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DEL RIO, Texas — Canceling what would have otherwise been the first day of the Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors obviously changes the complexion of the tournament on Lake Amistad. But how? And to what degree?
"It changes things in a major way," said Texas pro Gary Klein. "It makes it a lot harder to make the cut."
Tournaments usually feature the full field on the first two days, and then the top 50 on Day Three and the top 12 on Day Four. This weekend, there'll be no cut to 50, only a cut to 12 for Sunday.
"There's no shot to make a third-day comeback," said Mississippi pro Paul Elias, who set the BASS weight record with a 132 pound, 8 ounce, winning total last week at Falcon Lake.
California pro Skeet Reese said anglers will have to kick conservatism to the curb.
"You can't work your way into the top 50 like you usually can," Reese said. "The hard part is that you need to gamble a little bit more. You've got to gamble to get the big bites. You can't be as conservative."
The goal in any tournament is to put as many big fish in the boat as possible. But several anglers said the shortened tournament will emphasize the need to get big bites. While a four-day tournament allows anglers some wiggle room for a lackluster day — it can be made up with a bigger sack the next day — an abridged version won't allow for that.
"Now that it's cut to two days (with the full field), you have to bust two big bags," Klein said. "The top 12 will all have caught 20-pound-plus bags the first two days."
Likewise, while mistakes can always be costly, the expense is now magnified.
"There's absolutely no room for error," said Oklahoma pro Fred Roumbanis. "I have to capitalize on every bite. I have to catch everything."
Luck will likely become a bigger factor, too.
"The shorter you make a tournament, the more luck becomes a factor," said Missouri pro Denny Brauer. "That's why we don't have one-day tournaments. Shorter tournaments take away from the consistency factor. What really comes into play is the luck factor of big fish."
Another consideration is sight-fishing. Amistad's bass appear to be all over the place right now — pre-spawn, post-spawn and active spawners. Anglers seem split on how the shortened tournament will affect sight-fishing. Some contend that a shorter event will allow anglers who are on locked-down bass to stretch their bedding fish to the end of the event instead of running out on the third and fourth days. Others say the missed day may hurt sightfishermen.
"They don't stay there long," said Ohio pro Charlie Hartley. "They may not be there when you go back out there today."
Roumbanis agreed: "I've got a few bed fish, but I'm not banking on them because I haven't seen them since Tuesday. I really don't think bed fish will be the way to win it."
But the changes aren't all negative. A three-day tournament has positive changes, including bass that might be more apt to bite, less pressure on the fish and better finishing strength for the anglers who make the cut.
Hartley said the off day will refresh the bass and the anglers.
"The fish had a day off to rest," he said. "That may sound stupid to the guy at home, but when you put 100 of the best fishermen in the world out here, it can make a big difference when the fish get a break like that. They'll be eating today. Not to mention that the fishermen got a day of rest. They needed it, and it gave them a lot of time to get all their tackle in order. They're so ready. I wouldn't want to be a fish out there today."
For anglers who've found fish, the truncated tournament could also bode well.
"The guys on fish won't have to harass them for four days," Elias said.
It may favor anglers who've found fewer groups of quality bass, too.
"I really hadn't found that many groups of good fish," said Arkansas pro Mike McClelland, winner of this year's season opener at the Harris Chain in Florida. "So now that it's down to two days to make the cut, I won't have to pound on them as hard, and they may hold up for me."
Roumbanis said Sunday's finalists may benefit from the missed day.
"If you do have two good days and make the cut, your chances are a lot better now," he said.
But even with anglers saying Amistad won't play out as strong as it has in years past, it's still going to take impressive sacks of fish to win here.
"It used to be the day where, if you got five fish in the boat, you felt pretty good," Hartley said. "But that's not good enough any more."
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Battle on the Border on Lake Amistad, from Del Rio, Texas, April 11–13, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:50pm ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET.
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