MANY, La. -- Fred Roumbanis has been keeping a secret during the TroKar Battle on the Bayou.
The secret is about a unique pattern he discovered on Toledo Bend. It's so good, he rode it for three days into the top 12 cut. He revealed it just before he left the dock to begin Sunday's final round.
The pattern is a neat deal and produced more than 50 pounds of bass for him over three days. But what's truly remarkable about the pattern is the surge of confidence Roumbanis got from figuring it out and making it work.
"This proves to me that thinking outside the box really does pay off," he said Sunday at the docks, waiting for the signal to go.
Right after he explained his Toledo Bend secret, Roumbanis acknowledged that he needed the confidence boost.
"A top 12 is so huge for me. Last year was such a rough year," he said.
Roumbanis was a rising Bassmaster Elite Series pro in 2007 and 2008, with two wins on lakes in the Carolinas. His 2008 season led him into the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, his first. But he's struggled since then. He didn't qualify for the 2010 or 2011 Classic. He fell flat in his native California at the start of the 2010 season, a confidence buster. He rallied midseason with one top 12 cut, but ended on the downstroke.
This Elite season, Roumbanis is fishing better: three finishes in the high 20s or low 30s, well within the "money cut." He's also done well on other circuits. Then, on Toledo Bend, he fished his way into the top 12.
He was pumped Sunday morning.
"I feel like I've got a shot at winning," he said. "I know I'm around the right fish."
About that secret: First, he said, understand that he didn't put it together on Toledo Bend during practice, but near his Bixby, Okla., home.
"This is really crazy," he explained, "but I've got a small lake near my house with standing timber, ridges and a lot of similarities to Toledo Bend. It sets up as a miniature Toledo Bend. I spent a lot of pre-fish time on that lake. People can see what the lake looks like by watching a video I did with Ed Bassmaster (of YouTube fame) there."
What he learned was how big bass relate to spawning bluegill.
"Bluegill here on Toledo are spawning on the tops of the ridges of the main lake. A lot of anglers overlook that, and are in the backs of the bays. Where I'm fishing, the water's really clear and you can actually see the bluegills on nests."
He said he's burning a 1-ounce football jig, a Pepper, using two different trailers. One is a 3-inch Double Diamond Swimmer by Optimum, and the other is a twin-tail grub, he said. He's throwing the jig straight into the wind. The heavy weight helps, for sure, but he also credits his Ardent reel for keeping him backlash-free.
His line is 15-pound P-Line fluorocarbon, downsized from the 20-pound he used the first day so he could feel his bait better.
"I'm not getting bit all the time, but I watch the graph and when I see horizontal movement, that means they're feeding," he said. "I start getting bit."
The key is burning the jig, then stopping it dead.
"That's when the bass attack it," he said. "Typically when you're fishing a jig like this, you're fishing 25, 30 feet of water and dragging it on the bottom. I'm taking it to another level."
Literally. His productive ridges on Toledo are about 10 feet below the surface, he said.
On Day One, his 21 pounds and 3 ounces put him in second place. On Day Two, the wind hurt him. He brought in only 11-11 and fell to 11th place. Day Three, working against less windy conditions, he weighed 17-10 for sixth place after three days.
Going into the final round, Roumbanis was almost 7 pounds behind leader Dean Rojas, who is sight-fishing and relying on a bite that starts late in the day. Roumbanis is hoping he can get his weight early Sunday, like he did the first day, and work on upgrading.
Greg's surprise: Greg Vinson made the top 12 but the Wetumpka, Ala., angler didn't have a cheering section to see him off in the morning.
That will change for Sunday's 4 p.m. weigh-in. His wife, Stephanie, and two people from his major sponsor NQ Apparel (NQ stands for "Never Quit"), were flying into Many, La., on a private jet.
Their appearance will be a surprise to Vinson.
Ish Monroe can take it home: When Ish Monroe caught his 10-15 on Day Two, the Toledo Bend Lake Association promised to send him a replica mount.
It's what the organization will do for any certified catch of a Toledo Bend fish that goes 10 pounds or more and is released alive. But in Monroe's case, a replica was presented the next day. The giant mount was given to Monroe on stage during the Day Three weigh-in.
"They already had the measurements of the fish, and they worked at it all night so I could get it now," he said. "I was completely surprised."
The reason they had the template for the replica is that Monroe's fish had been caught once before. The bass had a tag that proved another angler had hooked it and presented it to officials of the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program on April 16, 2010.
Because the program stipulates that the bass must be weighed on certified scales, then released alive, the bass went back into the lake. Monroe caught it April 15, 2011, almost one year later (read the Bassmaster.com story).
After three of four days, Monroe's 10-15 stood as the Berkley Big Bass of the Tournament.
"Look at this crowd. It's unbelievable." -- Dean Rojas on the huge Day Three weigh-in audience
"You can't start out in 66th place and catch up. These guys are too good." -- Stephen Browning, from 66th to 43rd and ending at 21st
"It's been tough. But I get some adrenaline going, and I start working hard, I don't think about it as much." -- Aaron Martens, in fourth place despite a flu bug
"I can't complain. I had two 4-pounders. Maybe I can get a couple of 7's tomorrow." -- Chris Lane after weighing in on Saturday