Final launch: No rest for the weary

DEL RIO, Texas — Standing on the dock in the pre-dawn light, Fred Roumbanis of California was experiencing a mixture of hope, confidence and youthful excitement as the 12 finalists in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series were preparing for takeoff.

His confidence comes after years of fishing tournaments on the West Coast before branching out to the Bassmaster and FLW tours. His excitement comes after making today's cut with several anglers he grew up watching and studying.

And Rombanis had hope for wind, which at the moment wasn't blowing.

"I just want some wind and it doesn't have to be much, just enough to create some ripples or a little chop," said the 27-year old Elite Series rookie, who is working three different swim baits over deep humps. "If I see a little breeze, that's all it takes to trigger the fish.

"I need about 35 pounds today, but that's doable here. I've got one fish, probably about 14 pounds, on a deep spot just across from the ramp. She's got a couple of 5-pounders with her. If I could catch her that would be a great start. Even the 5-pounders, you wouldn't mind having them in the box."

By the time the 12 Elite finalists took off from the Diablo East Marina, the wind began blowing out of the east-southeast at about 8-10 miles per hour. It's expected to switch from the northwest by midday. The barometric pressure was 29.76 and falling at 8:30 a.m. Temperatures are expected to hit 90 degrees and humidity was 87 percent as a front building out west was pushing into west Texas.

The wind may not only be good for Roumbanis, but also for Elite finalists Kevin VanDam of Michigan and Gary Klein of Texas. They're fishing offshore areas and could use some wind to activate the bass. VanDam's targeting prespawn bass; Klein is slowly working a swimbait.

Wind also could help leader Ish Monroe of California, who has 81 pounds and is on target to break the four-day Bassmaster record of 108-12. He's working topwaters around shorelines and some offshore areas, alternating between a hard bait and soft bait.

Monroe will be fishing today on just a few hours' sleep, though, since he had a fitful night he described as "horrible."

"I woke up about 1 a.m. and was up until 3, doing emails and checking out and my own site ( just trying to relax," he said while being outfitted with a microphone for television coverage.

"I sleep well, usually when other people can't sleep. But the excitement of being able to fish today and also trying for my little place in history was too much, I guess. I'd like to put it out of my mind but it's there. If I catch 28 pounds I'll have a shot at the record and a chance to win."

Dean Rojas of Texas, also a finalist, holds the Bassmaster four-day record. He set it in 2001 on Lake Toho in one of the most amazing weeks of fishing in Bassmaster history. At least until the Elite Series arrived here at Amistad, the 67,000-acre Rio Grande impoundment on the Texas-Mexico border.

Seven limits weighing 30 pounds or more have been caught, including Monroe's catch of 34-1 on Saturday that put him almost four pounds ahead of VanDam. Monroe estimated in three days of practice and three tournament days, he's had six limits of more than 30 pounds "which is ridiculously unheard of."

Several anglers have caught their biggest limits or biggest bass here, and the potential exists for another huge catch today. Everyone will be swinging for the upper deck.

"Hey, I slipped in at 12th and have nowhere to go but up," Rojas said. "I slept like a baby. No pressures."

Ken Cook, the 1991 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion, has been on the tour for almost 25 years and still gets excited.

"Heck yeah," he said. "This is what I live for. I'm just relaxing (before the launch), trying to conserve energy to get after these young whippersnappers. I'm going to my area where I found my fish Saturday and then probably about noon go to some other flats where they're moving up to spawn."

Warmer temperatures the last two days have spurred the spawning and pre-spawn fish into more activity. Anglers are seeing waves of bass move to the beds, while others still waiting to move are holding in deeper transition zones.

The combination of wind, warmer water and the full moon could make for a super day.

"I saw them moving up Saturday, just swarming from the deep water," Roumbanis said. "I think today there's a good chance for some really big bags, and for everyone to have one or two good kicker fish."

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