Icing the kicker

Referee makes a circular motion with his right arm, clock starts, place holder gives his subtle signal, long snapper tenses and …

'Time out!'

It’s called “icing the kicker” — a game-pausing strategy opposing coaches often use to break a place kicker’s concentration and, ideally, give him time to overthink the mechanics and meaning of that forthcoming extra point or field goal attempt.

A direct assault on the mental game so crucial to all competitors, icing tends to bear its greatest impact in moments of heightened emotion. Moments like Day 1 of a brand new Bassmaster Elite Series season.

Ice in Florida?

After the National Weather Service’s high-wind advisory forced the postponement of the first day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Florida’s St. Johns River, B.A.S.S. officials announced that the event will be extended to Monday. This move allows for a complete 4-day competitive schedule, in which the Top 10 will fish a shortened day on Monday.

Good to get in a full tournament schedule, but the postponement leaves a field of 88 anglers with 24 hours to think about what they thought they’d be doing today and what they’ll now face when the game clock starts at 7:15 Friday morning.

Essentially, the big winds that prompted today’s postponement came ahead of a cold front that will drop air and water temperatures and usher in the dreaded “bluebird” post-frontal conditions. Bass aggression typically spikes ahead of a front, so Thursday could have been a real gun show — absent the wind hazard, of course.

Back to the football analogy, every kicker handles icing their own way. Some chuckle at the nearly predictable ploy, others stoically stare at the uprights, refusing to yield a second of concentration.

Here’s how a few of the Bassmaster Elites are handling Mother Nature’s icing attempt:

Buddy Gross: Making his Elite Series debut, Gross said the postponement may very well be a blessing in disguise for him. After experiencing what he called the worst practice of his professional career, the pro from Chickamauga, Ga. said he was hoping for a seismic shift. Oddly enough, today’s postponement might have reset the clock for him.

“My near breakdown was yesterday, so I’ve already crossed that hurdle,” Gross chuckled. “I had such a bad practice, I started questioning everything I know about fishing.”

Gross was planning a long run across Lake George, the major pool south of the tournament launch site, but today’s big south wind would have greatly impeded that objective. Friday will bring lighter winds out of the west, so Gross is looking forward to an easier run and more fishing time.

Most importantly, today’s icing has given Gross the opportunity to clear the bad mojo from a dismal practice and ready himself for the new start to his rookie Elite season.

“It’s given me time to practice kicking on the sideline.”

Cliff Pirch: Acknowledging the temporary deflation of putting the boat back on the trailer after a long-anticipated start to the new season, Pirch said he’s taking the change in stride — kind of a “not my first rodeo” attitude. He knows he’ll be facing a significantly different scenario on Friday than he would have faced today, but rather than lament what is not, he’s shifting mental gears for what will be.

“I’m re-evaluating my whole strategy going into tomorrow,” Pirch said. “The postponement give me time to work on tackle today and I’m going to fish a little on a different lake that’s protected from the wind. I might catch a few fish and just slow down a little bit before gearing up for a whole new start.”

Hunter Shryock: A former Motocross competitor, the ability to quickly adjust and accelerate lives in Shryock’s wheelhouse. He’s applying that to this week’s script.

“Knowing the variables that today has brought is probably the biggest thing.” Shryock said. “Anytime you come to Florida this time of year, you’re chasing ghosts because so much changes. We started practice Sunday and we’re going to start the first day of the tournament on a Friday.

“A lot has happened just in the days that we haven’t been on the water, so it’s more or less a matter of keeping an open mind and being ready to go fishing tomorrow. Don’t get caught in what happened three days ago, because it’s pretty irrelevant. I don’t think anything is going to change for me mentally; it’s pretty straightforward.”

So, basically, shake it off and when the clock starts, just do what you came to do.

Chris Zaldain: The Texas pro, who finished the 2019 regular season with a second-place finish on Lake Tenkiller, said the postponement actually works in his favor. Why? Because he expects the adjusted schedule will put him where he would rather be in the meteorological cycle.

“Everyone was looking forward to the warming trend and today was going to be the end of a three day warming trend, so anyone who had seen spawning fish, or signs of spawning after last week’s cold front just got iced,” Zaldain said. “I didn’t do the spawning/sight-fishing thing in practice, so I didn’t get iced in that regard.

“I’m not going to say the cold front helped me, because cold fronts in Florida never really help anybody; but it’s not going to hurt my game as much as it is for others. This is funny to say, but I practiced to fish Friday, Saturday and Sunday; I wanted to fish for the colder weather that was coming.”

Just like a seasoned kicker knows the icing attempt is coming, Zaldain knows the fickle nature of a Florida’s first quarter.

“I feel like, in terms of a warming trend in Florida, every day is different and fish may just pull up all of a sudden, so you can’t really practice for that; but you can practice for the cold conditions and try to figure out where they go from there,” Zaldain said. “That’s kinda what I did and hopefully it pays off.”

Good to go

Pirch said he agrees that postponing Thursday’s scheduled start means missing a potentially stellar pre-frontal slugfest; but as he notes, the tournament’s adjusted schedule could actually heighten the drama. Earning a spot on the Bassmaster Elite roster means you’re pretty good at finding fish on the tough days, as well as the good ones. Such are the makings of a memorable season opener.

“You do get a little blindsided by today’s change and it’s hard to carry the emotion of the (scheduled) first day into tomorrow; but by the time we regroup and get ready in the morning you’ll be able to refocus and regain that game going in,” Pirch said. “There’s enough big fish that live here that there will still be some fireworks.”

So, if you’re worried about your favorite Elite angler losing his edge, don’t. These guys are cool customers not easily rattled. Focused on the vision of Big Bass, Big Stage, Big Dreams; they keep their mood loose and their game tight.

Cue the M.C. Hammer music: “U can’t ice this.”

(Try to get that one out of your head.)