RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — When the 2014 Bassmaster Elite season comes to a close, we may look back and realize that this day – this fog shortened day on Lake Dardanelle – was the determining factor in not only the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title, but a multitude of Bassmaster Classic berths as well.
An extra pound or two in the bag today will likely be worth more points than on any other single day of the season. That's because the standings are so tightly bunched.
"It will be a shootout," said Randy Howell, who was in 24th place with 16-10 after Day 1. "There will be guys in the 50s come up into the top 10. And there will be guys in the top five fall out of the 50 cut. A lot of people are going to get shuffled today."
Take for instance Mark Davis, who had a 42-point lead in the AOY standings entering this event. Davis, who has called Lake Dardanelle both the best lake in Arkansas and his personal nemesis, caught a five-bass limit weighing 13-13 Thursday and is in 64th place. If he'd had two pounds more, Davis would have been tied for 35th place; if he'd had two pounds less, he would have been in 87th place.
"I said before we came here that this could be the biggest point shakeup of the year," Howell said. "Just like Mark Davis (Thursday). He had a good day, just a shade under 14 pounds, yet he's spread out 25 or 30 points from where he needs to be. But the weight difference in where he needs to be is only 1 ½, 2 pounds, max.
"There will be a lot of pressure on a lot of guys, just trying to hold on to what they've got."
There's not an angler in the world that believes luck isn't a factor in fishing, even on this highest level of professional bass fishing. You can include Howell in the list of luck believers.
"The luck factor of catching one big fish – a 5 ½ or 6-pounder – is so big here," he said. "That happens to a handful of people every day. In a tournament like this, that's a big, big deal."
Howell could have bumped up his Day 1 weight considerably if he hadn't run into some luck – the bad kind. He hooked a 5- or 6-pounder on a crankbait Thursday, but just barely.
"When I got it close to the boat, I could see the bait. One hook (on a treble hook) was just barely in its mouth. It was skin-hooked."
As Howell tried to walk the fish around the boat without putting too much pressure on it, the hook came out.
"It's the first one I've lost like that in a tournament in a long, long time," said the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion. "But it happens to everybody."
If it happens to anybody today, it might be looked back upon as the moment a 2015 Classic berth went swimming away. The same goes for the AOY title.
Not just pounds, but ounces are crucial. Thursday only 15 ounces separated 33rd place John Murray and Bernie Schultz ( both with 15-15) and 48th place Jacob Powroznik and Brett Hite (both with 15-0). That's 17 anglers separated by less than a pound.
There simply won't be many days in an entire season when so many AOY points can be so easily gained or lost.
Today is one of those days.