The Big Cut


DEL RIO, Texas  A 15-mile-per-hour north wind  blowing straight into the East Diablo Marina launching ramp  greeted the 109 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers prior to Saturday's 9 a.m. ET take-off, making the 55-degree air feel more like it were in the lower 40s for Day Two of the Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors.

But it didn't cut as deep as this revised format will today: When the scheduled Day One of this event was canceled due to high wind predictions Thursday, the Battle on the Border became a three-day tournament. Without the usual cut to the top 50 for Saturday, the field will be whittled to 12 at today's 5:50 p.m. ET weigh-in.

Mike McClelland caught a five-bass limit weighing 29 pounds, 5 ounces on Friday. He sits in second place, behind leader Kurt Dove's 30-8.

"I was really shocked at the weights Friday," said McClelland, as he fought the wind to pull up next to the dock at the launch ramp Saturday morning. "I thought 20 pounds was going to be a good bag. It was way above what I expected it to be.

"I think the day off might have actually helped. It relieved some pressure on the fish. And I think we're actually getting into a phase where some of these post-spawn fish think it's time to eat. I think a good wave spawned two or three weeks ago, and they are just now deciding to eat again.

"Practice wasn't that great. But I think fishing could get better the next two days."

As soon as those words left his mouth, the Bella Vista, Ark., pro qualified them by saying, "But I could very easily go out and catch 12 to 15 pounds today. I know that, and I can accept that. When you're fishing a lake like this, it's just the way things are."

Lake Amistad is a 67,000-acre, clear-water lake formed primarily by the Rio Grande River. It sits on the Texas-Mexico border, just like Falcon Lake, where the Elite Series pros broke records last week. Amistad is 150 river miles upstream from Falcon.

Almost half the field Friday had to accept that "12 to 15 pounds" McClelland mentioned. Former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mike Iaconelli is in 56th place with 15-15. Three-time TTBAOY and two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam is 63rd with 15-0.

"If we can get a little more wind, it will help," VanDam said at Friday's weigh-in.

He got what he wished for. Iaconelli may need more than that.

"I'm frustrated," said Iaconelli, who finished second here last year. "I thought I knew this lake well, but I struggled this week in practice. I don't know. I'm scratching my head."

Byron Velvick may know this lake better than anyone, since he's lived on it for the past two years. Velvick is in 22nd place with 20-15. He had an opportunity to be leading this tournament. He hooked, but failed to land, a huge bass Friday.

"It was the biggest fish I've ever hooked on this lake," Velvick said. "It was a freak."

Velvick landed an 8-plus pounder just prior to the big one hitting.

"It could have eaten that 8- or 9-pounder I caught," Velvick said. "It was so strong. It came out into deep water, and I got nervous because I didn't know how many trees were down there. It was going down and out. I knew that if it got in a tree, I was done.

"Basically, I had to hold on and try to keep its head up. (The lure) just pulled out."

Velvick hooked that big one on a swimbait, but he's also doing some sight-fishing and casting Senkos.

"It's the three S's: swimbaits, sight-fishing, Senkos," Velvick said. "I always talk about that in the spring time  do the three S's. And that's exactly what I did."

Velvick is shooting for a top-12 finish today.

"I just need two of those good ones in the boat, instead of one," he said. "If I have two, I'll make the cut."

If you doubled the weight from 12th place Friday  rookie Billy Brewer's 25-12  the cut weight should be somewhere in the range of 51-8, possibly closer to 50, if you use the old formula of doubling Day One and subtracting two pounds.

But, as Thursday's cancellation proved, nothing is guaranteed on Lake Amistad this week.

The top 12 after today's 5:50 p.m. ET weigh-in at Diablo East Marina will compete for the $100,000 first prize Sunday, weather permitting, of course.

Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Battle on the Border on Lake Amistad, from Del Rio, Texas, April 1113, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:50 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET.