UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Bassmaster emcee Dave Mercer often uses this term "freak of nature" when an Elite Series angler brings a big bass on-stage. But never has a bigger-bellied "freak of nature" crossed the Elite Series weigh-in stage than the one Edwin Evers brought there Thursday.
"I've got something I want to show you," Evers said, as the bag with his five-bass limit was put on the official scales. Evers' total of 19 pounds, 12-ounces put him in 8th place after Day 1 at Cayuga Lake.
Then Evers grabbed the freak out of the bag. It put him in a category all by himself. The bass looked like it had swallowed a baseball.
"That's one of the freakiest looking fish I've ever caught," Evers said. "This one must have a basketball in its belly."
Basketball? Well, no, the bass's belly wasn't nearly that big and round. But a baseball, or maybe even a softball? That was no exaggeration at all.
The bass wasn't weighed because it wasn't going to top the 6-6 that Jacob Powroznik had already weighed-in. But, man, this was a total freak, in everyone's opinion.
Evers took some kidding about how many tungsten weights he'd had to stuff in the fish's belly to get it protruding like that. But in all seriousness, what could that bass have eaten to get the biggest, roundest largemouth bass pot-belly of all bass pot-bellies?
"Bass eat anything. That's what they do for a living," said Gene Gilliland, the B.A.S.S. conservation director and a former fisheries biologist in Oklahoma. "It obviously ate something that wasn't digested yet."
Without dissecting the fish, we'll never know the answer. And like all the others weighed in Thursday, it was released back into Cayuga Lake. Often a tournament angler will find out what a fish has been eating because it gets regurgitated in the boat livewell before the bass is brought to the weigh-in stage. This bass looked like it probably wanted to throw up, but couldn't.
"Sometimes a fish with a lot of spines, like a bluegill, will stay in (the bass's stomach)," Gilliland said. "A bass can eat a turtle, but it's not likely. There might have been a couple of huge gobies in there. This lake has some big ones."
If Evers would happen to win this four-day tournament by ounces, he can thank the bass with the cast iron stomach for putting him over the top.
Hackney makes a move on AOY title
The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title won't be decided until the top 50 anglers compete Sept. 18-21 at Lake Michigan's Little Bay de Noc. If Greg Hackney were to win it then, he might look back on Thursday day as a key to victory.
— Hackney started the tournament with a one-point lead over second-place Aaron Martens. Based on the standings after Day 1 at Cayuga, Hackney now has a 19-point lead on second-place Todd Faircloth.
— Mark Davis has moved from 7th to 3rd in the standings, but shaved only two points off Hackney's lead over him – to 29 points.
— Keith Combs is still in 4th place, but he's now 34 points behind Hackney instead of 16.
— Jacob Powroznik has moved up from 9th place to 5th and trails Hackney by 37 points.
— Martens, based on his 64th-place Day 1 at Cayuga, is now 6th, 61 points behind Hackney.
These are "theoretical points" – not actually earned until the final standings. But they provide a daily snapshot of how the AOY race is headed coming down to the wire.
Race for the Top 50 in AOY is a jungle
For the Elite Series anglers trying to finish in the Top 50 and stay alive for another tournament, Friday will be either a dream-maker or a heartbreaker.
For instance, Mike Kernan was 58th in the AOY standings coming into the tournament. His 20-pound, 7-ounce second-place total Thursday moved him up "theoretically" to 41st place, well within the Top 50 that will fish again next month, where he would have a chance to climb into a Bassmaster Classic berth.
Kernan found a flipping bite in practice that's away from the crowds of anglers in certain areas. But he wanted to start in the crowd so he could put "three or four keepers" in the boat before tackling the flipping pattern.
Not only did he catch a few keepers, he caught one of the biggest bass of the day – a 6-2.
"Mentally, it's a lot easier to flip the rest of the day when you've got a few in the boat," Kernan said.
He's got some thinking to do before putting together a game plan for Friday, when he figured the community holes would start to play out.
"Toward the end of the day, I came back (to the community hole where he caught the 6-2)," Kernan said. "The crowd was still there. I made three or four casts and caught a 3-pounder."
Thursday night and Friday's tournament are going to make for some anxiety-ridden Elite Series anglers on Cayuga Lake. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
KVD still on the bubble
Kevin VanDam didn't help himself get into qualifying position for his 25th straight Bassmaster Classic. In fact, he lost ground. VanDam was 42nd in AOY points entering the tournament; after Day 1, he's 44th.
VanDam caught a limit weighing 14-4 Thursday, which put him in a 44th place tie in the standings with Chris Lane.
"It's pretty stressful," VanDam said. "The lowest I've ever been in AOY is 26th. The Delaware River killed me. I was in good shape going into that one."
VanDam, once again this season, caught plenty of fish, just not the right size fish.
"Today I never got a good bite at all. I need to get a good bite and I never got one," he said.
As previously mentioned, there will be some dreams made and some hearts broken during Friday's weigh-in at Cayuga Lake. VanDam, the seven-time AOY and four-time Bassmaster Classic champion, won't fit into either of those extremes – no matter what happens Friday.
But you can bet he won't sleep soundly Thursday night, just like so many other Elite Series anglers.