SYRACUSE, N.Y. Each of the 51 anglers in the Bassmaster Memorial presented by Evan Williams Bourbon brought in five-fish limits from Oneida Lake to the weigh-in site on the smelly shores of Lake Onondaga on Day One. To hear Mark Tyler describe his day, though, it was a close call.
He had only two small fish with two hours remaining on Oneida Lake. That was when he made a "big change" in the depth he was fishing that's as detailed as he cared to get and caught all his weight at the end of the day.
"I was beginning to try to save face," he said of that adjustment. Whatever he did, it put him in contention. He sits in tied for 16th, with 14 pounds, 1 ounce. That's 6 ounces shy of the 12-man cut, but it's also just 12 ounces north of the 25-man money cut.
"I don't care what occupation you're in, $10,000 is a big check," Tyler said. "You keep an eye on the 250" that would be the quarter-million-dollar payday awaiting the tournament winner "but you want to make sure you cash that $10,000 check. I do, at least."
Tyler's optimistic that he can hang on, because he'll fish a full Day Two using whatever it is that he figured out shortly before the end of Thursday.
Dave Wolak fished his way to sixth place, solidly in cut contention after Day One, but not without a couple of hitches. He had to "pull an Iaconelli" and reach into the water quickly to grab the end of the braided line that broke off his rod tip that fish, he managed to boat.
Later, he caught a little smallmouth that fell into the boat and, in flopping, banged Wolak right on his left medial malleolus (that knobby bone that juts to the inside of your ankle). Part of his leg went numb, and in a half-hour he couldn't work the trolling motor, he said, instead just drifting. But after some time, and four Advils, he said the numbness and pain subsided.
And Wolak finished the day with a hard-won 15-4. "A pound in this tournament makes a huge difference," he said. It happens to be the difference between second and ninth, 10th and 21st, 22nd and 34th, and 36th and obscurity.
For Jeff Kriet, it wasn't that the bite was off somewhat. It was that the very texture of the bite changed from earlier in the week.
Whereas the smallmouth he was targeting "would hit (the bait) at a dead run" during practice, he said, he found on Day One that the fish would sag off the tubes he was dragging.
"They were biting funny," he said, then compared the feel of the fish on the line to "a wet rag," saying it was "mushy." He had about seven keepers shake free of his lure during the day, leaving him on the money bubble, in 27th place.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "I didn't take myself out of it."
Angler of the Year points leader Skeet Reese was left hoping to make up ground from his 32nd place and just cash a top-25 check after catching only 12-12. His foil on Thursday was an algae bloom on the points where he wanted to begin fishing.
"Today, there was just clouds of it," Reese said. He had seen the green murk on the water earlier in the week, but it hadn't been enough to slow his bite.
"Those smallmouth are sight feeders," he said, "and when the water milks up with the algae, they can't see my bait."
He later found a place where the smallmouth "were wadded up," and caught 20 quickly. But his limit was almost 2 pounds off the 12-angler cut.
Kevin Short had a quick diagnosis for why several anglers complained that the topwater bite suffered on Day One.
In the shallow flats of Oneida, the grass grows nearly to the surface. Boat props hack and stir that top layer of vegetation, leaving the water's surface clogged with floating grass crumbs.
The wind on Day One blew primarily from the east, Short said pushing the grass down the length of the skinny lake. "If it would ever switch to north or south," he said, "it would clear off the whole lake."
Alas, the anglers instead found themselves trying to drag their topwater baits through floating lawn shavings, and Short wound up tied for 45th place, with 11-11.
"'Man, you've got synchronized away points.'"
Scott Rook, quoting his observer, who noticed how many anglers were sitting on the points Rook tried to visit in the morning
"It's hard when you're down basically by 3 pounds. That's a huge hole to climb out of."
"There's very little of the good stuff. Hopefully all I need is five more bites."
John Crews, who targeted only largemouth on the way to 15-1 and seventh place
"I caught a bunch. They were just all the same size for me."
Todd Faircloth, who finished with 12-12 despite catching "40 or 50" fish
"To me, they were just dead today, from what they had been."
"I would have bet the farm on him to have 15. Not any more, not any less. Five 3-pound smallmouth."
Hackney, on Kevin VanDam's 13-8
"I had fun."
"It sucked. You need it in one word?"
Matt Reed, after weighing in 9-12, good for 50th place
"I tell you, my arm is sore from catching them."
"Your boat barely floats."
Stephen Browning, on the shallows of Oneida
"They were kind of an incidental catch. The largemouth have just kind of appeared."
Peter Thliveros, on the green fish among his brown ones
Editor's note: Check in each day for live video of the weigh-in and the realtime leaderboard at 6 p.m. ET. There will be a special Hooked Up show at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, with tournament updates Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET. The Hooked Up show begins at 5 p.m. Sunday and leads into the live final weigh-in.
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