DEL RIO, Texas — In the lightless predawn of Day One of the Battle on the Border, anglers' boats were visible only as running lights nodding furiously above the waves. High winds out of the north pelted the banks of a brimming Lake Amistad with whitecaps and turned the sub-40-degree air into a shiv.
Things were merely miserable until they got chaotic. Chris Lane launched his boat at the bottom of a steep ramp, only to watch the waves bobblehead it back around and onto his trailer. When a Bassmaster Elite Series angler begins his morning by roostertailing lake water all over his trailer and truck, the weather, it is safe to say, will be a factor.
"The wind doesn't bother me," said Bill Lowen, an Ohioan. "But it thumps those fish pretty good. They're just not used to the weather. Kind of like the people here."
By all accounts, this reservoir straddling the Texas-Mexico border west of San Antonio isn't producing the quantities of bass that made it one of the most renown fishing destinations in the country over the past few years. Anglers are finding plenty of fish, but they're smallish, 2- and 3-pounders instead of 4s and 5s, with almost none in the 6- to 7-pound class, even if they're still spotting the occasional 8-to-9-pound lunker.
Some anglers insisted that the wind and cold and spitting rain would actually benefit them — Kevin Langill, for one, said, "It'll play more in my favor," while Jami Fralick, the South Dakotan who was shivering on the deck of his see-sawing boat, said, "They should bite a jerkbait and a swimbait better."
Though he has a Plan A for the day, Brent Chapman said, "I don't think I'll be able to do Plan B. They're deep fish, and I don't think they'll be easy to fish for today."
Anglers trying to hold their position in the main lake will expose themselves to the full brunt of winds expected to blow 15-25 mph much of the day. Many of the deep fish will be unreachable, for practical purposes, but anglers won't automatically find back-up fish in the clear water of the banks. Look for anglers instead to seek shelter in the backs of creeks and against the bluffs that line areas of the lake.
"Anybody sightfishing is going to be hurt," angler Michael Iaconelli said. "The guys fishing the south side of the lake are going to have a hard time."
Iaconelli said the wind could work in his favor, but following a practice he called the worst he has suffered through in three or four years, he wasn't keen on the run he'd have to take: half an hour of tacking back and forth across the lake, dodging 5- and 6-foot swells, just to head to some spot where he didn't find any fish bigger than 2 pounds in practice. "I've only got a couple of hunches," Iaconelli said.
Fralick said it would still take 22 to 28 pounds to lead the tournament after Day One, while Lowen said 12 to 15 pounds will likely keep an angler on pace to cash a check.
"It's definitely not fishing like it should, but we're still on Amistad," Lowen said. "I'm just going to go out there and have fun. Today is about survival."