'Tell them it's cancelled'

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Kevin VanDam and Dean Rojas were among a handful of anglers, co-anglers and BASS officials huddled underneath a canopy on the shoreline of Lake Guntersville Thursday morning, anticipating the kickoff of the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator.

But the group wasn't talking fishing Thursday morning. Instead their focus was on the weather.

 As they contemplated the gloomy conditions, VanDam's cell phone rang. After a short pause, he began reciting the conversation aloud for all to hear.

 "Tell them it's cancelled," he said. "You're not kidding. We'll fish a full field Friday and Saturday then cut to 12 on Sunday. OK. I'll let them know."

 And so began and ended the first day of this Elite Series stop in northern Alabama. The cause for cancellation, according to BASS official Chuck Harbin, wasn't the rainy weather that moved into Alabama late Wednesday night, but rather what is looming on the horizon. Forecasts call for an increased amount of rainfall, accompanied by winds gusts approaching 30 miles per hour, a chance for large hail and the possibility of tornadoes.

 That combination made the call to cancel Thursday's fishing an easy one, Harbin said.

 "We certainly didn't want to cancel today," Harbin said. "But our central concern is not putting these guys in danger. I've been watching forecasts since about 4 a.m. and it's only supposed to get worse. It doesn't happen often that we have to do this. These guys are used to fishing in the rain and in a little wind. But I'm seeing wind gusts close to 28 miles per hour and it can get pretty rough on this lake when the wind blows. We have to consider everyone's safety."

 As the small crowd located near the takeoff began to disperse Thursday morning, a few anglers who had launched at other points on the lake began showing up to start their day. They quickly learned of the cancellation and praised the decision.

 "Tell Chuck he made the right call," Timmy Horton said to a BASS official working the dock.

 "This was the right thing to do," Marty Stone said to those remaining on the dock.

 VanDam, who has fished professionally for the better part of two decades, said he hasn't been involved with many events that were shortened because of foul weather. He said keeping anglers off Lake Guntersville Thursday was a wise move.

 "The bottom line is from an organization's standpoint, it's awful hard for them from a liability standpoint to send us out (in weather like this,)" VanDam said. "When they're forecasting awful weather … When you've got thunderstorms, possible hail, tornadoes — you can't blame them for doing it. I saw the radar right before I came out and it's fixing to drill us. So there's no question, this was the right thing to do."

 The 100-plus Elite anglers will try again Friday morning, weather permitting. Mother Nature is expected to cooperate, with the worst of the weather moving out of the area sometime Thursday evening.

 The same angler/co-angler pairings set for Thursday will carry over to Friday's action. Instead of the usual cut to 50 after two days of fishing, the field will be reduced to 12 for Sunday's final round of competition.