On the water action
ESPNOutdoors.com will be broadcasting an all-day live feed from the sixth hole of the six-hole final course and provide on-the-water blogs Saturday and Sunday from the Bassmaster Legends on Lake Dardanelle.
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. Dean Rojas left Thursday's weigh-in with a smile on his face, and he was still beaming Friday morning prior to the 9 a.m. launch on Lake Dardanelle.
Rojas weighed-in a five-bass limit of 14 pounds, 8 ounces on the first day of the Bassmaster Legends presented by Ramada Worldwide. That put him in ninth place going into Friday when the field will be cut to the top 12 before the tournament moves to a six-hole course on the Illinois Bayou section of Lake Dardanelle.
"You can't win this tournament on the first day," Rojas said, "but you can lose it."
Rojas was smiling because he didn't lose it Thursday. Simply making the top 12 at the end two days is all anyone in this 50-angler field is concerned with now. The weight from the first two days is zeroed Saturday, when essentially a second tournament starts.
It's going to be a lot harder to make the 12 cut for those 37 anglers who weighed in less than 13 pounds the first day and may have, in essence, lost the tournament.
Another factor in the Rojas smile was the way he's catching fish. The Grand Saline, Texas, angler has helped make the Dean Rojas Signature Spro Frog famous. This soft plastic topwater lure is definitely Rojas' confidence bait. The shallow fishing allowed in Lake Dardanelle's river-like environment coupled with the heavy aquatic vegetation here makes this perfect "frog water."
"I didn't put it down (Thursday)," Rojas said.
But he did pick up another version of it. Kevin VanDam was only half-kidding Thursday morning when he told the launch crowd that he'd stolen a couple of Rojas' new 12-inch frogs. Rojas does have a couple of "giant toads" with him this week. They are prototype baits that won't be revealed to the public until the ICAST sport fishing trade show next year in Las Vegas.
Following the theory of targeting bigger bass with bigger baits, the new Spro Frog will be basically a much larger model of the current version.
"After the trimmings are on it and everything, it's about 12 inches long," Rojas said. "It's not right yet. It's one we're working on now. I threw it after I had my limit (Thursday) and a gorilla blew up on it."
Rojas didn't land that big bass, but he was certainly tempted to throw the big frog a few times again Friday.
"I don't want to talk specifics about it yet," Rojas said. "But it's special. It's something that will become a mainstay, just like swimbaits are now."
Saving nothing for tomorrow
With as much pressure as a $250,000 first prize brings, the Majors format does relieve anglers of the responsibility of managing their fish.
Because the 12 finalists will be fishing different water after Day Two, the usual tactic of "saving" fish for later in the tournament is moot. Friday is a day to whack as many keepers as possible, culling for ounces if necessary, on the way to the biggest bag possible.
"You want to manage fish," Ish Monroe said at the blast-off dock this morning. "But at the same time, in a two-day event, you don't have to manage them the way you normally would."
Monroe caught 18-5 on Day One, good for third place, and did so while spending almost the entire day on one spot, patiently waiting for a local boater to scram, so Monroe could be sure the guy wasn't hammering the fish there. Even without the boater, though, Monroe said he would have spent more time on those fish in the Majors format than in a usual Elite Series event.
Asked how he manages fish in this format, eighth-place Mark Tucker replied, "You don't.
"Yesterday you were hard on them, but (today) you're going to go to the areas where you fished yesterday and caught them, and try to catch two or three. Then you're probably going to have to go fish new water."
He and Day One leader Fred Roumbanis said they'd probably try to get a quick, if small, limit, then tool around the six-hole course in Illinois Bayou to prepare for the weekend, when the finalists' weights are reset to zero.
The fact that anglers who scout the weekend water aren't allowed to stand on the decks of their boats or use their trolling motors didn't deter Roumbanis, the Day One leader with 20-5, almost two pounds over second place Greg Hackney and almost seven pounds more than 12th-place Jason Quinn.
"Honestly, if I get about 10 pounds in the boat, then I'm going to go run the course the rest of the day," Roumbanis said.
"I'm just going to look around with my Lowrance and graph grass or whatever is over there. I don't know. I hear there's not any current, and what I'm doing now is related to current. That could throw a curveball in my game, but I'm just happy to be where I am right now."
You know it's getting late in the season when shorts become a hot topic on the dock in a tournament that pays $250,000 to the winner, but that was the case Friday.
Ish Monroe saw Jeff Kriet launching his boat and noticed that he and Kriet were wearing the same shorts.
"Hey, I'm about to start charging you royalties for those shorts," Monroe yelled across the water.
Monroe sits in third with 18 pounds, 5 ounces, while Kriet is well back in 40th place.
"I thought if I wore them, I might catch 18-5," Kriet yelled back.
Meanwhile, Tommy Biffle came idling through the conversation. Emcee Keith Alan had told Biffle at the takeoff Thursday that if his shorts got any shorter, they'd have to ban kids from the weigh-in.
"Why didn't you try a pair of Biffle's?" Monroe asked.
Kriet responded: "Because he only caught 10 pounds."
Editor's note: Check in daily during the tournament for live video of the weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard at 7 p.m. ET Thursday through Saturday. ESPNOutdoors.com will air Hooked Up, the live Internet show, on Sunday at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The full Hooked Up show begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, leading into the final live weigh-in and a realtime leaderboard at 7 p.m. ET.
Please feel free to post comments to this story via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.