Drought in the Delta

STOCKTON, Calif. — Peter T. was peeved.

"I didn't find them," grumbled Elite Series angler Peter Thliveros after weighing in only 9 pounds, 7 ounces. "No excuses."

Thliveros offered none, but after Day One of the Duel in the Delta presented by Mahindra Tractors, anglers had a plethora of reasons why they didn't catch bass in the bunches like they were expecting.

It seemed that the only angler who had the day he was hoping for was Mark Tyler, who towed a 23-15 bag to Weber Point in downtown Stockton. The sack sagged under the weight of the biggest fish of the day, a 10-6 largemouth that caused him to address the almighty twice: Thanking God for such a fish upon the hookup, then pleading Him for help to drag the monster aboard. Instead, his co-angler came to the rescue.

"I've been shaking for three hours since I caught it," Tyler said.

Other anglers within sniffing distance of Tyler's total included Derek Remitz (23-5), Brent Chapman (22-12), Jeff Reynolds (22-11) and, in fifth place, Bernie Schultz (22-10).

Those anglers aside, the first day of the Duel didn't see the kind of production that left many competitors with a hope that they could scoop a monster sack out of this fecund network of bays and canals on Friday.

Mike Iaconelli (T-76th place, 11-5) said a slow morning prompted him to get antsy, and fish too quickly. Skeet Reese (32nd place, 15-7) said he burned up 40 gallons of gas hopscotching to 40 different spots. Told of this, Dean Rojas (64th, 12-9) estimated his own gas bill at 50 gallons. "I was afraid I wouldn't have enough to get back to the dock," he said.

Confusion with the tides — a rarity for bass anglers to encounter — along with water still muddied after the week's stiff winds and the aftereffects of a recent cold front, also hampered many anglers.

Keith Phillips (85th, 9-10) said the total lack of wind, after steady 20 mph winds during practice, crushed his chances. The great Rick Clunn (82nd) also bemoaned the picture-perfect conditions after he weighed in just 10-8. Ish Monroe (50th, 13-12), so close to home he's sleeping in his own bed for this tournament, likewise hoped for some wind Friday to at least dimple the surface of his familiar Delta.

"I love this body of water," said Greg Gutierrez (55th, 13-4), another native Californian, "and I'm letting it down."

Todd Faircloth (58th, 12-12) admitted that he was totally baffled, and vowed just to go fishing on Friday.

Other notables include Aaron Martens (10th, 20-1), Kevin VanDam (30th, 15-12), and Gerald Swindle (87th, 9-7).

Amid the wreckage, optimism shone through.

Greg Hackney (17th) wound up catching all of his 18-4 sack at low tide, instead of the 30-pound sack at low tide that he had hoped for. "Man, if I can make the right move on high tide," he said, "I can put them together."

Rick Morris said he was some wind and a few clouds short of bagging 30 pounds. But on a clear, still day, "I'm fortunate to have what I have," he said. His sack of 20-7 put him comfortably in eighth place.

Tyler, who hauled a 14-6 bass out of the Delta in 1999 to set a single-fish record for a BASS event, grew up in nearby Pleasanton, Calif., and fished the Delta 200 days a year for 10 years, he estimated.

The double-edged homewater advantage almost lulled him into habit. "It's an easy trap to fall into," he said. "I went to a lot of old glory banks."

Remitz, a Texan rookie fresh off a win in the Elite Series' first event, in Del Rio, Texas, found himself settling into practices he honed at another Lone Star fishery.

"I'll try to do the same thing tomorrow," Remitz said. "I was pulling a lot of my tricks from (Sam) Rayburn out, and they kept working, so I kept rolling with them."

Chapman said he ran 35 minutes to a canal where he did all his fishing. Whereas it was totally covered with boats in practice, he found only VanDam there — a good sign, to be sure, but unlucky that he had to fish next to perhaps the greatest angler in the business. But he did fine, and expects to return there Friday.

For all the frustration as anglers crossed the stage Thursday, 18 of them are within 6 pounds of the lead.

Almost no one had a rougher day catching fish than Canadian angler Jon Bondy. The pro weighed in just one fish that weighed 12 ounces. "I'm stunned," he said once he left the stage. "It was like whole areas were vacant of fish."

Tenacity may yet win him the day. He plans to go back to the same water on Friday.

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