd a little ways. Like always, a contingent of spectator boats followed him around, but not as many as last week. That number will only grow, especially if he stays in contention.
Skeet Reese was pretty close to the launch also. He's down to getting a victory in this event if he wants to fish the Classic. His history on the Tennessee River is strong and he could certainly do something this week.
The bottom line right now is that they just aren't catching much. Most have done their damage for the day. In some ways, this is a critical time because any good fish here in the final hours will go a long way.
-Rob Russow


12:18 p.m.

We are in the middle of the slow part of the day, but we expect things to start picking up in an hour or so. I seem to recall sometime after 1 p.m. as being  the target time when current would be running through the lake. When that happens, fish start biting.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of catching up to this point. Of those we are tracking, 35 anglers have limits. That doesn't include KVD who has a limit but seems to be out of range. We think we should be able to double our numbers and have a good feel for what is taking place. If that's the case, then about 70 percent of the field has a limit.

Of those we are tracking 10 pounds is in the 12th to 13th place range. I don't know about doubling that, but we have to believe there are some stringers in that range that aren't being counted.

Meanwhile, the slowness has Ken Duke rolling out a few one-liners as he shadows KVD. Things like: "It only takes KVD half an hour to watch 60 Minutes,'' and "Superman wears KVD pajamas" followed by "A cop once pulled KVD over, but KVD let him off with a warning." and hopefully ending with "Ghosts around a campfire tell KVD stories."

This is the life of a blogger.

-- Steve Bowman


12:08 p.m.

KVD says things aren't going very well -- "little ones." Of course, he doesn't have to win here, just hold off Edwin Evers. If he can do that ... Well, he's already the best of all time. Maybe they'll write a song about him, give him his own reality series or make up some Chuck Norris-type jokes.

--Ken Duke

12:04 p.m.

We're behind Finley Island and just watched KVD catch a small one. It went right back in the lake, so he's obviously got a limit. Believe it or not, the world's greatest power fisherman is throwing a Carolina rig! Whatever it takes to win a seventh AOY!

-- Ken Duke

12:01 p.m.

Takahiro Omori is casting jigs and Carolina rigs on the flat. He has a limit weighing roughly 11 pounds. That's pretty good based on what we've seen and heard, so far. A top 20 or 25 finish should put Tak back in the Classic, which he won in 2004.

-- Ken Duke

We have Omori at 19th for those we are tracking. He was 42nd on the AOY going into to today.

-- Steve Bowman


11:54 a.m.

Marty Robnson's 7-pounder certainly opened the can of possibilities. That kind of fish, which we know are in the lake, are game changers in any event. But they could be even more so here than anywhere else. Robinson is undoubtedly happy about it. He was 33rd in the AOY going into today.

He doesn't know about the moves and shakes taking place below him by Lane, Clunn, Davis et al. But he probably expects that to happen. A 7-pounder, though, should keep him in the Classic at the moment and stave off the rush of determined anglers behind him.

And if another one shows up, with the weights that are being caught, it could change someone's career. A single fish that size, would put you in the top 35.

-- Steve Bowman


11:50 a.m.

I know we have found a good spot on Wheeler because Timmy Horton is fishing it. Horton is not only great on the Tennessee River, but he can flat out catch them on a crankbait.

On the line for Horton is a berth in the Classic - he entered the event in 40th place. He has to be happy that the finale is on his home waters.

Also here, another crankbait giant Paul Elias and Rookie of the Year contender Keith Combs. No one is getting bit, but the best flurry likely came this morning.

Someone is firing a gun in the distance repeatedly. Call it a shotgun start cause we are off to the races.

-Rob Russow


11:40 a.m.

