Anglers seem to welcome weather

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Just as the rain seemed to taper off Sunday morning at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, it began to pour all the harder. The few spectators lined up in the dark pre-dawn hours at the boat ramps on Lake Tohopekaliga scanned the southern sky for further flashes of lightning.

"I just came out here this morning to see what kind of people come out here in this," one spectator wisecracked under a light pole.

Adults huddled under rain gear and small children sought shelter against their parents legs while some men, perhaps caught off-guard, huddled under umbrellas with flower prints and Dove soap logos.

Conditions were dreary, but mercifully quick to clear. As dawn approached and the weather improved, the anglers finally made their way to the marina and offered split opinions on whether the rain and the forecasted high winds would help or hinder them.

Angler Kevin Wirth, who stood solidly in contention at sixth place and less than 9 pounds behind leader Luke Clausen, said he welcomed the fickle weather, because he had spent 45 minutes that morning charting different waters to fish depending on the shifts in wind.

"Other guys get locked into an area," Wirth said.

Further down in the standings, 12th-place Kevin VanDam didn't appear to crack a smile once as he shuffled around the dock in his red rain gear. "That will help all the leaders that much more," the reigning Classic champion said of the weather.

He worried that a delayed start time and afternoon winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour would in effect shorten his day. Beside him, though, Greg Hackney was nearly beaming about the conditions, even though he was almost 3 pounds behind even VanDam.

"This whole deal would have been much better if it had gotten really cold," Hackney said as he readied his tackle. "For some reason, cold weather in Florida really messes with guys' heads."

Hackney in fact complained that too many anglers were likely to have a huge final day.

"That's the only bad thing about this, is everybody's going to catch them," he said, adding that he wouldn't be satisfied with merely a strong showing. "There's only one place in this tournament, and that's first."

Gerald Swindle shared Hackney's optimism. The 2004 Angler of the Year made the largest jump of any angler on Day Two, from a dismal 45th to 18th. Though he was still more than 27 pounds shy of the lead, you wouldn't have known it from his cheer.

"This lake is just a lake you can come back on," he said in the drizzle. "All it takes is one bite. This may be a big fish day."

To catch the big one, though, anglers will have to be able to reach them, something that proved difficult for Ishama Monroe and other anglers when an observer inadvertently blocked a lock on Day Two. The cameras caught Monroe shouting to the man to move his boat.

"Five minutes of fishing time is five minutes you might be on top of a bed," Monroe said.

There was the prospect, then, that the damp conditions if nothing else might improve the fishing by discouraging non-competitors from fishing on the tournament waters.

Wirth wasn't so sure.

"Generally when you've got die hard fans," he said, "they're coming no matter what."