Three-Day Shootout

DEL RIO, Texas — The 8 a.m. take-off time went as planned Friday, unlike Thursday, when a weather forecast of high winds forced cancellation of opening day for the Bassmaster Elite Series Battle on the Border, presented by Mahindra Tractors.

 As it turned out, the high winds never materialized at Lake Amistad, although there were reports that railroad lines 100 miles north of Del Rio were forced to shut down due to wind. Mike McClelland, for one, wasn't complaining about the unexpected day of rest.

 "I enjoyed my day off, I'm not going to deny it," said the three-time Elite Series tournament champion. "I got a massage, laid around and chilled out a little bit, got some routine maintenance on my boat that needed to be done, so it actually was a good day to have a day off."

 Three-day tournaments used to be common on the BASS circuit. But the Elite Series, which started in 2006, has always had a four-day plan, including a cut to the top 50 after two days and Saturday competition to determine the top 12 for Sunday's finale.

 Thursday marked only the third time weather forced cancellation of an Elite Series competition day.

 "It was kind of disheartening to see what the weather did," said McClelland in reference to the light wind Thursday. "But that's the way it is. I'd rather see them make a safe call and know everybody is alright, than let us go out, something bad happen and things be bad for the day.

 "You've kind of got a two-day shootout here to see if you can get to the top 12."

 In essence then, the Battle on the Border is a three-day shootout. McClelland thinks he could benefit from the shortened tournament.

 "It probably makes me feel a little bit better," he said. "I have a couple of areas that maybe have a group of fish on them that might last for a day or two. This eliminates any thoughts about whether those fish will hold out for four days."

 There has been lots of talk this week about Lake Amistad not containing the abundant amount of big bass seen in the last two years here. The 2006 and 2007 Elite Series schedules had Amistad as the season-opener. It took a four-day total over 100 pounds to win both years — Ish Monroe won in '06 with 104 pounds, 8 ounces, and Derek Remitz took first with 111-7 last year.

 Fred Roumbanis, who finished second in '06 and 19th last year, isn't buying all the bad-mouthing.

 "I think people are underestimating this fishery, by far," said the former Californian who now resides in Bixby, Okla. "There's still going to be people catching them here. I think there's going to be some really impressive bags."

 The weight to make the top 50 and earn a check here might be less than the two previous years because even Roumbanis agrees the 3-, 4- and 5-pound bass in Amistad are less abundant than in years past. But he thinks it still would have taken around 100 pounds to win in a four-day format.

 "I think there's enough 7- to 10-pounders still in here to make up for it," Roumbanis said. "There are definitely a lot more 2-pounders (than before). But I think maybe a big wave (of spawning fish) already came through, and the big ones went back down deep. I've always noticed the bigger fish seem to spawn first."

 The previous two Elite Series tournaments at Lake Amistad were held in March. The pros are here almost a month later this year, plus it has been an unusual year weather-wise, with a pattern of warm fronts followed by cold fronts.

 There are still active spawning beds throughout the 67,000-acre clear-water lake. But most anglers think some kind of swimbait will be a bigger factor in winning than dropping lures into spawning beds.

 Roumbanis will definitely spend a considerable amount of his time throwing a swimbait.

 "It's a lot different than the first year," Roumbanis said. "I think I was the only one throwing it then. Fish were real easy to catch. Now you're getting a lot of follow-ups and a lot of taps, where they're not quite taking it.

 "I've had to change the style I'm fishing it. When I made that change to something different than what everybody else is doing, it really paid off."

 So it's a well-rested group of 109 pros and their co-anglers who are exploring Lake Amistad with some different tactics and in a different three-day format beginning today. The proof of whether this lake can still produce those heavy five-bass limits begins at the 5 p.m. weigh-in.

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