Waffle House Wishes

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — When word spread down the dock shortly after 5 a.m. that the first day of the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator was going to be washed out, the early-rising anglers sitting in the rain immediately saw a silver lining.

 "I could use a day of rest," Brent Chapman said from the seat of his idling boat, the rain falling steadily on Lake Guntersville. "I can respect that. And this way, I'm for sure fishing on Saturday."

 The tournament, one of the most anticipated for the anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, will now be truncated to three days. Friday and Saturday will feature full fields, with the usual 12-man cut to be made after Saturday's weigh-in.

 While anglers hated to miss Thursday — which they predicted would have been the week's strongest day of fishing — they were in no mood to challenge the ominous weather.

 "I agree with it, because this storm has already killed seven people in Texas," Shaw Grigsby said as the dock cleared. "If it builds, the potential for someone to get hurt is there."

 The net effect on the tournament, he predicted, would be to increase the "big fish factor." That is, whichever man can find a lunker in the shorter fishing period will have a greater advantage than usual. Dean Rojas said he was looking forward to better sight-fishing after the weather blew through.

 "BASS is real particular when it comes to high wind or rain, things like that," said Dean Rojas, who can count about a half-dozen washouts in the past eight years of fishing. "But they've got the safety of all the anglers in mind. Cancellation on a day like this is probably a good thing. Even though we all want to fish, that's just the way it is sometimes.

 "We don't have a cover we can put over the lake like in football or baseball. That's what's different from our sport than other major league sports. We're out here in the element. It's just the nature of the beast. You deal with it and look forward to tomorrow."

 Said Kevin VanDam, who was the first to break the news to most of the anglers at the dock: "It's going to be a post-frontal day tomorrow. Today would have been a great fishing day. But the reality is you've got to prepare for tomorrow. This is a pretty severe front. It's going to affect the bite. It'll change the fish a bit, not their locations, but their attitude."

 Back at his hotel, Greg Gutierrez said the last tournament he fished that brought conditions like today's was — last year, on the same lake. Hail was falling, lightning was popping and Gutierrez found himself in the compromised position of needing just one more fish a half-hour before the weigh-in.

 "My poor non-boater wouldn't even stand up," Gutierrez said. "I don't think he was afraid of lightning, I think he was afraid of the inevitable. He was taller than I am."

 Freed for the day in a tiny Alabama lakeside burg, some anglers said they were going back to bed, or to fiddle with tackle. Rookie Casey Ashley was reached on his cell phone around 6 a.m., where he was enjoying breakfast with Kelly Jordon and Gerald Swindle.

 "Man, it really don't matter to me," he said. "Whatever they think they need to do, that's cool. I'd like to fish, but it doesn't make any difference. I won't get any more sleep than I would if I was fishing. I've got a routine.

 "Oh, man, it'll make 'em bite," he said of the weather. "They're jumping out there. But they'll bite tomorrow, too. They've got to eat some time."

 Jordon concurred that calling the tournament's first day was a prudent move. He said anglers had pushed officials at the previous night's BASS meeting to cancel Thursday's fishing then. Their response, he said, was that they wanted to make the call as late as possible, to give the weather a chance to abate.

 "I don't fish a lot in it myself. As soon as it starts lightning, I'm in a boat house, waiting for it to go by," he said.

 "We'd like to fish four days, but if three days, bring it on. The weights out there would be huge, if we were out fishing. Today would be the heavyweight day. Put it this way, right now I'm sure they're out biting like crazy, and we're all sitting in the Waffle House."