A rookie in the lead. Two anglers behind him whose names are VanDam. Behind them a who’s who list of bass fishing’s best anglers. A lake that will fish totally different than it did in previous days.
Welcome to Championship Monday at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett.
Championship Monday, like the name, is a hybrid of an Elite Series event the likes of which hasn't happened in recent memory.
Imagine this for a tournament format had the weather not dictated otherwise.
The entire field competes on Days 1-3. Sunday is an off day. The competition resumes on Day 4 when the champion is determined. And it gets even more challenging.
Takeoff time is 6 a.m. with a check-in time of 2 p.m. That means 8 hours of fishing time. In other words, everyone will start over again after the cancellation of Day 3 due to the weather. That alone is a story of it’s own.
And there you have it. Championship Monday of the Elite Series.
Dustin Connell, the leader, is the 26-year-old hotshot Elite Series rookie from central Alabama. That region produces some of the top pros on the respective B.A.S.S. and FLW tours. Connell grew up fishing against, and beating, many of them. Put a long rod in Connell’s hand with a hot flipping bite on a river fishery and he’s tough to beat.
Connell knows his skills will be tested. The Pearl River tops the list of area waterways prone to flash flooding over the next 24 hours. Connell admitted that all bets are off should Sunday get cancelled. That happened and now he will likely be forced to start all over again. He is not alone.
Consistency in fishing patterns has been a challenge here all week for the anglers. An exception is Keith Poche. That is why the 8-year pro is in second place.
Behind him are Kevin VanDam and Jonathon VanDam. I already interviewed both for the Lures of the Top 12 story gallery coming up later in the week. Trust me, both are definitely doing something differently than anyone else. Uncle Kevin aside, Jonathon is due a win. Put two VanDams into the mix, doing something very unique, and you have a powerful possibility that one or both will move up in the standings.
Look at the remainder of the Top 12 and you find Brent Chapman, Mark Menendez, Fred Roumbanis, Matt Herren, Ish Monroe, Dave Lefebre, Bobby Lane Jr. and Skeet Reese.
None of them require an introduction. That group alone has 158 combined years of B.A.S.S. tour experience. That does not include the years of FLW Tour experience for Lefebre, or the tournament resume brought from the West Coast by Roumbanis.
Another reason why Championship Monday will be one for the books is the tight weights. Only about 4 pounds separates 12th place from the runner-up position.
With the shorter day, the added challenge of making up weight, or maintaining scoring position, is the simple fact that everyone is starting over after the big storm. It will be a fly-by-the-seat, learn as you go scramble of a day. Anyone who manages to land a kicker fish, or two, weighing 6 pounds or more can win the tournament.
The playing field for Championship Monday adds to the challenge. Ross Barnett is a stingy lake. Part of the reason is the 14-inch minimum length limit. A greater factor is what happened on the day formerly known as Championship Sunday.
We dodged the tornado bullet but behind it came the rain. It’s doing that now and the area is under a Flash Flood Warning from the National Weather Service. April was one of the wettest on record. The Rez rose 8 feet and then came back down. The locals say the largemouth population is less influenced by water fluctuations and water turbidity than elsewhere.
That might be the case but Championship Monday will happen under classic post-front conditions. The forecast calls for sunny skies, a high of 78 degrees, and winds from the west at 15-20, with gusts to 20 mph.
And there you have it. Welcome to Championship Monday. Could be a new format for the future. Until then it happens tomorrow.
For once, get to work early. Log on to your email and then Bassmaster.com for the coverage. Bassmaster LIVE begins at 7 a.m. CDT. You won’t want to miss Championship Monday, the newest format introduced to B.A.S.S. by Mother Nature.