DEL RIO, Texas — You'll hear a wide variety of opinions about why, but there is agreement on one thing: Lake Amistad will fish differently this year than it has in the previous two Bassmaster Elite Series stops on this south Texas impoundment.
The four-day Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors is scheduled to begin Thursday, although a weather forecast of 30- to 35-mile per hour winds had some Elite Series pros wondering if they might be grounded for Day One.
In 2006 and 2007, the Elites Series schedule started in March on this 67,000-acre, clear-water lake. Both those years it took more than 100 pounds to win. Ish Monroe took the title in 2006 with 104 pounds, 8 ounces, and Fred Roumbanis was second with 101-3. Rookie Derek Remitz won it last year with 111-7, and both Mike Iaconelli (103-11) and Steve Kennedy (101-10) hit triple figures.
Kennedy thinks it will take 100 pounds again, saying, "The winning weight may be bigger again because of that big year-class of fish that are 7- and 8-pounders now. If somebody can bring those in, the winning weight will probably be bigger.
"But I think the cut weight is going to be smaller. It did that last year, and I think it could happen again."
However, Kevin VanDam doesn't think it will take anywhere near 100 pounds to win on Amistad this year.
"I think 70 pounds would win it," he said, "and we might not even go out tomorrow.
"The lake is clearer than normal. And I'd just say it's a month later, more than anything. We're past the peak spawn. There's a million little ones, but it's just amazing there are not more decent fish.
"A lot of them spawn in 25 to 30 feet of water here. So they probably go to 80 or 100 feet of water when they're done. I just think they are way deeper than what we're fishing."
VanDam touched on a subject that Byron Velvick and Ish Monroe, both of whom own property here, are a lot more vocal about. They believe Amistad has become a victim of its success.
"I think, unfortunately, meat hunters have hurt this lake," said Velvick, who is the most heavily invested, since he is part-owner of a resort and restaurant on Amistad. "I think people don't understand the concept of catch-and-release here, at least as indicated by the fish-cleaning stations.
"This is a valuable resource, and some people don't seem to care. It's the biggest blood-bath of people cleaning fish that I've ever seen," he said.
Monroe agrees, saying, "The difference is that all the fish have been eaten out of this lake. There are no big ones out there right now. The ones that are supposed to be on the beds, there are no giants out there. There are 1 ½- and 2-pounders everywhere. I just think the big ones are gone.
"But it's not a typical spring either. The water temperature is right for a full-on spawn. I don't think they've had a full spawn yet. And this wind is liable to keep them down. Plus the temperature is supposed to drop later in the week."
Lake Amistad's water surface temperatures are in the high 60s to low 70s. Monroe won this tournament two years ago primarily by sight-fishing with a big tube bait and catching fish on a big topwater lure. He expects the topwater bite to still be there, if he can find some spots out of the wind. But he'll be relying on a swimbait, rather than a tube cast into spawning beds, to produce most of his fish.
"The jerkbait is really not going," Monroe said. "The crankbait is really not going. I think the swimbait is going to have a big effect.
"There will be some sight-fishing, but not where a guy is going to be able to win the tournament just doing that for all four days, unless they all decide to move up at once."
Kennedy, who is from Auburn, Ala., has been solid on Amistad, placing 5th in 2006 and third last year, when he tied on a swimbait for the first time in his life. He thinks Amistad is simply going through a cycle that all lakes go through, after a high-water spring spawns a big year-class of bass.
"We had a huge year-class of fish, and they just exploded," Kennedy said. "When you've got that big year-class, they eat everything behind them, so there's a gap. It forces that cycle to start.
"We had more fish than we could reasonably expect when we got here the first time. Now there's probably fewer. There's still a lot of fish in here, a lot of fish."
Kennedy was at Amistad two months ago for an FLW event. He noticed then what he's seeing now.
"There was a lot of 2- and 3-pounders, 12 and 13 pounds a day (limits), a lot of that," he said. "To get above that, you've got to catch a 7- or 8-pounder. The 3s, 4s and 5s, there's just not as many of them as there has been."
The truth in these various theories on Lake Amistad will begin to take shape this week. The 9 a.m. ET takeoffs and 5 p.m. ET weigh-ins will be held at Diablo East Marina each day. As in all Elite Series events, the field will be cut to the top 50 after Friday and then cut to the top 12 for Sunday's competition to determine the winner of the $100,000 first prize.