A one-day, big-bass shootout

LAGRANGE, Ga. — One-day big-bass tournaments have long been popular. Even when there are as many as 10,000 entries, everyone thinks he has a chance in that format: Big cash with just one big bite.

The odds are much, much shorter, but that's what the Bassmaster Elite Series West Point Lake Battle has boiled down to: Twelve-to-one odds for $100,000. It's like the World Series of Bass Fishing Poker. Draw the right card and you'll hit the jackpot.

With only 4 pounds, 1 ounce separating first place from 12th place going into Sunday's finale, it's also akin to home run derby – swing hard and see what happens. Even if Jason Christie hadn't set an Elite Series record by rallying from 11th place on the final day at Bull Shoals Lake two weeks ago, this event would feel wide open to every one of the finalists.

"If you don't give up and just go fishing, two big fish will win this tournament," Mark Davis predicted – after Day One at West Point Lake. With only one day left in the event, you can cut that number in half.

And, finally, the sun may come out Sunday. The forecast is for partly cloudy skies, a 10 percent chance of rain most of the day, a high temperature of 68 degrees and very little wind. In other words, the big bass that all these anglers saw during three days of practice, may finally show themselves again Sunday.

It rarely happens that the biggest five-bass limit of a four-day tournament is caught on the final day. But this lake, which produced six 20-pounds-plus bags in the Elite Series event two years ago, may be set up for a grand finale.

"There are some big fish in this lake, because I saw them in practice," said Kelly Jordon, a noted big-bass specialist, who finished 45th with 21-1 Saturday.

Brandon Palaniuk, who finished 24th with 27-3, gambled for a big bite Saturday by throwing a big swimbait all day.

"I saw 7- and 8-pounders following it in practice," said Palaniuk, before adding that he caught a largemouth bass Saturday that was shorter than his swimbait.

A few of the West Point Lake lunkers did show themselves on a miserable, rainy Saturday.

Chris Lane missed one, saying, "I've caught some big stripers this week on a jerkbait. I thought I had another one today. A 9- or 10-pounder, a West Point giant (largemouth) came up and threw the hook."

Scott Rook, who rallied from 42nd place to finish 23rd with 27-3, landed one good one and missed a better one. Rook caught five small spotted bass early, then ran up the Cattahoochie River and started flipping in hopes of upgrading with largemouth bass. He caught a 5-11 on his first flip. Then hooked one he estimated at 7 pounds, but his line was "over a cable, and I just couldn't get it in."

Yusuke Miyazaki caught the big bass of the tournament so far – a 6-10 Saturday. It was the capstone in his rally from 90th place on Day One to barely making the Top 50 cut Friday in 47th place to a 19th place finish. Miyazaki's three-day total was 27-10. That one lunker was almost 25 percent of his weight for the tournament.

Among the finalists, leader Tommy Biffle (33-9) and tied-for-10th-place Cliff Crochet (29-15) are the obvious examples of what a big bite can do for you in an otherwise tough tournament. Biffle's weight came on only four fish the first two days. Crochet hasn't caught a limit yet. His total has come on only 10 keepers.

"One frog bite is enough for me," said the "Cajun Baby" from Pierre Part, La. "I've been froggin' all week."

Crochet was in 10th place Thursday with only three bass, which weighed 10-13. He said that day, "I don't know whether it was nerves of steel or stupidity. I'll figure it out tomorrow."

It's clear now that Crochet has had nerves of steel. But everyone's nervousness about making the Top 50 cut and earning every Angler of the Year point possible have vanished now. There are no more reasons remaining to mess with the abundant spotted bass in West Point Lake.

Sunday will strictly be a largemouth bass home run derby.