MANY, La. — Jesse Wiggins probably shouldn’t compare notes with Fred Roumbanis about how a lost bass at Toledo Bend can change your season. We’re not talking bass that came unhooked before they could be landed or bounced off the boat deck and back into the lake. We’re talking about two that were safely stowed in livewells before they performed disappearing acts.
It happened to rookie Jesse Wiggins on Day 1 of the Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge. And it happened to Roumbanis on Day 3 at Toledo Bend last year.
Can one bass actually make a dramatic difference in the long Elite Series season? You won’t know until the season is over, but what happened Thursday to Wiggins and, on the opposite end of the scale, Jason Christie, bears remembering as the season continues.
“One bite can change everything,” said Christie, who landed a 9-pound, 10-ounce largemouth that took big bass honors on Day 1. “That’s how one fish can change your season.”
First, there’s Roumbanis’ story. He has the perspective of the 2016 season in his rearview mirror. On Day 3 last year, he caught a 6 ½-pounder, his biggest bass of the day. As he was putting it in the livewell, a 3 1/2-pounder, his second biggest bass, jumped out of the livewell and back into the lake. Roumbanis missed the Top 12 cut by 1 pound, 6 ounces, and finished 13th. If that bass hadn’t vanished Roumbanis would have at least made the Top 12 cut.
At the end of the season, Roumbanis finished two Angler of the Year points short of qualifying for the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic. If the 3 ½-pounder had stayed in the livewell, he’d at least have made the Top 12 cut for Day 4, and if he’d finished 11th or better, he’d have made the Classic.
Sure, Roumbanis had plenty of other opportunities to make up two AOY points during the remainder of the season. But it’s impossible to forget an unfortunate incident like that, once you discover what it ultimately meant.
“That fish cost me the Classic, if you look at it that way,” Roumbanis said Thursday. “Two points is what I missed it by. You just can’t let those little mistakes happen throughout the year.”
Wiggins let one happen Thursday. He said he had five bass in the livewell, and his smallest was a 2 ½-pounder. It had a cull tag in its mouth. Wiggins estimated he caught at least four or five more keepers afterward, but none were big enough to cull the 2 ½-pounder. When Wiggins got ready to bag his fish after checking in, there were only four bass in his livewell.
“The livewell came open (as he was moving) once,” Wiggins said. “I remember shutting it. I guess I just hadn’t latched it. It only happened that one time, and I didn’t think about it.”
Wiggins can only guess that the fish escaped through the open livewell lid, since he didn’t actually see it happen. But there’s no other logical explanation. It will be interesting if someone finds a 2 ½-pound bass swimming around Toledo Bend with a cull tag attached.
“I think it’s orange,” Wiggins said, “but it may have been green.”
It won’t make any difference, of course. Wiggins’ four bass weighed 14-15 and left him in 33rd place. That fifth fish would have moved him inside the top 20 of the Day 1 standings.
“That sucks,” Wiggins said. “There’s just no other way around it.”
Then there’s Christie, who almost had a 12- or 13-pound limit, which would have left him in the bottom half of the 110-angler field. Instead, he finished in fourth place with 21-5, thanks to that 9-10 game-changing largemouth bass.
“There’s probably a guy that got a bite from a fish like that and lost it,” Christie said. “That’s how one bite can change your season. That fish probably moved me up 30 places today, maybe 40.”
Probably more. If, for example, Christie had weighed only 13 pounds, he’d be in 56th place. If he’d weighed only 12 pounds, he’d be in 74th place. Instead, it bears repeating, he’s fourth.
So, yeah, keep an eye on Wiggins and Christie as the 2017 Elite Season progresses. This particular day and two particular fish – one lost by Wiggins and one landed by Christie – could be the stuff of legends, legendary nightmares or legendary dreams.