Practice and the game – big difference

WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Whenever this happens, and it occurs frequently on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the infamous Allen Iverson press conference comes to mind, when he and his Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown were squabbling about Iverson’s practice habits.

“We're talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice,” Iverson said, among other things. “Not the game, but we're talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?”

When these anglers talk about having a tough practice, like they unanimously did before Day 1 of the Evan Williams Bourbon Elite event at the St. Lawrence River, it bears little weight on how things will go come tournament time/game time.

If you went by practice, the St. Lawrence River was going to fish so much tougher than it did two years ago, when 13 anglers had 20-pounds-plus bags and 23-9 led on Day 1.

So what happens this year? Ten guys had 20-pounds-plus and Shaw Grigsby’s 22-15 leads. Not much difference.

It’s not that these guys were sand-bagging or trying to hide anything. The St. Lawrence River truly did present a different puzzle than the one two years ago. Thursday you saw, again, just how good these anglers are at solving the puzzle.

“You try not to fish your history, but it’s tough,” said Mike Iaconelli, who is seventh with 20-12. “It’s ingrained in your mind. When we came here last time, it was ridiculous. Anywhere you went, you caught ‘em. It was 30 to 60 fish a day. It’s nothing like that now.”

As has suddenly become apparent, the water is cooler this year, and the smallmouth bass are still in transition from shallow water spawning to the summer pattern of schooling on deep structure. Right now, you can catch ‘em shallow, or you can catch ‘em deep. But the bass may be moving deep in a hurry.

“I didn’t have a very good practice,” Iaconelli said. “One of the best areas I had today was a place I found in practice. I caught two there and marked just a couple of other singles. I thought it was a place you could catch one or two during the tournament.

“Today I pulled up on it, and there was a lot bigger school. That tells me they are coming. There are more coming. I love this. I want it hot. I want sun. Keep ‘em coming out.”

Edwin Evers, coming off a win at BASSfest on Kentucky Lake, had similar thoughts, after weighing the fifth best bag of 21-3.

“I think the fish are in transition now,” he said. “There’s a bunch that haven’t moved out (deep) yet. There’s just not many big groups of them. But it could happen by this weekend. It definitely could.”

Skeet Reese found a big group, and he had a day that was typical of the 2013 tournament. Reese is in ninth place with 20-8.

“That’s the most I’ve weighed here,” he said. “I probably caught 25-plus keepers. There’s a bazillion more. But overall the bite is way tougher than it was before. In most areas, the numbers aren’t there yet. The fish are really scattered out.”

Yes, this tournament is a week earlier than the one in 2013, which was held August 8-11. But, more importantly, that year the St. Lawrence River was significantly warmer following a mild winter. Last winter, Lake Ontario was almost frozen solid. There were still ice chunks in the river in April, according to one local angler.

Instead of the 72-degree water of 2013, the water surface temperature was generally about 67 degrees when practice started Monday. That doesn’t sound like much difference, but it’s in that critical range that triggers spawning. There are still smallmouth on spawning beds.

“I know I caught one 4-pounder off a spawning bed,” Steve Kennedy said. “And I’m pretty sure I caught four or five more that were on beds. That water has warmed up a couple of degrees since we’ve been here.”

That’s another reason why this transition phase might gain speed. Although the highs will stay in the 80s the rest of the tournament, it was in the 90s earlier this week.

“There are definitely fish still in two to four feet of water,” Iaconelli said. “It blows your mind. You look at your calendar and here we are basically in August, and the fish are still shallow.

“It’s ridiculous. But the water is cooler. It has been a cool year. Things are starting to make sense.”

Make sense, like they always do for these guys when practice time changes to game time.

To paraphrase Iverson, we were talking about practice, man. How silly was that?