Busted on the bubble

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Even after a tough second day of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Marty Stone had reason to be proud. He had decided to skip the waters that gave him 16 pounds and 10 ounces of fish and an 18th place standing on Day One. Instead he gambled, running for two hours to new waters that yielded not a single fish. He returned to the previous day's waters, and again, nothing.

Forced to ply new waters, Stone finally found fish, he said, but nothing big. As the 14th angler to weigh in on Saturday, he was early enough that his modest 8 pound, 1 ounce bag briefly vaulted him to eighth place.

"Usually Florida's a numbers game," he said. "You get as many bites as I did and the big one's supposed to show up."

Like many of the anglers whose two-day totals fell around 20 pounds, he could only watch the rest of the fish roll in, hoping that his efforts had been enough to make the 25-angler cut to fish on the third and final day of the tournament.

Stone watched the results roll in on TV, over a live feed from the stage.

"If I can come back and fish tomorrow, I'd love to," he said. "If I can make top 10, that'd be great."

As he spoke, Davy Hite dropped 20 pounds, 9 ounces of fish on the scale for the second straight day, dropping Stone from 18th to 19th. Stone said that if he were close by the end of the procession, he would head to the lake to prepare his tackle. But with only six spots to fall and 16 anglers yet to go, he didn't hold out much hope.

Other anglers who found themselves on the bubble also were realistic about their chances. After his weigh-in, Joe Conway munched popcorn and watched the results on TV. Even as he stood in 14th place, with more than 30 anglers yet to weigh in, he resigned himself to finishing below the two-day cut. His first day's catch of 14 pounds, 1 ounce left him in 26th, so Conway had figured he would need at least 15 pounds to stay in contention. His second-day total of 5 pounds, 1 ounce fell quite short.

"The fishing was great," Conway said. "The catching was terrible."

Onscreen, Mike Iaconelli's bag weighed in at 8 pounds, 13 ounces. Iaconelli knew he was licked, and said he just couldn't get "the big bite."

"I got the big bite," Conway said as he watched. "You could see them come out of the water. They just wouldn't stay on.

"I'm coming back," he continued. "What I learned from it is that I can catch fish to compete with their fish. I found out that I can do this."

Conway eventually tumbled to 45th. In better shape was Chad Brauer, who noshed on chicken wings as he waited word of his fate. His second-day catch of 14 pounds, 8 ounces bumped him from 41st to 9th, briefly.

"I'd be really surprised if I made the cut," he said. "It was typical of my experience in Florida, which is that it's difficult to catch fish two days in a row. I'd like one more shot tomorrow."

The third-to-last angler, Jay Yelas, officially eliminated him. Brauer's haul wound up as the largest second-day catch of an angler who didn't advance to Sunday, as his total of 24 pounds, 4 ounces left him less than two pounds shy of the cut.

Finishing in 27th, one notch ahead of Brauer, was Andre Moore, who would have needed meltdowns from two of the final three anglers — Yelas, George Cochran and Kevin VanDam — to remain in 25th place. When they all brought in bags over 14 pounds, Moore conceded.

"Oh, well," Moore said over a double-decker hamburger. "I get to sleep in tomorrow.

"I really didn't think I'd be even that close," he added. "I lost a couple of fish that would have got me in. But it's almost better I'm out, to tell you the truth. I didn't have a chance in hell of winning. That's the only reason to be here. Hell, I was fortunate. I got the most amount of money for the least amount of fishing."

One angler who made the cut after watching for several tense minutes was Gerald Swindle, who jumped from 45th to 19th on the second day. For him, just making the cut made him feel like he had fished a winning day.

As for the anglers who didn't make the cut, he said, "It's horrible."

By the time Swindle was enjoying his comeback, Stone had gone to prepare his tackle, but he likely didn't finish. The final angler across the stage, VanDam, made him the last angler bumped out of the Classic.