DECATUR, Ala. Day Two of the Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel was canceled Friday as chilly, gusting winds whipped the surface of Lake Wheeler to froth and rendered boating conditions dangerous.
After postponing launch and making two short test runs down the lake, BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon announced the cancellation of Day Two of the Bassmaster Elite Series event.
The full field of 100 anglers will fish Saturday, but beyond that, tournament officials intend to decide how and when to commence the tournament on a day-to-day basis. The forecast for Sunday calls for thunderstorms; on Monday, it's more high winds.
"We're going to monitor the weather and do what is best and safest for everybody," Weldon said.
The first flight of boats was scheduled to leave Ingalls Harbor at 7:15 a.m., but a huge storm system that passed over northern Alabama Thursday night left brought a blustery northwest wind that gusted to more than 20 mph. At daylight, 3- and 4-foot seas crowned with foam could be seen outside the harbor.
At 6:45 a.m., Weldon told the 100 anglers and their Marshals — most swathed in hooded sweatshirts and rainsuits — that the takeoff would be postponed until 8 a.m. After determining that winds were gusting from 10 to 25 mph out of the west, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio, the delay was moved to 8:15 a.m., then to 9 a.m.
At 8:30 a.m., Weldon asked angler Jeff Reynolds to boat him out into the lake. The pair returned minutes later and told the anxious contestants that they deemed the conditions unsafe.
"I don't know if I believe the weatherman all the time, but I trust the tournament director when he says it's unsafe," BASS emcee Keith Alan said.
At 9:15 a.m., Weldon checked the water again, that time with Greg Hackney. They headed downriver against the wind for about 200 yards, then turned around and returned to Ingalls. At 9:25 a.m., after conferring with assistant tournament director Chuck Harbin, Weldon pulled the plug on Friday. Then came the mad dash for trucks and boat trailers.
Weldon's decision was widely viewed as the right move. In fact, several anglers, including many of the Alabama contingent, asked Weldon to call it earlier in the morning. Boyd Duckett, Timmy Horton and Matt Herren, among others, noted that as rough as the water was just outside the harbor, it would be even worse west of the Decatur Flats power lines, where the Tennessee River impoundment opens into a vast expanse.
Duckett said it would be impossible to "time" the waves so that a boater could move forward, as the waves became random, building against the westward-flowing river current and ranging bottom depths.
"You'll hit some waves good, and then you'll spear one that you didn't know was going to be there," Duckett said. "It's dangerous stuff."
One observer on the dock, recalling the three-hour fog delay and canceled day that hampered last week's Elite Series event, on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle, quipped: "This is turning into the Wicked Weather Tournament Series."
Alton Jones of Texas lead the event after Day One with 17 pounds, 12 ounces, while Takahiro Omori is currently in second with 17-8 and Mike Iaconelli is third with 17-1. It's still anyone's tournament to win, as only 6 pounds, 2 ounces separate Jones from 50th place.
Saturday's launch at Ingalls Harbor will begin at 7:15 a.m. The first flight of anglers will open the weigh in at 4 p.m.