ZAPATA, Texas — It's almost as if the largemouth bass in Falcon Lake are on "the juice." Maybe these fish have discovered the secret that is rumored to have made Barry Bonds the all-time home run king in Major League Baseball. Bass on steroids? Not likely.
Whatever they're on, these bass have made an impression on the Bassmaster Elite Series pros. If not a lasting impression, and it well may be, it's at least one they're reminded of when the pros move a muscle following a day on the lake.
"I'm absolutely worn out," said Mark Davis after catching an estimated 100 bass Thursday and weighing-in a 4th-place total of 35 pounds, 4 ounces. "My back hurts, my arms are sore. My shoulders are sore."
Several pros remarked on how a 4-pounder at Falcon fights as hard as an 8-pounder anywhere else.
"It's not just the four-pounders," Shaw Grigsby said, "it's the two-pounders and three-pounders too. They hurt you when you set the hook in them.
"I don't know what it is in their environment, but it's almost like river fishing. River fish know how to use current and spend a lot of time in the current. They have a little better muscle structure, and they fight you a little bit harder.
"These fish fight you about 20 to 30 percent harder than a river fish. It's pretty impressive."
Aaron Martens, the Day One leader with 42-0, has noticed that difference in muscle structure of Falcon Lake largemouth bass.
"In Florida, you tend to overestimate their weight, because they're so long," he said. "These fish, you look at them and it's almost like you've got to purposely overestimate them by about a half-a-pound."
Martens noticed the difference when grabbing bass around their tails, while sorting them in his over-crowded livewell Thursday. The thickness of the tails and backs on these bass is noticeably bigger than those everywhere else. And, as Martens noted, a fish generates much of its fighting power in its tail.
"These fish are absolutely vicious," said Tripp Weldon, the BASS tournament director.
"These are the strongest fighting fish I've ever seen," said Terry Scroggins, who was 11th on Day One with 33-1.
"If I come back here next year, I'm going to have to hit the gym," said Britt Myers, who was 25th on Day One with 28-7.
Bass taking their vitamins and minerals
Brent Chapman has a theory on why Falcon Lake bass fight so hard. They're not on steroids, they're just on a good healthy diet, rich in vitamins and minerals.
"We've got a lake back home in Kansas called Cedar Bluff," said Chapman, who lives in Lake Quivira, Kan. "The bass there are the same way. I've heard it's the minerals in the water.
"In western Kansas we've got the same kind of bushes and water color. That's the only thing I can figure out — the minerals.
"They've got big deer here, and we've got big deer in western Kansas, so maybe that's it — the minerals."
That sounds like as good an explanation as anything offered so far.
Clear Lake vs. Falcon Lake
A little over a year ago, California's Clear Lake was declared the best bass fishery in the U.S. by several Elite Series pros. When the four-day Golden State Shootout concluded there on April 1, 2007, Steve Kennedy had set a new BASS four-day total-weight record of 122-14, and six other anglers broke the 100-pound mark.
After three days of practice on Falcon Lake and one day of competition, their opinions seem to have changed.
"It's by far the greatest lake I've ever fished," Kevin VanDam said of Falcon. "This is the best in the U.S. There's not even a close second."
After Thursday's weigh-in, Kennedy got on the Internet and looked up the numbers from Clear Lake last year.
"The numbers are so much bigger here," he said.
And at least after one day, that's an apt description. On Clear Lake the first day, Greg Gutierrez led with 32-13, one other angler had over 30 pounds, 50th place was 20-1 and the totals caught by 108 pros were 540 bass weighing 2,206-7.
On Day One at Falcon, Aaron Martens led with 42-0, 17 other anglers had over 30 pounds, 50th place was 24-11 and the totals caught by 108 pros were 539 bass weighing 2,617-2.
See the note below, explaining why those numbers weren't higher — by one more pro and about 30 pounds of bass — because of Bobby Myers misfortune. And stay tuned here as the day-by-day comparison of Clear Lake and Falcon plays out.
Driven to succeed
No doubt, the co-angler side of an Elite Series tournament is determined somewhat by skill and fortitude. Still, it doesn't hurt a bit to be paired with pros who put their passengers on some fish.
Until Tony Sprague heaved a 12-pound, 3-ounce Moby Dick onto the scales, the co-angler with the heaviest fish of the day was Mary Delgado, perpetual fiancée of Elite Series pro Byron Velvick. She sacked a 7-9 kicker on the way to a 26-11 limit, good for fourth place among co-anglers.
When she informed Velvick that her big fish was leading in that category, he stepped up and smooched her. Then he began bragging that she caught a 10-plus-pounder in practice.
She didn't know it," Velvick said, "but Ish took her to the same spot where she caught the 10-pounder."
That would be Ish Monroe, who caught 35-6, for third place among the pros. Considering that Velvick finished fifth and his co-angler second; and Aaron Martens finished first with a co-angler also leading, there must be something to be said for the fellow driving the boat.
Rick Morris caught most of his 25-7 limit flipping bushes, he said, but expected three-quarters of the top 12 anglers to have fished the offshore points Falcon Lake offers.
The problem with attacking those points, of course, is that's where big schools of bass are and, therefore, schools of Elite Series pros. "It's hard to run-and-gun them," Morris said. He saw three boats on each of the points he wanted to fish on Day One.
"It turns into a wolfpack on a piece of meat," he said.
Dead in the water
In a day on which pro anglers brought more than 2,600 pounds of bass to the weigh-in scales, that big ol' zero next to Bobby Myers' name is worth a double-take.
The next-lowest angler caught more than 10 pounds. So what gives? According to Myers, he had actually had more than 30 pounds of fish in his livewells, including an 11-pound kicker. But after running his aerators all day, and running the trolling motor incessantly, he found that his outboard motor starting battery had conked out, right before he headed to the dock to weigh-in.
It was an hour before Casey Ashley and Marty Robinson arrived to give him a jump. By then, his late penalties wiped out any hope of weighing fish. Besides, two of them, including the 11-pounder, had died without circulated oxygen. Myers released the other three — and they were hurting — and gave the dead fish to a sponsor, to eat.
The Elite Series rookie had been telling himself that he'd buy a jump box, for just that situation. "If I'd have had a jump box, I'd have been all right," he said. "A $100 jump box cost me $10,000."
A 30-pound stringer would have put Myers in 18th place after Day One.
"You don't know who's going to drown first, you or the fish." — Marty Stone, on trying to land a big bass with your line tangled in a tree.
"Twenty-four pounds and what am I in — 100th place?" — Russ Lane, laughing with disbelief at the Day One weights. He was actually in 45th place, and finished the day in 52nd place with 24-8.
"Must not be much of a fisherman if you can't catch five on this lake." — Bradley Hallman, the only pro to not catch a limit on Day One.
"Absolutely no doubt, this is by far the best (bass fishing) lake in the country. You'll see that this week." — Terry Scroggins, on Falcon Lake.
You've got the greatest lake in the world. Take care of it." — Mark Menendez, talking to the audience about Falcon Lake while on the weigh-in stage Thursday.
"This is truly the finest lake, bass fishing-wise, in the United States." Gary Klein, on Falcon Lake.