Latest Standing update:

Notice 11th place. Marty Robinson has three fish that will weigh 10 pounds and change. His catch is anchored by a reported seven pounder. That is huge for Wheeler. There are a lot of fish in the three to five pound class, but not many in the six pound and higher club. If he can fill out his limit, he will be in good shape going into tomorrow. table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;}

Place Angler Fish Total
1 David Walker 5 18-00
2 Russ Lane 5 16-01
3 Kevin Wirth 5 13-15
4 Mark Davis 5 13-08
5 Peter Thilveros 5 13-00
6 Keith Combs 5 11-13
7 Edwin Evers 5 11-04
8 Ish Monroe 5 11-02
9 Timmy Horton 5 11-01
10 Bobby Lane 5 10-14
11 Marty Robinson 3 10-11
12 Michael Iaconelli 5 10-08
13 Casey Ashley 5 10-04
14 Pat Golden 5 9-12
15 Rick Clunn 5 9-11

-- Hank Weldon


11:37 a.m.

We're now on the other end of Decatur Flats -- near Finley Island -- and the gang's all here. Tietje, Jones, Omori, Goldbeck, JVD, Parker and Stricklin are all fishing the big flat where so many pundits say the tournament will be won. Alton Jones just filled out his limit with a 1 1/2 pounder and says he has about 7 1/2 pounds. He's fishing a Texas rigged plastic worm.

-- Ken Duke


11:20 a.m.

We asked Ponds about his day, but stayed silent when we pulled near Clunn. His penchant for silence and focus is legendary. Interrupting that would be like screaming in church. After all, he is Rick Clunn!

-- Ken Duke


11:18 a.m.

Pete Ponds us fishing very close to Clunn and has a small limit. He says the big ones are hard to come by. We've heard that before. Someone somewhere on this lake has them, but who? Maybe KVD or Evers is blowing it wide open.

-- Ken Duke


11:14 a.m.

Every year someone jumps 10 or more places to sneak into the Classic at the last minute -- why not Clunn? He wants nothing more than the chance to win a fifth Classic and put KVD back in the rear view mirror.

-- Ken Duke


11:07 a.m.

Rick Clunn is throwing a crankbait on the river channel off Decatur Flats, not far from the power plant. This is a spot where summertime tournaments are frequently won, but it can be feast or famine. Clunn is 43rd in the AOY standings and needs to be fishing Sunday if he wants to qualify for his 33rd Classic.

-- Ken Duke


We have Clunn in 17th place with about 8 pounds. So he may be making a push for that Classic berth. Others that I see that are making some noise. Peter T, the big man, is in 8th on our list and needs a top finish to get in the Classic.

Timmy Horton is 40th in the AOY and on the bubble, we have him in 16th in the event and needs to stay there to fish the Classic.

It's also interesting to see Denny Brauer, fresh off a win, in 13th place in the event.

-- Steve Bowman


11:04 a.m.

Dean Rojas is in the Decatur Boat Harbor area throwing Kermit and what appears to be a bladed jig around emergent grass on a shallow flat. He's short of a limit. Rojas traditionally starts the Elite season strong and slows at the end. Right now he's in 21st place and safely in the Classic cut even without his win at Toledo Bend. With a top two or three finish here, he might even have a shot at All Star week.

-- Ken Duke


10:57 a.m.

Walker's day got off to a great start, boating a 4-pounder on the first cast of the day. Everything kind of carried from that momentum.

"I was excited and relieved at the same time," Walker said. "Knowing my back was against the wall after last week, for a change like that, it's an awesome feeling. That's what keeps you out here. You are going to have bad days, but days like today are what you do it for."

The bites came quick after that and then everything shut down. He did have plenty of other boats though, which might make things more difficult as the week progresses.

"Those other boats didn't help things much, that's for sure," Walker said. "I wish I had it all to myself. There's always something to worry about, but I don't want to screw up today by worrying about tomorrow. Skeet caught quite a few and Swindle caught a few but that was it."

Whatever Walker was doing differently, it worked.

-Rob Russow


10:52 a.m.

