Elite: Decisions, decisions …

... and other notes from the Alabama River Charge

Brent Chapman looked like his dog just got run over, after finishing second in the Alabama River Charge last Sunday. Steve Kennedy finished third and was his usual smiling, talkative self.

The difference had everything to do with decisions: Chapman thought he'd made a bad one Sunday, when he entered the day with a 1-pound, 3-ounce lead on eventual champion Edwin Evers; Kennedy, on the other hand, had no regrets.

"I whacked 'em in the first hour," Kennedy said. "Then I did what I caught (23-3) doing yesterday. I didn't have anything else."

Chapman's regret was that he didn't follow Kennedy and David Walker, who finished ninth, all the way up the Coosa River to Jordan Dam. Chapman's 23-5 – the big bag of the tournament – came there on Day Two. Despite the lower Coosa River water level, Chapman started to go back below the dam at mid-morning Sunday. Then he came back down the river before attempting the Moccasin Gap shoals.

"Absolutely," said Chapman, when asked if he regretted that decision. "I've got to live with it, and that's what we do as fishermen.

"Once I saw Steve and David go up there, I could have idled up there. That's the frustrating part of it now. Once you got to those rapids, you could see how to do it."

Although Chapman was inconsolable after Sunday's weigh-in, he might feel better about his decision after some time to analyze it. Neither Kennedy nor Walker did much below Jordan Dam on Day Four.

"I had a sweet spot," Chapman said. "I knew how the fish were positioned."

Kennedy did too on Day Three. But, as on every day of this tournament, what worked one day, didn't work the next.

"I did not hook a single fish doing what I did (Saturday)," Kennedy said. "Nothing. It was pretty surprising, and I spent most of the day up there."

Walker didn't find them either. After weighing 20-4 Saturday, he managed only 9-5 Sunday and dropped from sixth to ninth.

Kennedy sets up good Mother's Day

Most mothers seem more impressed by effort than expense when it comes to honoring them on Mother's Day. So Steve Kennedy's effort on Saturday probably meant more to his wife, Julia, than anything he could have done Sunday.

Kennedy was missing when the Final 12 anglers were introduced on-stage in Montgomery after the field was cut from the Top 50 Saturday. After he weighed-in, Kennedy was allowed to leave for Auburn, where his four-year-old daughter, Sophia, had her first-ever ballet recital scheduled.

"I made it with 30 minutes to spare," Kennedy said Sunday morning. "It was worth it. It was pretty funny watching those four-year-olds performing on stage."

Kennedy lost some sleep in the deal. He'd broken a trolling motor bracket bolt and bent the skeg on his outboard in boating up the Coosa to Jordan Dam Saturday. Rather than relying on the service crews that are at each Elite Series event, Kennedy had to do the repairs at home after Sophia's recital Saturday.

"I got about five hours sleep," Kennedy said. "Six or seven is about normal, so it wasn't too bad."

Maybe that's another reason Kennedy was all smiles even while finishing third Sunday, reinforcing the old saying "when momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Julia Kennedy was a happy momma on Mother's Day, due undoubtedly in part to Steve's effort on Saturday.

But it should also be mentioned that Julia Kennedy seems to keep a smile on her face no matter what happens on the Elite Series tour. 

Return of the spinnerbait?

No one seems to recall the last time the old reliable spinnerbait was an angler's primary lure in winning a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. 

"It has been a long time for sure," Brent Chapman said Sunday. 

A War Eagle spinnerbait produced most of Chapman's 14-13 on Day Four, as well as being an effective lure for him throughout the week.

"I like to junk fish and that's part of it," Chapman said. "You go to a particular body of water, and you've got to maximize how you fish it."

Chapman said he caught most of his fish in the tournament on a spinnerbait, but also used a swimbait significantly, as well as a wobble-head jig with a Tightlines UV trailer on it.

