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'A Chess Match'

2/21/2009

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BOSSIER CITY, La. — Standing on the bow of his boat before takeoff, Fred Roumbanis got a full weather report:

Falling barometric pressure. Rain forecast to hit at around 11 a.m. Winds shifting from the southwest to northeast, then gusting 15 to 25 mph. Temperatures lower than a day earlier — peaking in the mid-50s — that then drop into the 40s come the afternoon.

After catching 18 pounds, 3 ounces to claim third place after Day One of the Bassmaster Classic, Roumbanis just shrugged.

"I don't even think about it," he said, but then he stopped and did think for a moment. "As this front moves in," he continued, "they may actually bite better."

That was the general consensus at the docks of Red River South Marina on the morning of Day Two. Several anglers said that of the tournament's three days, this could be the best to catch fish, with the added bonus that rain might discourage the spectator traffic.

"They may be biting a spinnerbait a little better," said Kenyon Hill (37th, 9-0).

"With the falling barometer, the fish should get aggressive," said Mark Davis (26th, 11-11). "It's the kind of day where fish get really active."

But, Davis added, "You could fish too fast. Still when you get on fish you have to slow down."

That sounded like exactly the plan Rick Clunn hoped to adopt. He said the cloud cover and increased wind would benefit power fishing over finesse fishing, which, with the Red River as clear as he's ever seen it, has thrived.

Now, if anglers start throwing crankbaits instead of soft plastics, and working them fast, and covering lots of water in already cramped fishing holes — then the weather has changed the whole equation for the numerous anglers who are sharing water.

"I said before the tournament began, this is going to be as much a chess match as a fishing tournament," Clunn said.

He won two of his record four Classics on river systems, so the man knows something of what he speaks. For Clunn, that chess match comes down to finding what he calls the pattern within the pattern, intuiting a vital truth from the environment.

"What you get back to is the interconnectedness of everything," he said. "Man is part of the natural world. He is part of the interconnectedness. He is part of the data."

Clunn sat in only 31st place after Day One with 10-11, in part, perhaps, because he was already playing the chess game. He visited four spots on Day One — more than he strictly wanted to fish — because he wanted to claim those spots as his when he revisited them later in the tournament.

Anglers hate to be accused of hole-jumping, which, if they move around more on Day Two than they did on Day One, is a distinct possibility. For that reason, Hill said he was going to stick on the same water he only caught 9 pounds in a day ago.

"With the magnitude of what's at stake, I don't want to disturb a person who's having a really good tournament," Hill said. Besides, he said, he knows the fish are there.

Wind, also, could stir things. Not only will the change of direction affect how well anglers can fish particular spots, it will play havoc with anglers who already have to pilot their trolling motors through fields of submerged stumps.

"It makes boat handling more difficult," said Peter Thliveros (44th, 6-0). "It takes away from your fishing concentration."

The rain, however, will be a relative non-factor, he said.

"Just makes the fishermen uncomfortable," Thliveros said. "The fish are already wet."

NOTE: Tim Horton isn't fishing Day Two because of an illness that, from the information BASS provided at launch, sounds consistent with food poisoning.

When his absence was relayed to fellow anglers Kelly Jordon and Casey Ashley, they discerned as much.

"I guarantee he can't get very far from a toilet if he's not fishing today," Ashley said.

"Tim's a warrior," Jordon said. "He's got to be sick as a dog if he's not here ... I think he'll probably live. But you never know."

Jordon then declared he was going to catch Horton's fish.

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