Nerves wracking in Little Rock

LITTLE ROCK – With only two tournaments left in the Bassmaster Elite Series regular season, Charlie Hartley won’t be concerned with the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, where four pros are bunched at the top within 53 points of the lead.

Hartley would love to have that worry, but noted, “This would be a nerve-wracking mess if you were in the hunt for Angler of the Year. It’s the eight-ball you wish you were never behind.”

That “eight-ball” in the Diamond Drive, which began today on the Arkansas River, is the combination of a river that has been in flood stage for the previous month, but suddenly has dropped to near normal levels and the option of going upstream or downstream through two Corps of Engineers lock and dams. Choosing to lock through twice, either way, will essentially cut your fishing time in half.

That combo of conditions could well produce a significant shake-up in the AOY standings.

“I think it’s a tournament where a lot of guys are going to slip,” said Paul Elias, another Elite Series veteran who doesn’t have to worry about the leaderboard in the AOY race. “I think a lot of guys that have been flipping grass and shaking fish off (in practice) are going to be surprised because most of those aren’t (15-inch) keepers.”

Terry Scroggins leads the AOY standings with 1,490 points. Alton Jones and six-time BASS Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam are only 19 points behind, tied for second place.

“I think it’s going to play out in Kevin’s favor,” Elias said. “Because he’s so strong on the Tennessee River (where the final event will be held next week on Alabama’s Lake Wheeler), that puts a lot of pressure on Scroggins.

“If Scroggins would have a strong tournament here, he could really distance himself. But the way the fish are biting, VanDam is going to catch them.

“And for that reason, I think the pressure is going to be on Scroggins’ shoulders more than Kevin’s. I think Kevin is going to do exactly what I’m doing. He’s going to throw a crankbait. And I don’t know if Scroggins will do that.”

VanDam, who said he has fish in both directions but still questioned whether he could even get a bite in the event, said he believes the Diamond Drive will have more impact on the AOY race than the final event.

“This tournament should shake things out,” he said. “Wheeler has fish and everybody will catch them. Here, it’s more challenging, so some will stumble. You can miss a lock and zero.”

There are undoubtedly some anglers in the field who wish that added time factor of the locks wasn’t included in such an important event. Edwin Evers, who is in fourth place in the AOY standings, 53 points behind Scroggins, isn’t among those.

“I like it,” Evers said. “This sport is so up-and-down anyway, you’ve got to try and keep your emotions on an even keel. You’d just be a train wreck if you didn’t.”

That’s not saying there won’t be some train wrecks in the AOY standings after Sunday’s conclusion of the Diamond Drive on the Arkansas River.

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