The catch rates do appear to have slowed some, but there has been a lot of catching taking place. We have 50 BASSTrakks on the top 50 in the AOY list. Of those, 25 have 5-fish limits, and several who don't register limits are out of range. Elementary math would assume that at least half the field has a limit at this point.

-- Steve Bowman


10:49 a.m.

Rob Russow has sent a video clip of Walker that's pretty intersting. It should be up on the BassCam page soon.

In that he explains that he felt like it would take 16 pounds to get a check in this event. He had no idea he would be where he is now, but then he caught a 4 1/2 pounder on his first cast. Talk about a story-book start to what appears to be a story-book finish for his season.

-- Steve Bowman


10:39 a.m.

Walker badly wants to make it back to the Classic, it's been his goal all year. He was upset to fall out of the race at the Arkansas River and needs a big finish here.

"I was watching the Stanley Cup last night and one of the guys had a great saying," Walker said. "He said, 'the pain is temporary, but the championship is forever.' Out here, in the heat and the tough conditions, you have to keep going to get to the Classic. You can't win a Classic unless you are there competing."

His wife Misty is watching back at the camper along with Lilly and Olivia and he's glad he was able to put up a good weight early for them.

"A tournament for them us just a camping trip," Walker said. "Tell her to quit worrying about tomorrow and enjoy today. Because I'm worrying about it already."

-Rob Russow


David Walker just summed up the previous blog with just a few words _ The Pain is temporary.

It's hard not to root for attitudes like that, never mind that he's on my fantasy team.

-- Steve Bowman

10:35 a.m.

Every sport fan loves last-minute heroics, come-from-behind underdogs, magic in the fourth quarter _ that type of thing.

We are seeing a lot of that type stuff today. It's not the fourth quarter yet, but just looking at the standings and reading the blogs, there seems to be a lot of guys fishing their pants off out of desperation.

Hackney, Davis, Walker, Lane are just a few we've mentioned. Tensions have to be high for those guys because they know every ounce counts in whether they go to the Classic or not. That's the pinnacle for them, it can mean the difference between a good year or one that is dismal.

Then you have the rookie race with Combs making his move. Evers, who is in 6th place currently, seemingly fishing against all odds at catching KVD. The drama is being played out on the water. We are just getting to see the results of it on the leaderboard and eventually the weigh in.

Great sporting events have that drama, and by any account this is setting up to be one of the greatest.

--Steve Bowman


10:33 a.m.

Hackney is pitching and flipping a Texas rigged soft plastic of some kind to blowdowns and other shallow cover. He has a limit with one "good one" and four other mere keepers.

-- Ken Duke


10:30 a.m.

Keith Combs is making a run at the Rookie of the Year title. He's currently in second in that race behind Ott DeFoe. We have Combs in 5th right now. But DeFoe is going down easily. He's in 10th place. That's just about 20 points difference between them in the event standings.

In the AOY standings, DeFoe has about 100 points on Combs, so there is still some ground to make up. But I can't recall a Rookie race ever being this tight and getting tighter.

-- Steve Bowman


10:28 a.m.

Greg Hackney is just across the lake from Martens and Lane, almost under the same power line, and he's just boated a small largemouth. It must not be too small, though, since he's culling with it. Hackney is currently 39th and outside the Classic cut, but a top 25 finish this week would seal a berth for him. He was in a similar position in 2008 -- 41st with one to go -- and finished that season in 36th with a ticket to the Classic.

-- Ken Duke


10:22 a.m.

Another angler who seems to be salvaging a Classic berth in this last event is Mark Davis. Davis was sitting pretty good at the Arkansas River until he got locked out and lost his weight. He was actually on pace to have a top 20 and potentially a final 12 showing there. But the lock caught him.

Understandably he was extremely disappointed last week. In his words, he "felt robbed." But he's making up for it today. We have him in 4th place of those we are tracking and like Lane, if he keeps that up he should make some leaps up the standings. He went into today in 47th in the AOY list, about 50 points from where he needed to be.

