Huntsville Times outdoors writer Alan Clemons wrote recently, "Golf fans love to see the Masters or U.S. Open decided on the 18th green. NASCAR fans stand in anticipation when their favorite driver is locked into a good race coming off the final turn at Talladega or Daytona.
"Bass fishing fans are no different when it comes to the Angler of the Year race, and this week in Montgomery they'll get their chance in one of the tightest contests in years."
That is true. But imagine if the hole on the 18th green suddenly started floating around. Or if that final turn at Talladega iced over. That would be akin to the conditions that await the top-50 survivors on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer that wind up the season on the Alabama River.
With four pros, led by Texan Alton Jones, locked into a down-to-the-wire battle for one of the sport's most coveted titles — the BASS Busch Angler of the Year — the Alabama River resembles nothing they saw when pre-fishing a month ago. In fact, it looks like nothing most of the Tour pros have ever experienced during a national tournament, much less an event with so much on the line (including 40 invitations to the prestigious CITGO Bassmaster Classic).
The Tour course is at flood stage — high and muddy — thanks to an unusually wet month (that included about 4 inches of rain over the weekend).
Jones, who holds a one-point lead over reigning Classic champion Jay Yelas, describes how unstable the tournament waters have been in the last few days.
"It was up 12 feet at one point last week before going down and (Sunday) it went up 4 feet overnight," he said on Monday, the first day of practice. "It's supposed to go up 3 more feet and then crest on Tuesday and start coming back down. There's all sorts of newly flooded grass and trees. In fact, today I was surprised to find a fish on a bed in a place that was completely dry the day before."
Yelas, who is attempting to become only the second Classic champion (David Fritts was the first) to follow up with the Angler of the Year title, describes the current in the rain-swollen river as "raging."
"Way upriver where the big spotted bass live, it's really hazardous getting up there," he said. "You can't hold your position with a trolling motor. The outboard has to run at about 2,000 RPMs to hold steady and make a little headway. On the lower end out on the main channel, the current is very, very swift. But it's a little better.
"I thought the fishing would be better than it was today, to be honest with you. This place might fish small because it might concentrate most of the guys on the lower end. Today, about 30 of the 50 guys were down there."
Entering the season finale, there is also a crowd atop the Busch BASS Angler of the Year standings. Yelas, Louisiana's Roger Boler, three-time Angler of the Year Mark Davis and Florida pro Shaw Grigsby are within 24 points of Jones' lead. The rather bizarre conditions have created a playing field where the crown is even more up for grabs than it appears, Yelas believes.
"It makes it even more of a crapshoot," Yelas said. "It's going to be exciting. It's not going to be like a tournament where everybody is catching fish and it comes down to who gets the bigger bites. One or more of the guys could fall out and not catch fish with the funky conditions we've got here.
"You could win Angler of the Year with a mediocre catch each day. It's definitely more of a crapshoot."
Grigsby, who shares Yelas' prediction of a low-weight tournament, says the conditions have completely altered the strategies of the pros who scouted the river before it went off-limits a month ago. Under normal conditions, the river's abundant spotted bass population would have played a more significant role.
"I would say it will be mainly a largemouth tournament, and I would say it won't take that much weight because it's so stinking tough," Grigsby said. "The main river stuff won't be a factor now.
"I'll do what you always do in a situation like this. You follow the water way up shallow. You just find some hard bank and get real shallow. That tends to work pretty well. The bass like all of the new stuff that is now flooded. Every place I fished today was dry yesterday. Sometimes it takes a few days for them to get in there."
Not all boat policies are equal, according to Progressive Insurance's Bob Jones.
"Unlike other insurers, if you wreck your boat a couple of years after you buy it and you go to buy a new one, you want to be able to afford it," Jones said. "That's where Progressive comes in. We provide full replacement coverage."
Did you know?
Most fishing fans know that Bobby Murray won the inaugural Classic in 1971, but only diehard followers of the sport can tell you that legendary angler Tom Mann was the runner-up.
Alabama pro Dalton Bobo will be 46 on May 30, while Zell Rowland turns 46 on the same day. Fellow Texan Harold Allen will be 58 on June 2. Tennessee's Jack Wade becomes 47 on June 8.
If I hadn't become a bass pro
New Jersey's Michael Iaconelli would likely be in the advertising/marketing business. That was his major in college, as well as his first job.
They said it
"Since we left home on January first, I've spent about 12 nights at home. So we've just stayed gone the whole time because I took my wife and daughter with me. They've flown home and I've driven sometimes, but we've pretty much stayed on the road."
— Arizona pro Mark Kile on the travel involved for a western pro following the Tour.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider is a new bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2003 web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.