BUFFALO, N.Y. — Unfortunately, Steve Kennedy proved Thursday why there is no way to accurately predict the outcome of the Bassmaster Elite Series Empire Chase presented by Farmer's Insurance.
The Auburn, Ala., angler had a five-bass limit of smallmouths weighing about 18 pounds in his livewell Thursday afternoon. But when you look at the Day One results from Lake Erie, you'll see a big zero next to Kennedy's name. That zero was caused by the ultimate X-factor on Lake Erie — the wind.
When the wind kicked up over 15 miles per hour Thursday and both of the bilge pumps in Kennedy's boat quit working, the extra pump he was carrying burned out, making Kennedy lucky to get off this huge body of water — period. Making it in before his weigh-in time was out of the question.
Kennedy's wife, Julia, drove their Jeep to Irving, N.Y., to get her soaking wet husband and his co-angler off the water and the boat on the trailer.
Edwin Evers won this event last year and is in fourth place with 21 pounds, 3 ounces after Day One. He's confident he can continue to catch fish the rest of the week. But there's that X-factor.
"As rough as it is out there, anything can happen," Evers said Thursday.
As the 106 Elite Series anglers prepared to launch Friday morning, the skies were cloudless and the breeze was light: less than 5 miles per hour. However, the forecast includes wind from 10 to 15 miles per hour out of the west before the day is over.
"I learned that the wind doesn't need to blow as much as it did yesterday," said Mike McClelland, when asked if he'd gained any knowledge Thursday that would help him today.
The Bella Vista, Ark., resident sits in a precarious place entering the day — 49th place with 15-1. McClelland entered this event third in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. He desperately needs to make the top 50 cut that occurs after today's 5 p.m. weigh-in at NFTA Boat Harbor, if his AOY hopes are to stay alive.
"I'm just barely in the money with 15-1, and I don't know that another 15-1 will keep me in the money, especially if it gets slick," McClelland said. "If the wind doesn't blow like it did yesterday, the weights will definitely go up. There will be lots of 16- to 18-pound bags today."
A year ago, when this event was held July 19-22, 50th place on Day One was 15-7 and the top 50 cut weight on Day Two was 32-4. But, as McClelland noted, even the cut weight is difficult to accurately predict because of the wind factor.
Fellow Arkansan Kevin Short of Mayflower is the "bubble boy," as he's one spot below McClelland in 50th place with 14-14.
"I learned that I'm around them, because my buddy over there caught 23 pounds right next to me," said Short, in reference to Day One leader Matt Reed, whose total of 23-3 also included the Purolator Big Bass of the day, a 5-10 smallmouth.
Reed and Short were the only two anglers in that area of the lake Thursday, but Short didn't get there until 11:30 a.m.
"That was a mistake on my part," Short said. "I had another spot that I thought was just as good, but it wasn't."
Catching fish early is definitely a key here this week. Some anglers think the bite is significantly better in the morning; everyone would agree it's easier to fish and move around before the wind begins kicking up.
Reed was one of several anglers who came in long before their check-in times Thursday. Canadian Jon Bondy was another. Bondy, in seventh place with 20-2, said he was back in his hotel room with his feet propped up before his scheduled 6 p.m. weigh-in time.
"I'm not going to be afraid to do it again today," Bondy said. "If I have a big sack, I'm coming in early."
BASS rules allow competitors to come back to the weigh-in area any time they'd like. But no one can officially weigh-in until an hour before the first flight of competitors is scheduled to be back. Today that time is 3:40 p.m.
After the beating most of the field took Thursday on Lake Erie, that's every man's goal today: Be back at NFTA Harbor by 3:40 p.m. But, as Kennedy proved yesterday, there's just no way of predicting what's going to happen on Erie, the 10th largest lake in the world.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Empire Chase with weigh-in host Keith Alan, July 31-Aug. 3, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 5:00 p.m. ET.