45-2 Still Rules

ZAPATA, Texas — Put a fork in Steve Kennedy's single-tournament BASS record weight. The only question is, after three days of fishing the Lone Star Shootout, presented by Longhorn — how many anglers will surpass the 122 pound, 14 ounce mark? (Maybe five or six.) And how high will they push it? (Probably near 140 pounds.)

 Lake Falcon, an impound split between deep south Texas and northeast Mexico, is turning out to be the place where big bass live and big BASS records go to die.

 Co-anglers this week notched the biggest stringer (39-3) and the two biggest tournament totals (83-3 and 76-7) that co-anglers have ever weighed. The so-called bass Century Club — anglers catching more than 100 pounds in a tournament — had 15 members before this week; a whopping nine more anglers are poised to join today.

 But, barring a miracle stringer on Day Four, no one will have touched the other red-letter record in the BASS media guide: 45-2. That's the weight of the five fish Dean Rojas caught on the first day of the 2001 tournament on Florida's Lake Toho. Aaron Martens and Byron Velvick came closest, both catching over 40 pounds, but neither came within 3 pounds of the record.

 "I think everybody's goal today is to break that 45-2," Paul Elias said before taking off Sunday morning. "This is probably the only lake you're going to be able to do it on, unless we go back to Clear Lake at the right time."

 Rojas missed the 12-man cut on Falcon by 25 ounces. But he was consoled somewhat to know that his record appears to be safe, threatened but unsurpassed, and perhaps all the more respected as a result.

 "It's like a battleship," Rojas said. "It takes its shots, but it stays afloat."

 Why is 45 pounds such a formidable figure? It comes down to physiology and quantities. Not many bass get as big as 9 pounds. And 45 pounds requires an angler's average fish to be that size.

 Rojas achieved the record without a fluky enormous kicker. To this day, he can rattle off the weights: "I had a 10-12, a 10, a 9, I think it was an 8-7 and a 7-9. Whatever that weight is."

 Actually, his big fish was an ounce heavier, and that 8-7 was actually just an 8-2.

 (But for a sack caught more than seven years ago, that's pretty close.)

 It is so hard, because they all have to be 9-pounders," Rojas said. "When you get to that point where you're in the high 30's, you need those 10-12 and 10's to give you that a pound on the 9. There's 2, almost 3 pounds you can bargain with down here on the bottom."

 That first day on Kissimmee was a sight-fisherman's dream. After a month-long cold spell that pinned the spawning females deep, a string of 80-degree days sent them rushing the banks all at once, bursting with eggs.

 "It was freakish," he said. "It was freakish more than this is."

 Rojas caught eight fish that day, and watched each one swallow his bait.

 "I lost one (fish) that day, and I'm glad I did," he said. "It was about a 6 1/2-pounder, and I wouldn't have caught that 7-9. Fate happens that way."

 Martens said there are only a handful of lakes on the Elite Series tournament trail that might offer a chance to break the 45-pound barrier: Lake Amistad, the California Delta, Clear Lake, Santee Cooper in South Carolina, Florida's Harris Chain and Toho.

 "It could happen here," Martens said. "That first day" — when he caught 42 pounds — "it could have happened. I had battery problems. I only fished for five hours.

 "Five 9-pounders," he continued. "That's hard to do. He hit the right stretch, and we hit Toho right at the right moment. It was the perfect day and everything. There was a cold front that moved off, and they were everywhere."

 What made it even more difficult was that in those days, the BASS circuit carried 150 pros — whereas the current Elite Series has 109. That's another 40 anglers hammering the same banks and beds, chasing the same 9-pounders.

 "If we would have had 100 guys back then," Rojas said, "we would have caught these records then."

 Mark Davis, who trailed tournament leader Martens heading into Day Four on Falcon, also had a big day seven years ago on Toho. He caught a 41-10 sack that stood as the second-heaviest in BASS history before Martens and Velvick surpassed it this week.

 Rojas, though, had such a lead by the final day, he didn't even need his Day Four sack of 13-8 to beat out Davis for the win.

 But if there's any reminder that records are made to be broken, remember his words after weighing a then-record total of 108-12. "I couldn't have dreamed this," he said at the time. "Who could imagine catching 100 pounds in one tournament?"

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