DEL RIO, Texas — After each day of the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border on Lake Amistad, reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam weighed his fish and then exited the stage shaking his head.
He did this despite never falling below 11th place in the tournament. Such are the expectations of the highest-earning angler in BASS history.
For a man accustomed to coming out on top, finishing in eighth place wasn't ideal, but VanDam was satisfied that he placed himself in good contention for another run at the TTBAOY title.
"For here, it wasn't sexy, but I was consistent every day," VanDam said. "I made the most of the pattern I was on in the areas that I was fishing."
His fish management skills have put him on top in the past and according to VanDam, they kept him in the hunt this week with solid, if not spectacular, bags each day.
"The thing you have to do out here is manage the fish you are on," VanDam said. "If you are on the fish to win, you have to go for it. I knew that I just didn't have that, so I made sure to get what I needed each day and I was able to make each cut. With only eight tournaments this year, a good finish here is really important."
Come back this Tuesday
The cold front that hit Del Rio, Texas, at the end of practice pushed the fish off the beds and back into a staging pattern. According to Boyd Duckett, who finished ninth, anyone who fishes this lake in a couple of days will find big bass charging back onto the beds.
"Tuesday should just be unbelievable here with big bass," Duckett said. "Had this cold front not come through we could have smashed them field wide this week. Now it will take two sunny days to get those big females back up shallow."
Duckett found a money area in practice that was loaded with big females ready to move up to spawn. On his final day of practice he fished a creek that had 50 bucks locked onto beds.
The creek featured a drain down the middle in about 15 to 25 feet of water. In the center of the drain, Duckett could see 5-, 7- and 10-pound pre-spawn females staging, ready to move up.
Unfortunately for Duckett, the cold front stopped those big females from coming to the beds, but by the last day of the tournament, he began to see some signs of things to come.
"Today I found them swimming on the banks, but they weren't locked on yet," Duckett said. "I did catch one 3-pounder off a bed and another smaller keeper that I spooked with the trolling motor off a bed. It started swimming off, but I made a cast and it actually switched directions to come eat my Chigger Craw."
Duckett does plan to stick around town until Tuesday for some sponsor obligations. If he so desires, he'll have a chance to revisit that potential sight-fishing whackfest, if only for grins.
No more magic tree
Defending Lake Amistad champion Todd Faircloth was optimistic on the chances of a comeback when he left the dock Sunday morning, even though he started the day in 12th place, well off the pace set by Alton Jones.
Thoughts of last year's move from ninth place to the lead on the final day were fresh in his memory and he knew that on Amistad, anyone could catch a big bag and make a big move.
"It can happen in a hurry if you pull up on the right spot," Faircloth said. "Unfortunately, I just didn't find that spot today. I spent around 85 percent of the day throwing that big swimbait, knowing that I could go out and catch 30 to 35 pounds."
In the morning Faircloth said he needed sun and wind to spur the bigger fish to fire. But even when the sun popped out Sunday, the wind seemed to shut right down with it, so that hurt his bite.
The "magic tree" that helped him to victory in 2008? Faircloth couldn't stay away from it this week. But he managed to catch only one fish there.