DECATUR, Ala. — Ken Cook got a haircut, despite his general mistrust of haircuts on the road. Jon Bondy replaced his trolling motor shaft with a longer one, a 50-incher, because he's fishing deep on Lake Wheeler and is thinking ahead to guiding on the Great Lakes soon.Mark Menendez snuck in a 2 ½-hour nap, whereas Kenyon Hill avoided his room "so I wouldn't sleep all day." Charlie Hartley, who hadn't seen his wife, Tracey, for the four weeks before the Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel got to spend time with her, take her to dinner and play some Yahtzee, even though it's not his favorite game. "I don't like any game that's all luck," he explained. "I like to control the outcome."
But then, on Friday, when fishing was canceled and the 100 Bassmaster Elite Series pros could only watch as high winds shredded Lake Wheeler, the pros' fates were out of their control. And even as they took a well-needed respite from the water, they schemed on what Day Two — moved to Saturday — would bring.
Jeff Connella, who's staying with a friend on the lake, watched the water rise throughout the day and prepped his equipment to go shallow on Day Two. Ditto Fred Roumbanis, who spent the day off with his wife and kid, shopping for shorts at Old Navy. He figured with the deeper, muddier water, anglers were going to catch fish all over the lake.
"The first day, the guys Carolina rigging deep caught fish low," Roumbanis said. "I just can't get myself to slow down."
Rising water, a spot of rain and general muddying of the water had anglers thinking of different patterns for Day Two. Rods lay like a brush pile on the deck of Marty Stone's boat as he prepared to hit some spots he found on Day One. "I would have loved to fish yesterday," he said. Instead, he granted some print interviews and "actually had a normal conversation with my wife and kids."The areas he intended to fish, he said, were covered up in hotheaded male bass "just as fat as a little butterball." If he's right, the females will be moving in right behind them. The day of rest with the rising water, he said, will allow the fish to feel comfortable with the changed conditions. As the sun stays out on Day Two, the bite will only improve, he said.But missing a day of fishing also breaks up the narrative of the week, after practicing Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and fishing Thursday. "That's why you end up with eight rods," Stone said, indicating the tangle on his deck. "There is that gap."Hill said the higher, dirtier water would bring fish in closer to the banks — especially on steeper drop-offs. The day off, he said, would be one that allowed the fish to grow more comfortable after the rain, which is slightly more acidic than water ideal for bass."Overall, it takes a while for them to settle before they're really smashmouthing it," Hill said.According to Menendez, the high, blue skies may turn on a flipping bite unavailable during Day One's cruddy weather.It's a whole new tournament," he said.
If anyone needed a break, it was Menendez. He left Arkansas late Sunday after winning the Diamond Drive, tried to get up at 5:30 the next morning and found that a week of forcing his little aluminum boat around the shallows on Lake Dardanelle had left him stiff and sore. He took his time getting to Alabama (stopping for lunch at the Strike King headquarters, for one) and wound up missing practice altogether Monday.So part of his day was spent merely cleaning up his boat. When he had swapped boats for the Dixie Duel, he simply took the tackle from his aluminum boat and tossed it in his rod locker. A day away from the water helped him bring everything back under control.