Not enough room in the beehive

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It was a Chamber of Commerce type day on Lay Lake Saturday — clear skies, light winds and a mild breeze — but it's unlikely that all members of the Chamber were ecstatic.

Sure, the nearby hotels are full, the restaurants are doing a steady business and the vendors at the Bassmaster Classic Expo are going gangbusters but the proprietors of the local gas stations have largely been left out of the windfall.

With a big bass tournament loaded with 225 and 250 horsepower outboards in town and the many turns of Lay Lake's channel and coves at the competitors' disposal, surely you'd expect some gas to be burned. Some of the anglers have done them proud, but others have decided to tread a little lighter on our precious fossil fuels.

"Today I didn't burn an ounce," Florida pro Shaw Grigsby said. "I cranked it up, idled over, fished, then cranked it up and idled back."

Grigsby is currently 19th with 17-9. He might've had more had he not had to split his key area with Brent Chapman, who is ninth with 21-2. In the style of King Solomon, they "split the baby," and it may have cost one or both of them a shot at their first Classic title.

This is a tournament where the kindergarten aphorisms that it's important to "play well with others" and "share and share alike" have taken on new meaning. Beeswax Creek, a fairly small tributary, is the primary focus and fishing grounds of the top five anglers: Jeff Kriet, Kevin VanDam, Todd Faircloth, Mike Iaconelli and Russ Lane.

Some remaining anglers, like Grigsby, Chapman and Kriet were just a long cast from the boat ramp all day on Saturday. Others, like Lane, Faircloth and Iaconelli, have been within sight of the launch most of the first two days.

Kevin VanDam would have been able to see the launch from the spot where he started both of the first two days were it not for a small bridge and an armada of spectator boats blocking his sight lines.

What makes this small creek so good?

"It's two things," Russ Lane said. "First, it has a lot of offshore grass to go with the bank grass. Second, it's the No. 1 release spot on the whole lake."

Lane caught all four fish he weighed in on Saturday out of Beeswax, but he vowed to run mostly new water on Saturday.

"I'm going to pull out my flipping stick and go fish places I've got history with," he said. "I'm going to go on my gut instincts."

Anglers including Kriet have said that the comparatively clean water in Beeswax is making it so productive right now, but Lane disagreed.

"Muddy water is what makes the Coosa River lakes so good in my opinion," he said. "Clearer water is not what you want."

The first two days have allowed the leaders to establish proprietary banks and milk runs, and with the field halved Sunday, there's even less likelihood that their division of territory will be violated.

Grigsby said that he's confident that he, Chapman and Lane have developed a mutually-agreeable arrangement, but he might cede some of his key water on the basis of the standings.

"It's the top three or four you don't want to mess with," he said. "I can't win, so what are you going to do except catch fish and have fun. If one of the top guys come in, I might give it up. I've got a couple of other creeks."

Chapman echoed Grigsby's thoughts. He said that he and his bank-mate haven't discussed the division of property since the first morning, "but I treat people the way I like to be treated."

Even if the anglers don't herd each other out of the way, the fish may be too beaten up at this point for Beeswax to produce the winner. Additionally, with the location of the top anglers already a matter of public record, the dozens of spectator boats who camped in Beeswax on the first two days might grow substantially, if not exponentially.

That presents a question of who has the upper hand, Kriet or VanDam.

On the one hand, VanDam's starting spot the first two days is largely protected from boat traffic and he has done a good job of controlling his spectators. On the other hand, any fish heading into the creek to replenish the diminished population have to pass through Kriet's area to get to VanDam. The Oklahoman will therefore have first shot at them.

Tommy Biffle, in sixth, is the first angler on the standings sheet who has not made a cast in Beeswax during the tournament.

"I'm not a retread fisherman," he said.

Even if he catches a big limit Sunday, he may be too far behind the leaders to claim his first Classic title.

"One of them will catch them in there or maybe all of them will catch them," he said.

Kriet left no doubt as to his Sunday game plan.

"I'm going to grind it in that one area until I can't grind no more," he said.

Others were less resolute in their convictions.

"I'm saying that I'm not going to fish in there, but I may not be able to stand it," Lane said.

He's 6-6 out of the lead and plans to go for broke, even though he believes the odds right now favor Kriet over all comers.

"If another area of the lake does not turn on, Jeff will win it," Lane said. "What he has is an area. Everyone else has a couple of sweet spots and an area beats a sweet spot every time."

For Grigsby, 14-9 out of first, it would take a perfect storm of events to vault him to the top, and while he won't sit the day out, he took a laid back approach to the competition hours.

"We could send up the hill for some barbecue," he said, referring to his fellow competitors.

If the spectators show up as expected, they might not even have to go to the bank to get it — they can just pass it from boat to boat until it gets to its intended recipients.


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