All-Star title still wide open

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Less than three pounds separates first place (Cliff Pace, 14-4) and 11th place (Gerald Swindle, 11-5) after Day One of the Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota All-Star Week Evan Williams Championship at Lake Muskegon.

The goal 24 hours later is to be in the top four after Day Two and advance to the finals on nearby White Lake Sunday.

You'd have to guess that anyone in the top 11 of this 14-man field still has a better-than-average chance. One home run is all it will take. And at Lake Muskegon a home run equates to a single four-pound bass or a couple of three-pounders. Neither was seen often Friday on the weigh-in stage at Heritage Landing.

An 18-pound bag won a tournament here two weeks ago. A similar showing Saturday would almost certainly propel 11th-place Swindle and anyone above him into the Sunday finale.

"It's fickle," said newly crowned Bassmaster Angler of the Year and defending All-Star title-holder Aaron Martens of Lake Muskegon.

"You might catch 'em one day and catch nine pounds, or six pounds, the next. "I need to catch 15 pounds (Saturday) to give myself a chance, the way I'm figuring it."

If you simply doubled the fourth-place weight from Friday – Edwin Evers' 13-3 – you'd estimate a two-day total of 26-6 will be needed to make the top four final on White Lake Sunday.

So Martens would need just less than 15 pounds – 14-11 to be exact – in order to make the Final Four. But judging one day's total over two days at Lake Muskegon would be a gross over-simplification.

Martens was on a couple of schools of three-pound smallmouth bass during the one-day practice period this week; those bass vanished Friday.

"I couldn't find them again," Martens said. "They were all 3-, 3 ½-pounders. Today they were 2-pounders. If I can find them again, I might have a chance."

Not everyone found schools of big smallmouth like Martens did during practice. But that doesn't mean someone else won't find them Saturday. Predicting Sunday's final after Day One on Lake Muskegon is a craps shoot, at best.

"This place looks awesome," said Keith Combs of 4,150-acre Lake Muskegon.

"It looks like you're going to catch one on every cast." That's obviously not the case. Pace struggled for most of the day before catching his first-place total of 14-4. Pace's weight included the big bass of the day, a 4-14 smallmouth.

"I know how important 3- or 4-pound fish are here," said Mike Iaconelli, who is in fifth place with 12-15, which included a smallmouth weighing 3-13.

Those who were in the vicinity of Iaconelli's big bass catch at mid-day Friday became instantly aware that he'd caught a big one, as per usual with Ike.

"He started screaming," said one observer from the bank. "You thought he was done, then he started screaming again." Iaconelli is known for being excitable. But a 3- or 4-pounder will thrill even the most stoic bass fisherman on Lake Muskegon right now.

"Those are game-changers," said Iaconelli, who also caught two drum, a catfish and two pickerel Thursday, all of which he thought might be game-changers when he first set the hook in them.

"That's both heartening and disheartening when you do that," he said. "Yeah, you're bummed out when you see what you've caught. But it's also a half-good thing that you know you're in the same area where bass are feeding."

Martens, on the other hand, just kept reeling in dishearteningly small bass after locating those big ones on practice day.

"I found one area," Martens said of his practice. "They were all 3-pounders or 3 ½. I just couldn't find them again today. I searched for them about half the day, and I never caught one.

"If I find them again, I might have a chance (Saturday)."

And that's just it: If anyone, especially those in the top 11, finds them Saturday, he's got a chance to make Sunday's Final Four. But no one seemed confident about that after Day One at Lake Muskegon.

The thought that all 14 All-Stars will take to bed tonight is that two weeks ago it took 18 pounds to win a local tournament here. And based on one practice day, Martens especially knows the potential is here for it to happen again.

As to what will happen Saturday, that's anyone's guess.