2011 Elite Series Pride of Georgia: Sandbagging or not?

LAGRANGE, Ga. – Most Elite anglers, after trying practices, would have said West Point Lake had precious few larger bass in it.

The gripe was that 10 or 12 pounds a day would be phenomenal. Several anglers even said that they’d sit out the event if they were given 20 pounds of bass. They said they’d still feel confident they’d get a check.

Some might still take that, but the scales don’t lie. A good number of Elites showed what West Point is capable of on Day One, with four pros topping the 20-pound mark, and a slew of others just south of that.

What’s more, two camps emerged: those who are catching bass, and those who are still scrambling after a dismal practice.

The haves are tight-lipped and not so surprised at the weights. Those who aren’t on fish were shocked.

Heck, even some of those who did well were a bit surprised, too.

“My goal was to catch 11 pounds a day, because I had a terrible practice,” said Bobby Lane, who stands fifth with 18-14. “The consensus last night was that 16 or 17 pounds over two days would get a check.”

Lane theorizes the cold front that blew through Wednesday night put the bass in more of a postspawn mood, which may have caused them to be more active.

“During practice, I didn’t see any fish like the three biggest ones I had today, and I threw the same baits that I threw in practice,” he said. “It was interesting, and very exciting.”

Boyd Duckett, who sits in sixth place, thinks anglers who were on fish let others believe they’re not. In other words, they purposely understated what they expected to catch, also known as sandbagging.

“This is the Elites; when we go to Falcon, guys will still say they’re not catching ‘em. That’s just the way things are,” he said.

Billy McCaghren is one of those anglers looking to climb out of a hole he dug.

“I figured a few guys would be in the 18- or 20-pounds range, with the average being 5-10 pounds, but they’re smoking ‘em. I didn’t see this coming,” he said.

Ben Parker agrees with Lane’s theory that the cold front picked the bite up.

“The first day we got here was right before a front got in. I went to an area of the lake and caught a lot of small fish, but after the front came through the next day I caught about 17 or 18 pounds,” said Parker, who’s 10th. “I thought the front that came through would kill the bite today, but I went to my spot and caught 16-4! A lake like this should be tough in postfrontal conditions, but if you look at the weigh-in line, it seems like everyone’s got a bag, and most of the time a lot of the Elite guys do.”

David Walker, who currently sits in third, is as surprised as Parker and Lane.

“Practice was bad. It was really tough,” he said. “With the wind laying down and the cold front coming through, it should’ve been tough, and for whatever reason it wasn’t. The fish seem to not listen to us and went ahead and bit anyway.”

Walker was so surprised at his performance that he figured he had a check in the bank by the afternoon.

“After I put my last fish in the boat that put me over 20 pounds, I told my Marshal that I just made a check because I thought 18 or 20 pounds would be good enough,” he said. “But, it looks like the weights will be better than that, and I’m charged up for this.”

The bottom line? Elite pros need to protect a viable pattern, especially when a tournament is forecasted to be tricky. This may lead them to not fully disclose their expected success.

Or, they really are having a hard time catching fish.

As far as determining who really was struggling and who really is sandbagging, most of the time there’s no telling.

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