Haze delays

 RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — It was almost 9 a.m., a solid 90 minutes into the fog delay that held the field at the dock before Day One of the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive, when the on-site DJ spun a deliberately ironic number: the Who's "I Can See for Miles."

 Visibility on Lake Dardanelle at that point was maybe a quarter-mile, maybe, and it got worse before it cleared. Anglers, fans, media, families and everyone else who turned out for the expected 7:15 a.m. launch had little more to do than mill around, chat and wait for the white haze to lift.

 "I want to fish," pro Boyd Duckett said. "But I don't want to run in this, and it's a competition, so when they let us go, we have to run. When we go, I'm going 75 miles an hour up that river."

 At that speed, a quarter-mile of visibility equals 12 seconds before impact.

 "This is legitimately dangerous," Duckett said. "This'll kill you. They're doing the right thing (in delaying launch)."

 The conditions were bad enough to hold back a hundred eager anglers, but were plenty clear for a single boat to ease onto a spot. Aaron Martens looked out at the water and contemplated the recreational anglers mowing through the fish he might otherwise have caught.

 "I guarantee you they're biting right now," the pro said. "Chomping it. It's going to be a frantic day. Frantic."

 A little before 10, emcee Keith Alan announced that BASS rules required at least a half-day of fishing for the first flight of boats, meaning that if the fog lingered until 11:30, Day One would be scrapped.

 Ish Monroe, sitting on a park bench beside fellow pro Byron Velvick, said, "Cracker Barrel and Waffle House are going to be packed at 11:35."

 Then, lo, the soupy murk evaporated, revealing the surrounding banks. The day was on like the proverbial Donkey Kong — but three hours and seven minutes shorter than originally slated. With the first 25 boats due in at 3:50, the first flight will get to fish for not quite 5 1/2 hours. The return times are staggered in 20-minute blocks, so the last boats out will get almost 60 extra minutes on the water, minus the time it took for them to launch. That stands to make for a larger-than-usual advantage on such a short day.

 What was already shaping up to be a brutal grind-it-out tournament just turned into a frantic, scrambling brutal grind-it-out tournament.

 "Instead of 11 pounds a day making a check?" Velvick said on the way to his boat. "Make that 8 pounds a day."

 Four pros launched in aluminum boats on Day One: Clark Reehm, Mark Menendez, Scott Rook and Rick Clunn, whose Marshall was an apparent no-show, giving him just that much better drafting capability.

 If there's an advantage to launching in a smaller, slower boat, it'll come in being able to escape the crowds that the pros all said would form on about five or six main creeks along the impounded lake. The water on Dardanelle is low, and being able to reach backwaters may be key for an angler.

 Asked their opinion of the best way to fish in a crowd, anglers were, no surprise, split.

 On the one hand, they said, the successful angler will stick to his plan and disregard the competition around him. (Marty Stone: "You've got to fish like you're the only one there, even if 10 other boats are in that creek." Skeet Reese: "It's just trying to focus on your pattern and your technique." John Murray: "If you can go in there and do your thing, that's the key.")

 Alternately, though, the angler who out-fishes the men around him will do so by finding something just a bit different. Brian Clark said he would be fishing with 20-lb. fluorocarbon, for example, because he knew other anglers were using braided line.

 Whether the eventual winner finds his fish from inside a committee meeting or somewhere in the boonies has yet to be seen.

 "It's either going to be a guy on the fringe, or someone at the center of it all," Stone said. "You can get behind the wrong group of people. They can catch 15, 16 pounds and you zero."

 It's unlikely that many if any anglers will zero on Day One, but some of them joked grimly that limits would be scarce. Monroe said the short day would leave time for just 20 anglers to catch five keepers. John Crews said limits would be tough, "but the six guys who have them will be happy."

 At least the weather was merely foggy. The forecast for the next couple of days calls for thunderstorms and temperatures near freezing.

 "This is the prettiest day we've had or are gonna have," Paul Elias said, with thick fog all around him.

 "Oh," Gary Klein replied from the next boat over, "today's the day."

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