-- Steve Bowman


10:15 a.m.

Fishing has ground to a halt for everyone down here. The only fish caught since we pulled up was a short fish Walker pulled in a few minutes ago.

There isn't much wind to speak of here, especially cause we are just off the main river. It's getting hotter and obviously the morning bite is over. The water temperature is a balmy 87 degrees and unless the current picks up, I imagine the fishing will stay slow and steady.

Swindle has moved but McClelland and Montgomery are staying put. Montgomery even dropped a marker buoy and has been pretty dialed in just behind Walker.

-Rob Russow


10:12 a.m.

Bobby Lane and Mike Iaconelli have been sharing their spot in the mouth of a major channel since first thing this morning. Lane said both of them have limits that weigh about 10 pounds.

“The breeze picked up about an hour after we got here and boom, boom, boom, we caught them all right then, all the good fish,” Lane said. “This is classic ledge fishing. But now there’s no current and no wind. It’s about as tough as it gets.

“I’m just out here rootting around. But there’s a chance these fish will move up and get active later in the day.”

Lane said eight or 10 other boats have tried to come in on this spot, but he and Ike have “discouraged” anyone else from joining the party.

While we’ve been here Matt Greenblatt has caught his fifth fish and culled once.

-- Steve Wright

10:11 a.m.

We're up the river and under the power lines with Chris Lane and Aaron Martens. They're drop shotting just off a small man-made island that holds a power line tower. Martens has a limit that weighs 8 1/2 - 9 pounds. Lane's limit weighs about 6 pounds, but Aaron says he's catching up fast. Aaron's best fish weighs less than 3 pounds.

-- Ken Duke


10:05 a.m.

Russ Lane has jumped into the mix, to no surprise of those who aware of his expertise in Alabama. That's big for Lane. Last season he was high enough to finish in the post season. This season, he went into today in 50th place. A great finish here is important if he wants to fish in the Classic.

-- Steve Bowman


10:01 a.m.

table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;}
Place Angler Fish Total
1 David Walker 5 18-00
2 Russ Lane 5 16-01
3 Kevin Wirth 5 13-09
4 Mark Davis 5 12-08
5 Edwin Evers 5 11-04
6 Michael Iaconelli 5 10-08
7 Keith Combs 3 9-15
8 Bobby Lane 5 9-14
9 Ott Defoe 4 9-03
10 Timmy Horton 5 8-13
11 Ish Monroe 5 8-08
12 John Murray 5 7-12
13 Todd Faircloth 5 7-10
14 Dustin Wilks 5 7-07
15 Jason Williamson 5 7-05

-- Hank Weldon


10:00 a.m.

Theoretically, an angler currently ranked in the mid 50s could jump up into Classic qualifying range. Jason Quinn did it in 2009, going from 55th to 35th in the finale. Last year, Paul Elias made the biggest jump -- 44th to 37th.

--Ken Duke


9:54 a.m.

We have moved down the lake toward Wilson Dam where four anglers are bunched within just a few feet of each other, fishing the mouth of a creek channel. The atmosphere is extremely friendly.

Matt Greenblatt, who has four fish in the livewell, just handed Bobby Lane a wad of soft plastic baits. Mike Iaconelli has caught two fish in the 10 minutes we’ve been here. The first one at least was close enough that Iaconelli compared it to the smallest one he has in the livewell before tossing it back. The second one was pronounced “a string bean” by Iaconelli and immediately went back in the lake.

Matt Herren is the other angler fishing in this group. Dennis Tietje slowed as if thinking about joining the party, but has sped off instead.

--Steve Wright

9:50 a.m.

With 28 Elite berths plus the spots for tournament winners and Opens winners who happen to be Elite anglers, there will likely be 36-39 Elite anglers in the Classic field for 2012.

-- Ken Duke


9:48 a.m.

