Elite Analysis: Lake Fork – Day 2

In this ongoing Elite big fish freak show at Lake Fork, the biggest issue for our leaders may be determining at what point can they lay off.

The answer may very well be not until Sunday afternoon.

In a “normal” event, it’s critical to manage your quarry, but in this one, where no sort of lead seems to be safe, any moment of hesitation may end up being costly. At the same time, however, there’s always that nagging feeling that the 5-pounder you cull today will become a scarce commodity when you need it on Day Four.

We haven’t seen this kind of slugfest in years, and never before have we seen so many newbies dominating the ranks on a familiar venue. The top-ranking past Bassmaster Classic winner is Jordan Lee, in 19th. The top-ranking past Angler of the Year, Brandon Palaniuk, in 28th. Ahead of them are six rookies, several of whom weren’t shaving when Lee won his first Classic, which wasn’t all that long ago.

In a tournament world turned upside-down, there’s still the possibility for any angler who hasn’t been cut to flip things one more time. There’s also a distinct possibility that someone we couldn’t have recognized in a police lineup last year will suddenly become angling royalty, the winner of one of the greatest events in recent Bassmaster history.

Here’s what I saw on a day when the bigs kept on snapping and an average of 20 pounds a day didn’t come close to getting you paid:

30 for 30 – Three anglers – leader Trey McKinney, Matty Wong (2nd), and Tyler Williams (8th) — have topped 30 pounds on each of the first two days. At the record-setting Falcon Elite event in 2008 four anglers had 30 or more pounds each of the first two days. Mark Davis was the only one to have 30+ the first three days. He weighed “only” 26-14 the final day, which meant that no one ran the table. Then again, three anglers hit the century mark after just three days at Falcon, as Keith Combs also did here at Fork in 2014. In that tournament, his smallest limit was a 33-08 bag on Day Two. The next closest angler was Mark Rose with 93-0.

Forget Century Belts – 120 is the new 100. Our top nine anglers are on pace to catch 120 pounds this week.

Top to “Bottom” – After catching a tournament-best-so-far 39-1 on Day One, Taku Ito added 22-9 on Day Two. That’s the smallest bag anyone in the top ten weighed today, but it was enough to keep him in 4th place, a little bit less than 6 pounds out of the lead. The first angler in the standings who caught less than that today was Stetson Blaylock, whose 19-4 dropped him from 2nd to 14th.

Rookies Rolling – Rookies hold down 1st, 6th, 8th, 9th ,11th, 18th, 21st and 25th places. The big mover among them was 2023 EQ points champ JT Thompkins, who hung 35-1 from the in-boat scales to jump from 27th to 6th. Just like last year, we’re going to see someone (or several someones) have an incredible season and still not contend for the Rookie of the Year title.

Trading Places – First day leader Taku Ito and Trey McKinney swapped places today, with the former moving from 1st the 4th and vice versa.

Drop It – The biggest fall from the Day One top ten was Kyle Norsetter, who fell from 3rd to 22nd. He’s still less than 7 pounds out of the top ten. That’s one bite.

Rules Change – Elite Series rules state that “Competitors eliminated from competition are not allowed to fish on tournament waters until all competition is complete.” With 28 anglers still on pace to hit the century mark, I’d hate for someone to miss out on it simply because they’d be eliminated. Accordingly, I wouldn’t be opposed to anyone with 75 pounds after tomorrow’s tournament day to be allowed to go back out, even if they hadn’t made the top ten, just to see if they could do it. They can pay for their own belts.

Going in the Wrong Direction? – Leader Trey McKinney’s Day Two catch of 33-10 was an ounce less than what he caught on Day One. If he continues on this downward trend, he’ll catch a BASS four-day record 134-6.

Mea Culpa – Yesterday I invented the “shooting your age” golf-to-fishing analogy and said that rookie Trey McKinney may have set the unofficial record. At 19 years old, his 33-11 catch created a differential of 14. I overlooked the fact that when Dean Rojas caught 45-2 in 2001, he had not yet hit his 30th birthday, creating a differential of 15. Then again, Rojas only did it once – today McKinney doubled down on his feat.

Going Ike – After a tough Elite season last year, and a tough start to this year, we saw what may have been Ike’s first legit smile of the 2024 season today when he brought a 7-9 “over” to the stage.

Fashion Statement I– Trey McKinney’s helmet at takeoff made him look like the Great Gazoo, a character introduced on the Flintstones in 1965, forty years before McKinney was born. I suspect that might also be before his parents were born.

Fashion Statement II — If Tyler Williams keeps catching them like this, plaid hats may become all the rage.

Add Another Trophy? – Don’t look now, but Jordan Lee hasn’t missed a beat since returning to BASS this year. He made the top ten at Toledo Bend. Today his 32-14 catch helped him jump from 54th to 19th, keeping him near the top of the standings after two events. He’s been overshadowed by the super rookies – and seems like an old man next to them – but I just have a feeling that as the season progresses, he’ll be in the hunt for AOY. Where would that put him on the historical timeline, vis a vis the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame? You could make a colorable argument that such achievements might put him higher on the scale than anglers including Jason Christie, Edwin Evers and Gerald Swindle, all of whom I see as eventual shoo-ins for the Hall. Lee is not yet 33, but the Hall recently removed its requirement that someone needs to be 50 and/or deceased to be inducted. With another title, Lee could someday become the youngest inductee ever.

Payday – Several anglers had their backs against the wall after Day One, within view of the bottom of the scoreboard, and rallied back to get paid: Buddy Gross had 31 pounds by 8:30 this morning, after his Day One catch of 14-13 placed him in 86th place. He fished his way up to 40th and lived to see another day. Patrick Walters, a past Fork winner, likewise had over 28 just 15 minutes later. Yesterday, he was in 79th with 18-6. Now he’s in 27th. Other big jumps from near oblivion included: Bryant Smith, 89th to 49th; Cole Sands, 87th to 50th; and Cody Huff, 90th to 41st.

TGIF – Cody Huff weighed in 22-4 more on Day Two than he did on Day One.

Trey McKinney, after a long struggle to successfully land a 7-15 — “That was the most stressful moment I’ve had in my life.” He’s got a lot of runway ahead of him but seems to handle stress well.

Cut Weight Math – Yesterday’s 50th place cut angler, Luke Palmer, weighed in 21-11. The generally accepted but not always accurate formula (2X + a pound) would put us at 43-06. It turned out to by 42-15, just 7 ounces short, right between 2X and 2X+1. Unfortunately for Palmer, the math did not work out well for him. He dropped to 69th.

Second Prize is a Set of Steak Knives – Tommy Sanders: “A-B-C. Always be catching.”

Slugfest Cliché — “It looked really good on paper.”

One Stop Shopping — Paul Mueller: “I think we should just come here the whole year.”

Better than a Beanie Baby – Pat Schlapper bobblehead.

Matty Wong – “You won’t see me flicking a minnow today, let’s put it that way.” His commitment paid off as his smallest fish was 4-4, and in a moment that pained anglers everywhere (like seeing someone else getting kicked in the nether regions), he lost an absolute glide bait monster at boatside. That would’ve had him in the lead by several pounds. As it is, he’s 2nd, just under 4 pounds back.

Keith Combs — “Tomorrow or the next day it’s going to happen.” Wait, you mean it’s not happening already?