2008 Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl: It's raining men

GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — After a nearly cloudless Day One, rain clouds could be seen in the distance over Kentucky Lake at Friday's 9 a.m. ET launch of the Bassmaster Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.

But rain or shine, it's been raining men — fishermen — at Kentucky Lake this week, and that's not going to change. With two other big weekend tournaments scheduled, many anglers practicing for those events followed the Elite Series anglers through Day One. And many of them were marking waypoints on their GPS units when they observed an Elite Series pro catching fish.

"What can you do?" said Skeet Reese, who is in 10th place with 19 pounds, 3 ounces. "There's nothing you can do. I've never seen anything like it in my life, though.

"There's no ethics here. There's none. Zero.

"I guess somehow it just became kosher for you to pull up next to somebody and mark a waypoint."

Planning a strategy to adjust for the "other angler" factor may well be the key to success here this week. Kevin VanDam took the Day One lead with 24-13. Mike McClelland is second with 23-6 and four other anglers had 20-plus-pound five-bass limits Thursday.

What really complicates things for the Elite Series pros is the 8 a.m. Central Time daily launches. Most of the other tournament anglers this weekend will launch at 6 o'clock.

"I knew that (Thursday and Friday) it was going to be real important to catch big stringers," said VanDam, who trails Todd Faircloth in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race by only 18 points after seven of the 11 events this season. "On Saturday, I'm just going to have to see what I can do. I'm trying to save some stuff."

Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., was particularly irked by one angler who followed him 40 miles down the lake to his starting point Thursday.

"I've got a feeling he's fishing Saturday, because every time I set the hook, he mashed a waypoint (on his GPS unit)," said Swindle, who is 35th with 16-4.

"It's pretty nerve-wracking when you know they're following you, and we don't take off Saturday until 8 o'clock. There's some strategy going on out there."

Byron Velvick (in third place with 21-15) developed a unique strategy during Thursday's competition: When he's found schools of bass on Kentucky Lake's numerous river ledges, they've been tightly bunched. But he's not using orange buoy markers this week; he's tossing out black ones.

"I know where (the buoy marker) is, but you've got to be looking right at it to see it," Velvick said. "For me to see it, I've got to follow my waypoint.

"I'm not going to sit there and show them anything exact. You do the best you can to try to cover it up."

Paul Elias got some good news Friday. The 57-year-old former Bassmaster Classic champion "let a good day go sour on me a little bit" Thursday when he unknowingly brought six bass to the scales, one over the limit. As part of the penalty for so doing, his big bass — a 6-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth — wasn't counted in his bag and he was also assessed another 1-pound penalty.

In reviewing the rules overnight, BASS officials restored that pound to Elias' total, since he hadn't broken a state law by keeping six bass in the livewell. It bumped Elias up from sixth place to fourth with 21-4.

And Elias' move up dropped Timmy Horton from fourth to fifth with his 21-1 total. Horton, also, didn't like what he saw on the water Thursday.

"Hey, they're trying to find fish, too," Horton said. "I understand that.

"What bothers me is what we call the drive-bys. They run on pad right up beside you. I mean you could pitch in their boat. And they hit a waypoint when they go by.

"I don't mind people watching, but you're getting into a safety issue when people start doing that."

There were no complaints about the bass fishing at Kentucky Lake, however.

"This lake is starting to get a lot of grass in it," said VanDam, who noted that Kentucky Lake's 160,000 acres already had an abundance of prime bass habitat. "It's just going to get better.

"Lake Guntersville (in Alabama) was always one of my favorite lakes. It's so good because its got a lot of hydrilla and milfoil in it. But Kentucky Lake has five times the habitat that Guntersville does.

"If this lake gets grass in it like Guntersville, it will be the best lake in the whole region."

Based on the number of bass tournament anglers on it this week, it seems that a lot of people think it already is the best bass lake in the region.

After today's 6 p.m. ET weigh-in at Kentucky Dam Marina, the 107-pro angler field will be cut to the top 50. Mark Menendez of nearby Paducah, Ky., and Kotaro Kiriyama shared the 49th and 50th positions Thursday with 15-0.

Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl with weigh-in host Keith Alan, June 12–15, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 6:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 5:30 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 6:00 p.m. ET.

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