There don't seem to be many secrets on the lake, not even on the lower end. Mike McClelland and Chad Griffin both pulled into the same area as Walker, Griffin practically right on top of him. Shortly after that, Griffin left since it appeared Walker was right where he wanted to be.

Part of putting together a good tournament is defending your spots. With a good limit in the boat, Walker may be camped out to discourage others from moving in. Not much later, Gerald Swindle and Andy Montgomery rolled up.

It's a party here. We won't have to leave anytime soon.

-Rob Russow


9:43 a.m.

In our BASSTrakk list, which is just following the top 50 in the AOY list, we have Evers at fourth behind Walker, Mark Davis and Kevin Wirth. Because of spotty cell service, we aren't registering VanDam consisitently, but we do have a boat following him, we expect him to be around 10 pounds and that would have him in our top 10.

KVD will want to stay there. He knows if he can get to the top 12 and Evers doesn't lead for two days (gaining an extra 5 points for each day) that would be enough for him to take the AOY title.

Evers, though, knows his work is cut out for him. He needs to separate himself from KVD in a big way. If Evers were to win and lead two days and VanDam finished 12th or lower, he would win. If neither make the top 12, the points differential is 2 points per place, which means Evers would have to beat KVD by 110 places.

The key for both of them is stay as close to the top as possible, while hoping the other guy stumbles.

-- Steve Bowman

9:41 a.m.

So who's in, who's out and who still has a chance to make the Classic? Well, this season should play out much like the previous Elite seasons, despite the format change that sends each tournament winner to the Classic. More in a moment.

-- Ken Duke

9:38 a.m.

Jared Lintner has fish in his livewell, but they're small. He's Carolina rigging the mouth of Flint Creek and just lost a little one. Lintner's safely in the Classic. He's currently 17th, and no one has fallen out of contention from that high in the standings with just one tournament to go.

-- Ken Duke


9:32 a.m.

One of the big deals on this lake is to catch them around several underwater springs. I don't have to go into the reasons why those little spurts of cooler, cleaner water are attractive to largemouth. But there are times when they load up on them.

Over the course of time, a lot of these veterans know where some of those are located. I visited with Gerald Swindle and Terry Scroggins about that last night. Both are aware of a few each and both have hit them over and over again in practice. Both said to that point, they have yet to catch a keeper off those type things.

It's left them scratching their heads a bit. Others reported that catfish were dying in the upper ends, which typically means a lack of dissolved oxygen. To the point, there may be some things taking place within the lake that have the fish a little skewed.

We haven't seen the big fish show up yet, unless you count David Walker's fast start. Add that to the poor-mouthing from a lot of the pros last night and it will be intersting to see if Wheeler produces as it has in the past.

--Steve Bowman



9:28 a.m.

Dustin Carson Joshua had a few good questions for Edwin Evers. To answer them, Evers has caught seven keeper largemouth, culling twice. I don't like to say too much about where he is at this point in the tournament, but suffice to say he's down the lake a little ways.

As for beating VanDam, when I asked him, he said he knows he needs more than a limit. The big fish don't seem as accessible as they were the last time the Elites were here in June, but there are still good fish to be had. In a race that might come down to a matter of a couple pounds, every big fish will be worth their weight in gold.

Evers made a move and I hopped out if his boat, moving down the lake more to find David Walker. BASSTrakk has him at 17 pounds right now. Entering this event in 46th place in the AOY points, Walker needs a big finish to close out a Classic berth.

It's been an up and down year for him, barely missing out on a win at Toledo Bend, but also a few poor finishes. A strong finish would be great momentum for his return to B.A.S.S. competition.

-Rob Russow


9:22 a.m.

The Merc crew is lost ... Or Morizo is lost. Either way, they're in one place and he's in another. Now the Merc folks are getting the GPS coordinates from Morizo. For his sake, I hope they get here soon. He's caught just one short fish and the season is winding down for him.

