PARIS, Tenn. — There are very few lakes in the U.S. where a 20-pound bag will leave you in 29th place at the end of the day. But that’s exactly where Jonathon VanDam sits in the standings after catching a five-bass limit weighing 20 pounds, 1 ounce Wednesday on Kentucky Lake.
So what was all the poor-mouthing about on the night before the Zippo BASSfest presented by A.R.E. Truck Caps? The talk about how Kentucky Lake was fishing tougher than many had ever seen it?
“I had a terrible practice – horrendous,” said Andy Montgomery, after weighing the second-place total of 25-4 Wednesday. “So I just went to one of the biggest community holes in the lake.”
Mike Iaconelli said he’d take a polygraph test to prove he was telling the truth about his 2½ horrible days of practice.
“I actually did have my worst practice ever,” said Iaconelli, who weighed 17-15 on Day 1, which put him in 44th place. “I didn’t have anything. The first day (of practice) I caught one. The second day I caught 4. The third day I caught two. They were all 15-inchers.”
So what changed Wednesday that allowed 29 anglers to catch over 20 pounds, headed by Ott DeFoe’s 26-7, and 94 of 124 pros to catch a limit? There were several theories on that subject.
“I think it was a combination of the sun coming out and it being a warmer day,” Iaconelli said. “And it’s also that you don’t really know what you’ve found in practice until you really hit it on the first day of the tournament.”
The warm, sunny weather theory was the one mentioned most often.
“It’s been cold here,” said Brett Hite, who is in fifth place with 23-5. “It’s the beginning of June and all three days of practice I wore rain gear and a sweatshirt. If you’d told me I would be shivering on Kentucky Lake the first week in June, I’d have said you were crazy.”
The cold weather earlier this week included a strong north wind. Because Kentucky Lake’s 184 miles of the Tennessee River flows from south to north, the wind was blowing directly against a strong current being pulled through the lake this week.
“We had some bad weather come in during practice,” said Chris Johnston, who is from Ontonabee, Ontario, Canada. “I know back home when you get a wind that goes against the current, it really screws up the current and the fish with it. Especially on the St. Lawrence River, if you get an east wind that goes against the current, you might as well just go home.”
Johnston, who qualified for BASSfest through the Bassmaster Opens Series, is 16th with 21-3.
Now that the cold weather has moved out and been replaced by a warming trend and blue skies, every competitor has a sunny outlook on how the bass will bite during the remainder of this four-day event.
“Now we’re getting sun and it’s pushing the fish to the ledges,” Johnston said. “Every day I think the ledges are getting more and more fish.”
Billy McCaghren had such a poor practice that he feared he wouldn’t catch five keepers Wednesday. McCaghren is tied with Brent Ehrler for 11th place with 21-12.
“I begged for a little-fish waypoint last night from one of my buddies (on the Elite Series),” McCaghren said. “He told me he’d stopped on a place and caught ‘em and caught ‘em to see if he could catch a big one and he never did. Luckily, I never had to go mess with them. But that’s how worried I was.”
Now that focus has changed. The winner of this event will have to play some defense to keep both the local anglers and fellow tournament competitors away from his prime spots. Edwin Evers, who is in third place with 24-0, started the day thinking that way.
“I caught a 5-pounder in one spot and never made another cast. A boat was coming,” Evers said. “I didn’t spend more than five or 10 minutes anywhere. I think you have to do that.
“But my dadgum boat looks just like Kevin’s. All day long I heard people say, ‘That’s Kevin VanDam,’ and I’m going, ‘I’m not Kevin.’”
So, yeah, nobody is more aware of that curse than Kevin VanDam, who is in fourth place with 23-9, all of which was caught in the first hour Wednesday.
“I managed one day,” VanDam said. “Usually I know I’ve got to have a major school for each day, and I don’t have it. I got out of that spot (Wednesday) quick. I didn’t want to draw too much attention to it, hoping I might get a few out of there tomorrow.”
VanDam has emphasized from the start how difficult it will be for anyone to catch a big bag all four days at Kentucky Lake, where many of the on-the-water observers are there to mark waypoints, not simply to observe.
“The guy who wins this tournament is going to have to fly under the radar a little bit and be able to manage his fish,” he said. “It’s very hard for me.”
It’s not always good to be king, like VanDam is in the world of bass fishing. Flying under the radar simply isn’t an option for him.