Elites: Still early?

We're just one day into the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series season. There are 31 to go, including three more right here in Palatka, Fla., on the St. Johns River. It doesn't seem like much to analyze, but let's take a closer look. With a little background knowledge and some math, the 2012 season is already starting to take shape.

There's still time to have a good tournament here — even for the anglers near the bottom. There are big fish in the St. Johns River, including some spawners that these pros have located but have yet to catch. If an angler has an early draw on Day Two and can get to and catch one or two lunkers, things can change fast.

But it'll be tougher on Day Two. Those big spawners have been picked over like the fruit at a farmer's market. The best fish are gone or worse — uncatchable. Uncatchable is worse because not only will no angler catch them, but one or more might waste a chunk of their day trying to catch them.

Gerald Swindle left a few fish on Day One to run an hour and 15 minutes in search of three bass he knew were on beds. When he found competitors on all three beds, he turned right around and ran another 75 minutes back to his first area. He's 52nd with 11 pounds, 11 ounces.

It'll also be tougher on Day Two because the river system may start to fish smaller. The anglers are zeroing in on the areas that are holding fish, and no one wants to be on the outside looking in, so they'll be pushing in together to catch the fish they know about.

One rookie stood in shocked silence as a veteran moved into his area and passed just yards from his boat without uttering a word, casting all the while.

Welcome to the Elite Series, rookie. Be careful out there. They're sizing you up, and if you don't start defending your territory you'll be labeled a pushover. That destroys a few neophytes every year. Intimidation and head games are standard operating procedure at this level.

On Day Two we'll certainly see a couple of big jumps. Someone currently in the 70s or low 80s will stick a big fish and move inside the cut to the top 50 anglers. Similarly, a few anglers in the top 30 will struggle and miss the cut.

Making cuts (surviving) and advancing are what it's all about at the Elite level. All of these guys can fish (though some better than others), but it's the guys who have strategy and mental toughness who succeed year after year.

If your favorite pro is outside the cut at the end of Day Two, he has almost no chance of winning the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title this season. Right now, that would include Swindle, Denny Brauer (74th), Davy Hite (79th), Rick Clunn (82nd), Mark Davis (85th), Aaron Martens (90th) and a legion of others.

As a practical matter, you're out of the AOY hunt if you leave the St. Johns ranked lower than 30th. That would add Michael Iaconelli (32nd), Tim Horton (36th), Ott DeFoe (37th), Gary Klein (41st) and Kevin VanDam (43rd) to the wait-until-next-year list.

And watch out for Edwin Evers. He won this event last year when he was in 20th place after the first day — 10-1 off the lead. This year he's seventh and just 3-12 back of the leader. Everyone who follows the sport expects him to win an AOY title one of these years, and he's off to a strong start.

Of course, we can never count out Kevin VanDam. He may have had a tough first day, but he's made a career of coming on strong in the second round. This tournament should be no exception.

Look for the cut to the top 50 to be made at around 24 pounds.