-- Ken Duke


9:16 a.m.

Here is a look at where every one is currently fishing on Lake Wheeler.

Decatur Flatts


Northern end of Wheeler


Southern end of Wheeler



9:13 a.m.

Dennis Tietje just caught a small bass that was big enough to go into his livewell. He and Mark Davis are fishing the main river channel within sight of Kevin VanDam, Marty Robinson and Jason Williamson, who are fishing a split in the main river channel. Tietje and Davis are fishing on one side of the channel marker buoys and the three others are on the outside of the other set of channel buoys.

Tietje’s is the only catch we’ve seen here in the last 20 minutes. We are within sight of downtown Decatur.

Speaking of the channel marker buoys, they are the easiest visual clue for indicating how much water is going through the dam. And they are showing very little current in Lake Wheeler, although we are at one of the widest points in the lake. Some current would help place the bass that are holding on these ledges near the main river channel, and improve the catch rate here.

With five bass in the boat, VanDam probably has more patience to fish this than anyone else.

Davis just caught a small bass that went right back in the lake.

--Steve Wright


9:12 a.m.

There's lots of BASS history here at Wheeler. This was the site of the 1974 Classic, won by Tommy Martin. I doubt anybody's working his pattern or throwing a Fleck Weed Wader spinnerbait.

-- Ken Duke


9:10 a.m.

One of the things that sticks out already in this event is how quickly limits are hitting the livewells.


Part of the eye-brow raising comes after last week, when the Arkansas River served up a little toughness with a side order of a slap in the face for some of these guys. The other is from how much belly-aching we heard last night at the registration, even Evers and VanDam were down in the mouth a little.


They both have limits, which is a big positive thing. And they both are around the 10-pound mark according to BASSTrakk and our eyes on the water.  Evers will no doubt need to pick up the pace if he wants to catch VanDam.


But with limits for both of them, they are quickly making this a two-horse race.


-- Steve Bowman


9:00 a.m

Ken Duke is our master of statistics. And he’s put together a list of the best closers during the last three Elite seasons. He mentioned one of those below.


According to the numbers the best closers, or the guys who bring the heat in the final events, looks like this.


1.     Tommy Biffle, with an average 8th place finish.

2.     Chad Griffin with an average 10th place finish

3.     Skeet Reese with an average 12th place finish

4.     Cliff Pace, 14th place

5.     Mike McClelland, 18th place

6.     Dustin Wilks, 19th place

7.     KVD, 19th place

8.     Greg Hackney, 21st place

9.     Pat Golden, 24th

10.  Alton Jones, 25th place


Edwin Evers is 18th on that list with an average 34th place.


Don’t know how that will play into today, but it is interesting.


-- Steve Bowman


8:55 a.m.

After switching to a crankbait that runs a few feet deeper, Evers immediately hooked up with a small bass and then had a better fish on for a few seconds before it pulled off. It wasn't on for log enough to tell whether that was a black or a white, but fortunately Evers forgot his promise to kick me off his boat when he lost one.

A barge went by in the distance, locking up to Lake Guntersville.

"That would have been a scary sight a week ago," Evers said, referring to the locking situation on the Arkansas River.
--Rob Russow


8:49 a.m.
Morizo's engine looks OK, but he seems to have bent the prop. His boat won't get up on plane. He's throwing a plastic worm to shoreline cover while he waits for the Mercury crew. Nothing so far and he had nothing when we got here. It could be a long day for the Japanese pro, but he's still smiling. After all, he fishes for a living.
--Ken Duke


8:43 a.m.
Kevin VanDam has had enough of his initial spot. He's leaving this area just a five-minute boat ride from the launch ramp. He's got a limit and, obviously, plenty of confidence as he goes to his second hole of the day.

--Steve Wright

8:42 a.m.

