STOCKTON, Calif. If you were putting together a roster to fill a 12-man Fantasy Fishing team, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a dozen names better than the anglers driving the boats for the final day at the 2010 TroKar Duel in the Delta.
The big number today is $100,000 the paycheck awaiting the winner of this first event on the 2010 Elite Series schedule – but the combined career numbers of this final-day field are even more impressive:
• Seven Bassmaster Classic victories
• Over $15 million in career earnings
• 68 BASS victories
• 512 top-10 finishes
• Six Angler of the Year awards
"That's a pretty star-packed top 12," tournament leader Greg Hackney said just before blasting off into the warming California Delta.
And with a Day Three haul of 25 pounds, 7 ounces that catapulted him into the lead with 57-5, Hackney is, for now, the brightest star in the bunch, clinging to a tenuous lead over Mike Iaconelli (54-10), Skeet Reese (52-10) and John Crews (51-14) .
The Louisiana pro also represents how quickly the leaderboard can change in this sprawling maze of sloughs, backwaters, canals and bays of one of the West Coast's premier largemouth fisheries.
Hackney entered Saturday almost 14 pounds behind leader Stephen Browning, but an 8-10 kicker fish (combined with Browning's one fish, 13-ounce bag) shot him into the lead, shook up the top 12 and served notice that anybody within 15 pounds of the lead has a chance to win, even on the final day.
"It's going to be hard to make up 16 pounds, but if there's a place to do it, it's here," said Bass Fishing Hall of Fame member Denny Brauer, who edged into the top 12 with 41-0.
Last day on the Delta
The final 12 anglers will be fishing their fourth weather change in four days today, with no major frontal activity, sunny skies, a high of 65 degrees and the latest tide cycle of the week. Unlike Saturday, when 30-mph gusts mucked up several key areas for the entire field, the 12 finalists will have a puff of 3- to 6-mph northwest breeze all day and a high, bright sky that might make for a tough bite.
"These kind of conditions high sky, no wind you can mark it down as 'tough', as far as I'm concerned," Shaw Grigsby said. "If it changes up a little and we get some doggone clouds, they'll bite. They like it to be at least a little cloudy."
Grigsby also expressed a sentiment that a handful in the top 12 echoed.
"I'm out of fish," the Florida pro said. "I'm going to hit a couple of spots where I've caught a couple of 6-pounders, but after that, I'm just going fishing. I'm going to wing it."
Browning stuck to one location with great success on the first two days of the tournament, but by Day Three, he had fished that area out and only managed one small fish that dropped him from a 6-pound lead to fifth place, more than 11 pounds behind Hackney. His plan for today is to bail out of that spot in favor of an area where whacked 24-4 on the final day of the 2007 Duel in the Delta, the biggest bag of that tournament.
"I have an area that I have a lot of confidence in, I just haven't gotten over there yet," Browning said. "Yesterday I was in one of those situations where I lost my good tide, but never made it out of that spot. My second spot is a long ways away, so I couldn't really spend the time I thought I needed to (on the first) and make it over to fish that other spot."
Iaconelli won't be making any such final-day spot changes. The New Jersey native has owned a 2-mile stretch of water throughout the week, and has methodically pecked away with two 14-pound days and one monster bag of 25-12 on Day Two.
Ike admitted to being flummoxed by the tide on Saturday, failing to get a bite on what he thought was the best tide for that area, and instead catching all of his fish in a flurry late in the day on the high tide.
"When it was high and muddy yesterday, they bit," Iaconelli said. "Before that, six hours of low water, no bite. A high-pressure, bluebird day like this, who knows what they're going to do?"
Iaconelli had four flippin' sticks, a lipless crankbait and a chatter bait rod strapped down to the front deck as he left Weber Point Park this morning, which is representative of what most of the final 12 will be doing today.
"I'm going to flip 99.9 percent of the time," Iaconelli said. "I probably won't even throw those other baits."
Hackney, who experimented with a lipless crankbait and swim jig early on Saturday, will go back to flippin' a brown Strike King Rodent as well, but he'll hit some water outside the current edge where you'd think fish would most likely be holding.
"I'm setting in 10 to 12 feet of water, but I'm not flippin' to where you'd think you should be," Hackney said. "You pull up on a spot that looks like you'd say 'Oh, yeah, they're going to be right there off that point,' but they're back off it a little bit."