Kennedy's Day Three – when he had "fun, fun, fun" catching big spotted bass below Jordan Dam – was done mostly with a 1-ounce spinnerbait.

"It was so much fun," Kennedy said. "I could call my shots. And this was not that shaky-head stuff for spotted bass. These are Coosa River spotted bass, a distinct species native to the Alabama River drainage.

"And they are bad dudes."

That was a constant theme in the Alabama River event – Coosa River spotted bass are very, very bad dudes, i.e., a ton of fun to catch. But lipping them for a weigh-in photo? Uh, not so much.

Several anglers looked like they'd stuck a finger in a mousetrap after reaching in their weigh-in bags to display a pair of Coosa River spots on stage.

Spinnerbaits vs. swimbaits vs. A-Rigs

Kennedy agreed with Chapman that he couldn't remember that last time an Elite Series even was won primarily on a spinnerbait. And, as mentioned, a spinnerbait was Kennedy's main bait Saturday

But Kennedy won't ever forget what he experienced six years ago on California's Clear Lake. It was a life-altering event.

That's when he won the Golden State Shootout in April 2007 with 32-10 on the final day and a four-day total of 122-14. Kennedy acknowledged buying $3,000-worth of swimbaits during the tournament, and said at the time that he might buy another $2,000-worth on his way back to Alabama.

"Swimbaits are taking over," Kennedy said Sunday. "It's the most realistic bait, whether you've got one or five. It changed everything for me out in California. It's amazing, it really is."

That "five" reference is to the number of swimbaits on an Alabama Rig (umbrella rig, if you prefer). Although banned in Elite Series events and legal in the other B.A.S.S. circuits, Kennedy is an unabashed fan of the A-Rig.

"If we could have thrown the A-Rig in this tournament, it would have been 'wrong,'" Kennedy laughed. 

That's "wrong" as in off-the-charts.

"They are keying on those balls of baitfish," Kennedy said. "It would have been fun."

Evers going old-school?
Considering his flubs, it's amazing that Edwin Evers has continued to post the best season on the Elite Series – winning on the Alabama River and continuing to lead the Angler of the Year race.

Evers weighed an 18-15 bag on Day One at the Alabama River, but was credited with only 17-15 after he had four dead bass in his livewell. A four-ounce penalty is assessed for each dead fish. Evers admitted he'd gotten excited in the flurry of fish-catching that occurred that day and inexplicably turned off the recirculator in one of his livewells.

Evers also suffered a penalty on the third day at Bull Shoals, where he finished 25th, when he was late for his check-in time.

James Overstreet and I were close behind Evers as he trailered to the Cooters Pond takeoff site on Day Three at the Alabama River. The sun was rising, but every other vehicle on the road still had headlights on upon arrival – every one but Evers'.

So it appears Evers is going "old school" – anti-electronics: no watch, no livewells, no headlights. (Sarcasm alert.)

Evers has a 25-point lead over second-place Skeet Reese after five tournaments in the eight-tournament schedule. Minus a couple of brain freezes, that lead would be larger. 

A tip of the hat to the wit of Biffle

Tommy Biffle is unchallenged on the Elite Series as the man with the best combination of two skills: 1) putting bass in the boat, and 2) displaying the driest sense of humor.

When asked on-stage about destroying the lower unit of his outboard motor on Day One at the Alabama River Charge, while attempting to go upstream over not one, but two "water falls," Biffle explained simply, "I watched too many James Bond movies as a kid."

Thanks in no small part to the service crew that put a new lower unit on his outboard Thursday, Biffle survived and advanced to Sunday's final, where he finished sixth.

When Biffle brought a freak of a spotted bass to the scales – it looked like it had swallowed a snapping turtle, or a softball – he dryly remarked, "It sort of looks like Kenyon Hill, don't it?"

The reference was to his wide-girthed fellow Oklahoman and Elite Series angler. And if you know Hill, you know he can take a joke. But only Biffle can deliver one like that without ever cracking a smile.