Connella's limit weighs between 7 and 8 pounds. He'll need twice that today to be a factor here.
--Ken Duke

8:41 a.m.

Evers just culled again, this time with a 2-pounder. Kelly Jordon is still stuck on  white bass - they seem to like his side better although Evers has caught his fair share. The current is still rolling, but the sun getting up has probably helped slow things down.

"I think the current is about identical to what we had in practice," Evers said. "I had two bites in practice, so I didn't know the potential. Getting the quick limit definitely made me happy."

Evers knows a limit won't be enough to catch VanDam, he's going to need a few more good fish.

"If I'm catching them on a crankbait, I know he is too."

Any questions about the conditions or any questions or Edwin Evers, post in the comments below.

--Rob Russow

8:38 a.m.
Evers just culled again, this time with a 2-pounder. Kelly Jordon is still stuck on  white bass - they seem to like his side better although Evers has caught his fair share. The current is still rolling, but the sun getting up has probably helped slow things down.

"I think the current is about identical to what we had in practice," Evers said. "I had two bites in practice, so I didn't know the potential. Getting the quick limit definitely made me happy."

Evers knows a limit won't be enough to catch VanDam, he's going to need a few more good fish.

"If I'm catching them on a crankbait, I know he is too."

Any questions about the conditions or any questions or Edwin Evers, post in the comments below.
--Rob Russow


8:31 a.m.

We are off and running and so are the fish catches. Cell service is spotty and only half of the field have units in their rigs. Regardless, we are receiving some information, and it appears that David Walker has hammered them already this morning. Here is what our top 15 looks like for the moment. We will update this as the competitors shuffle up or down the leaderboard. table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;}

Place Angler Fish Total
1 David Walker 5 17-00
2 Mark Davis 5 11-12
3 Edwin Evers 5 11-04
4 Kevin Wirth 5 10-11
5 Bobby Lane 5 9-14.
6 Timmy Horton 5 8-13
7 John Murray 5 7-12
8 Takahiro Omori 2 7-00
9 Todd Faircloth 5 6-04
10 Michael Iaconelli 5 5-09
11 Brent Chapman 5 5-08
12 Casey Ashley 4 5-08
13 Alton Jones 3 4-06
14 Keith Combs 3 4-03
15 Billy McCaghren 2 2-09

-- Hank Weldon


8:29 a.m.

Kevin VanDam didn’t waste any time Thursday as he begins his quest for a fourth-straight Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. VanDam made a five-minute boat ride to his first spot of the day, followed by 10 spectator boats. Less than an hour into his day, VanDam was already culling. He has caught over a dozen fish anchored by a 3-pounder. Since we have been watching him, VanDam has picked up six different rods, so he’s throwing the kitchen sink at them. And everything seems to be working.

--Steve Wright

8:12 a.m.

Jeff Connella's got a limit. He's throwing a Carolina rig along a rocky back at the mouth of limestone creek. From what we've seen, they're not big, but there are five of them.

--Ken Duke

8:02 a.m.
The season finale is always an interesting tournament, especially with the win and you're in format. Lots of perennial qualifiers are on the outside looking in and will be fishing very differently here. For them, a second place finish offers a nice paycheck, but nothing else.
--Ken Duke

8:01 a.m.
After catching one more quick fish, a short, fishing has slowed considerably. Evers has only caught one more largemouth in the last 20 minutes, another non-keeper.

Over with Kelly Jordon, he looks like he's getting ready for a fish fry, boating white bass after white bass. He has yet to boat a largemouth at all, let alone a keeper.

Brandon Palaniuk is over in the distance, otherwise, this section of the river channel is pretty deserted.
--Rob Russow

7:57 a.m.
Biffle's gone and so are we. He'll need to win if he's going to make the 2012 Classic. It's too late to change your fantasy roster, but I think he'll be a good one here. If Biffle's not pitching and flipping, there must be very little going on with those tactics. He's known for almost trying to force that type of bite.
-- Ken Duke


7:52 a.m.

