HOUSTON, Texas — For all the optimism about what Lake Conroe is capable of producing, bass fishing got tougher on a sunny Saturday that it was during the high winds and rain Friday.
And despite that, an outlook of optimism remains. The 25 anglers who made the two-day cut of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods believe Lake Conroe is still capable of producing one of those storied 30-pound bags.
"Anybody is still in the game," said Jacob Powroznik, who is in 17th place and trails leader Brent Ehrler by almost 16 pounds. "There are so many giants here. If somebody puts together five of them, it could be really, really good."
Powroznik has a reason for his positive attitude.
"I saw 'em," he said. "They didn't start until about 2 o'clock. They're spawning. If they stay, it could be awesome."
But Lake Conroe wasn't awesome Saturday, when only 17 five-bass limits were weighed in, and six of the 52 anglers zeroed. On Day 1, 26 limits were caught and there was only one zero.
Lots of ups and downs
Three of the most impactful zeroes Saturday came from anglers who were in the top 10 Friday. Alton Jones, Wesley Strader and Matt Herren were 8th, 9th and 10th, respectively, on Day 1. They fell out of the top 25 cut on Day 2, finishing 27th, 28th and 29th, respectively.
It's not unusual to see a few anglers rise or fall from day to day in any Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. But it's odd to see such a general lack of consistency. Clifford Pirch caught at least 20 keepers in compiling his 5th-place bag of 20-11 on Day 1. Pirch caught one keeper Saturday, but it was a 6-1, which kept him in the two-day cut at 20th place.
Before this tournament started, there was speculation that the standings would flip-flop every day because of the rapidly changing nature of Lake Conroe's bass population. They're all over the spring map – from pre-spawn to spawning to post-spawn. When combined with the changing weather conditions through the first two days, it's fished even more inconsistently than anyone expected.
"I have never been so dialed-in on a lake," lamented Hank Cherry, who was on the mark in practice, but finished in 43rd place.
Ish Monroe was in 11th place with 19-4 on Day 1, and excited about his prospects for Saturday. He barely managed to stay in the cut, finishing in 24th place Saturday after catching one 2-pound, 9-ounce bass.
"They packed up and left," said Monroe of bass that were on spawning beds Friday. "I'm pretty sure they just went back out and sat. It hailed yesterday. It was bad. I was in my camper at the lake, and it took the power out for the whole campground."
Monroe made an interesting comparison in describing his riches-to-rags experience on Lake Conroe.
"When that pattern goes away completely, you're still trying to make happen what's not capable of happening," Monroe said. "It's like going duck hunting when there are no ducks. You can put that robo-duck out and everything, but it's still not going to make any difference."
Alton Jones Sr. lived the dark side of his prediction of Day 1.
“Tomorrow we’ll find out who was on fish and who got lucky,” he said yesterday.
Jones started the day in 8th place with 19 pounds, 13 ounces. Today he came to the weigh-in scales with both hands in his pockets.
“Conroe is known for it’s inconsistency and I found that out the hard way.”
Jones ran a series of random patterns that never developed a pattern of replication.
“I think the combination of the storm winds at 60 miles per hour and the change in wind direction did me in,” he lamented.
Last night that storm dumped rain causing flash floods and a change in wind direction from south to west.
Boom to bust
Jones was not alone in living his prophetic quote. Here are other notable zeroes in the standings on Day 2, followed by yesterday’s weight. Wesley Strader (19-9), Matt Herren (19-7), Ish Monroe (19-4) and Bill Lowen (12-3), Wil Hardy (2-8) and Gerald Swindle (2-8).
From back to front seat
Ryan Lavigne fished as a backseat co-angler and won the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors. That win happened last November on Lake Conroe.
Lavigne won the tournament with 58-3 and a winning margin of 16 1/2 pounds. It was no fluke.
Lavigne is recognized nationwide as a top competitor in the B.A.S.S. Nation. The Ascension Area Anglers club member routinely makes his state team in Louisiana, and advances to the championship. The Louisianan has 15 years of tournament fishing to his credit.
Now, Lavigne is back in a familiar place on Conroe. He will fish on Championship Sunday for the greatest trophy of them all.
Oddly, Lavigne’s favorite style of fishing and his strengths are fishing for bass offshore and in deep water. That certainly goes against the grain of his native bayou waters.
Lavigne, who works at a fuel refinery in Louisiana, spent only 6 days scouting Conroe. Most of the pros spent weeks here.
“I don’t get to fish offshore back home but over here there is plenty of that habitat,” he said. “I fish offshore everywhere I go and sometimes it’s frustrating since it doesn’t always work.”
Lavigne plans to stay with the offshore plan. That is a wise move considering the growing strength of the pre-spawn bite.
The Nation Championship advanced the Top 3 anglers to the Classic. Timothy Klinger and Darrell Ocamica qualified as well.
Roy inside the Super Six
Classic rookie Bradley Roy is wedged between heady company going into Championship Sunday. Ahead of the 26-year-old is Brent Ehrler, Dave Lefebre and defending Classic champion Edwin Evers. Even so, Roy is unfazed by the competition.
“I’m where I want to be,” said Roy. “In Classics past last minute heroics came into play and fishing under the radar allowed the winners to fish more free.”
Roy will need to do just that. Former Classic champions Michael Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam are in fifth and sixth going into the final day.
Iaconelli fishing the moment
Michael Iaconelli fishes every tournament with a game plan. In this tournament he began with the Plan B. What about Plan A?
“It never worked,” he said. “When everything falls apart you have to just pull the plug.”
Knowing when to do that is the key. Iaconelli, never a procrastinator about anything he does, made a key move and caught 16 1/2 pounds in about 2 hours.
Gerald Swindle won the 2016 Toyota Bassmaster of the Year title. He also tied for last place with Wil Hardy after both anglers finished with 2-8. Only one other time has the reigning AOY winner finished in last place in the Classic. That happened to Timmy Horton in 2000.
Edwin Evers wore the number 13 on his jersey as a high school and college quarterback. Coincidentally, he was 13th place on Day 1 of the 2016 Classic and in the same spot this year. Not so ironically, he won the Classic last year. Could more of that karma be coming tomorrow? We shall see.