Every time I read the Elite Series pre-tournament reports, it’s pretty entertaining to me, and I enjoy the talents of some of the best sandbaggers in the world.
You’ve probably read those articles, too. “I can barely get a bite,” they’ll say. Or perhaps, “I’m not sure what happened to this lake. It used to be great.” They sound like they might cry. It can be pretty comical at times.
The select few who tend to exaggerate about their lack of success tend to keep the charade going as long as they can. After “barely” getting any bites during practice, you’ll stand with them in the line to weigh their fish and they’ll tell you that they only have 12 pounds. A minute later they’re up on stage and you hear the unmistakable voice of Dave Mercer yelling out “Seventeen pounds! G-g-g-giant bass!!!” There are surprises of our weight from time to time, but we catch bass for a living. We know almost exactly what they will weigh the majority of time. It's funny to watch it continue along from their practice reports.
The recent BASSfest tournament at Texoma is a perfect example. There hadn’t been a major tournament there in a long time, certainly not under the extreme conditions we faced, so no one really knew what to expect. Everyone was singing the blues. I had 9 or 10 pounds the first day and thought that would put me around mid pack (it turned out I was in 81st), but as we stood in line and heard some of the weights being announced, even veterans like KVD and Skeet were shocked. I can honestly say I wasn't surprised. I've witnessed this again, again and again. I now expect it. These boys are going to crush it.
If you went back to the Bassmaster.com blog and read the play-by-play of the tournament (as I did once it was over), you saw that the bloggers kept writing how good the fishing was. Texoma may be a good fishery under normal conditions, but I can promise you that it wasn't that easy to catch a good bag that week. That speaks volumes to the amount of talent that we have on the Elite Series right now. You can put this field on any body of water in the country, at any time of year, under any conditions, and the odds are that guys like Brent Ehrler, Jacob Powroznik and Greg Hackney are going to catch a solid sack of fish. You could lock Jason Christie in the Porta-Potty and he’d probably land a good limit out of the toilet. I don’t mean to leave anyone out, but as you look up and down the standings sheet it’s so star-studded there is no way the majority of the field won't catch them.
I’ve come to realize that while there is a certain amount of purposeful deception among the exaggerators, there’s still a lot of truth to what they’re saying. When practice ends, most of them simply don’t know what they have located. They’ll get a bite here or there and then leave. We spend more time finding out what not to do and eliminating water, that it might have seemed that your practice sucked, but it might nevertheless lead you toward an excellent tournament.
The proof is in the results, which seem to indicate that most of the field is still learning what they have as the tournament goes on. I’ve never seen another tournament circuit, at any level, where the weights tend to go up on the second day. Elsewhere you usually take the Day 1 cut weight, double it and subtract a pound or two to get to the Day 2 cut. On the Elite Series, you usually have to add a pound or two. Texoma is a good example. After the first day, there was a four-way tie for 49th place with 10-09. Double that and you get 21-02, which would’ve had you in 59th place after Day 2. It took 22-05 to make the Top 50. This group simply steps up their game as the event progresses.
I’m sure that some of the guys are trying to play mind games with the competition or even with themselves. Everyone has their own strategies for the mental side of the sport. I take a little bit of pride within myself to be honest about situations, and I find that it’s easier for me to say nothing at all than trying to deceive anyone. Ultimately, the scale does all of the talking at the end of the day, but it's definitely entertaining witnessing all the antics before the weigh-in ends.