We're on Tommy Biffle, and I'm glad for it. Biffle is the best in the Elites in the final event of the season. He averages a top 10 finish. He's throwing a swim jig or swimbait -- not pitching or flipping. He was on fish before they dropped the water level. I bet he's still on them and will be a factor here. He says he's caught a few, but nothing big.

-- Ken Duke


7:41 a.m.

BASSTrakk is up and running, but the cell service on Lake Wheeler is extremely tough. It may take some time for some of these reports to register.


Ken Duke and I sat on the dock this morning and watched almost every boat idle by during the check-out process. One of the things we noticed was just how many crankbait rods were on the decks of every boat. While there was a sample of jigs and soft plastics on some of them, the crankbait, by far, seemed to be the most popular.


It wasn't just one depth either. Some were obviously going deep with Fat Free Shads and DD14s and 22s, while others were loaded down with square bills. There could be a referendum on crankbait depths in this event.

--Steve Bowman


7:39 a.m.

It didn't take long for us to find the first angler. Ish Monroe is only 100 yards from the launch and putting all his rods  away and taking out new stuff. Maybe he's onto something. In any event, he's off and running. Let's see who we can find next.

-- Ken Duke


7:35 a.m.

The action has continued furiously for Evers and he has four keepers in the boat. Only one of them has any size and he will need to cull those, but he is well on his way to a good Day One. An early start is critical, especially when the anglers don't know how long this current generation will last.

Kelly Jordon pulled up and asked if he could share the spot, which is evidently a pretty well-known area. Evers said to have at it, so know both anglers are seining the area, from opposites sides. The pressure hasn't bothered the bass and Evers has boated back to back keepers, culling out the smallest fish. It's a small limit, but a strong 45 minutes of fishing.
--Rob Russow


7:32 a.m.

A couple of things: Elite pros always say things are tough in practice. There's not a bigger bunch of sandbaggers in the world than these guys.This time, though, I believe them. I pulled KVD and Evers aside to get  a feel for how they were doing, hoping to get some insight into how this AOY race would go.


Both said they were "serious." They thought it was extremely tough. That puts Steve Kennedy in a good position, right?


While he made it point to get across that he intended that this be at least a three-horse race, he also talked about it being tough. He also maintained that Wheeler was the only lake in the Tennessee River chain that gave him fits. We'll see.


It looks like Evers is at least catching a few short fish.

--Steve Bowman


7:29 a.m.

The anglers have to be pumped about the conditions early this morning. A light breeze is blowing, it a little cooler after the storms last night and best of all, there's current.

Through practice, there was none of that precious water movement to help position the fish and make them more eager to bite. Already, you can tell the difference. Evers quickly boated two keepers and when he hasn't been boating bass, he reels in whites, shad and anything else down there.

Another competitor rolled by and shortly after that, Evers caught two more short bass. The bites are coming almost every cast. His best fish is still the first one he caught, a bass close to 3 pounds.


-Rob Russow


7:25 a.m.

The word from practice was that all these anglers would be bunched up on several spots where the fish were concentrated given the tough conditions. That was illustrated as we ran down the lake and saw Bobby Lane and Mike Iaconelli fishing a ledge about 20 feet apart. The best spots are likely going to be covered up.


We are following Edwin Evers, who for the second year in a row sits in second place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race going into the final event. He's got a good shot at Wheeler, a place that fishes to his strengths. Even though he grew up fishing Oklahoma water - shallow and muddy - Evers told me his best finishes on the Elite Series have come fishing deep.


-Rob Russow


7:12 a.m.

The Dixie Duel is underway and it's been quite some time since we've had an event with so many implications.

The Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race is on the line, as is the qualifications for the Toyota Trucks All-Star week. Add to those the Bassmaster Classic field and then whoever wins and we have a full slate to cover.

This should be fun.

-- Steve Bowman