Cherokee: Everything counts

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. -- Everything counts.

It’s a saying that’s heard quite often in life, but especially in sports.

Every point counts. Every yard counts. Every stroke counts.

Well, in bass fishing, every ounce counts, and you certainly don’t have to tell that to any of the 500-plus competitors in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Tour presented by Bass Pro Shops. Of course they know that the two-person team with the heaviest three-day total wins the shooting match.

But the number perhaps most teams are thinking of today is one that’s harder to pin down.

It’s the number 32.

This gigantic field of 262 teams from 125 schools and 31 states is going to get whittled down to just 32 teams when Friday’s weigh-in is complete. And the weight it takes to get into that cut to 32 is, of course, anybody’s guess.

The thing that makes this tournament so interesting (even after only Day 1 of competition) is how ridiculously fair Cherokee Lake was to the college anglers on Thursday. Well more than half the field (146 of 262 teams) caught limits on Day 1, which is an incredible ratio. And of the 951 individual bass those anglers boated, not one single fish weighed 4-pounds or more.

Not one.

Word during practice was that Cherokee was going to be steady, and that the fishery was filled with quality bites in the 2 to 3-pound range. The reports were absolutely correct. The teams that caught the 3-pounders are at very top of the leaderboard and the ones that averaged 2-pounders are mired in a giant scrum of anglers scratching at their heels.

And that logjam atop the leaderboard is interesting, as well. There are SO MANY teams within striking distance of a projected cut it certainly bears discussion.

Three teams were tied at 32nd place with 12 pounds, 12 ounces heading into Friday’s competition. But consider, there are 24 tandems in all that caught between 12 pounds and 12-15 on Thursday. Another 35 teams are in the 11-15 to 11-0 range and another 25 teams weighed bags that went between 10-15 and 10 pounds even.

Things are just as tight for the squads that caught at least 13 pounds on Day 1 (15 teams caught in the 13-pound range, for example.) Seven squads caught in the 14-pound range and there are another three teams in the 15-pound range.

Finally, there are the tournament leaders – Cully Scroggins and Nathon Portch of Bethel University – who are sitting prettiest with 17-7 and a nearly 2-pound cushion on the field.

But how comfortable of a lead can theirs be when there’s a staggering number of teams (more than 100 of them) within a couple three-pound bass of the lead?

“I don’t recall, not recently at least, an event quite like this,” said tournament director Hank Weldon. “It’s almost unprecedented to have that many teams so close.”

Weldon said it’s also a very rare circumstance when anglers catch so many bass that tournament officials have to stop the weigh-in because the catch-and-release boat is full. But with all those 2 and 3-pound bass swimming in it, the hold reached capacity yesterday and the weigh-in was delayed by about 15 minutes while the bass were turned back into Cherokee Lake.

So how do anglers react with so much action up and down the leaderboard? Maybe they loosen up, knowing they entered the Day in the Top 32. Maybe they fish a bit more conservatively and get a spot into the cut which invariably will increase their Team of the Year (TOY) point total. There’s only more regular season tour stop this year (on Clear Lake in California later this month,) so that TOY race is definitely taking shape.

Or maybe the crowd chasing the leaders fishes with urgency. If those 100-plus teams pull out all stops in a rush for the cut, we could see a weigh-in as wild as what we saw on Thursday.

Get ready, because everything counts.

The Day 2 weigh-in will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the TVA Dam Ramp on Lake Cherokee in Jefferson City.