LEESBURG, Fla. — We're talking with the pros to gather tips, quips and behind-the-scenes insights into Day Two of the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Sunshine Showdown.
Let it blow
There is one constant in tournament fishing, and that factor is changing weather. And the Harris Chain flotilla of contestants will certainly get a healthy dose of weather by this afternoon's weigh-in.
Weather warnings barked out from bullhorns by BASS officials cautioned the boaters to be wary of today's forecast, calling for winds to gust to 35 mph from the south with damaging straight-line winds blowing across the area with the approach of a strong frontal passage.
Add a tornado watch into the mix and the potential for locally heavy rainfall and the day promises to make the fishing all the more challenging.
Mark Davis, the only BASS pro to win the coveted Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic titles in the same season, has returned to the tour with his trademark smile on his face.
"It's been like coming home," he said, grinning as usual. "I thought it would be like this and it's good to be home."
Davis' first Harris Chain event was the 1989 Bassmaster MegaBucks, when he posted a 21st-place finish. "We had the final weigh-ins back then on a baseball field and it was quite an awakening."
Davis remembers the stadium filled with fans cheering from the bleachers and how the atmosphere was, pun intended, like playing in a major league baseball game. In fact, the weigh-in stage was actually positioned across the home plate.
When the rain started pounding the crowd at the weigh-in Thursday evening, fans retreated to the expo tents a good 50 yards from the stage, and some even went and sat in their cars.
Some of those that made the full retreat to the vehicles were from the Lane family, kin of brothers Bobby and Chris Lane.
So when Chris walked out with his bag of 11 pounds, 4 ounces, the soccer-mom car horns went crazy.
"That's the family," Lane said. "They're big supporters and I'm glad they came."
Fool me once, shame on you
One of the questions coming into the Sunshine Showdown was what type of fishing would provide the winning pattern. With bass in all stages pre-spawn, spawning, and post-spawn different anglers were dabbling with different techniques.
The most alluring pattern would be to pick the pregnant females off their beds, giving the angler the extra weight of the eggs and the ability to see what he's fishing.
Most anglers predicted that pattern would hold up for one, maybe two days, and disappear. Fred Roumbanis, who's in eighth with 16-5, said he's staying away from them completely.
"I made the mistake four or five years ago of trying to sight fish here and I paid for it," he said. "This week, I'm just fishing."
Nice boots, but be careful
Mark Menendez has a special pair of rubber boots he breaks out when it rains during an Elite Series event. The boots are eye-catching, for sure, since they are "baby blue" in color.
The 43-year-old Paducah, Ken., pro had on his blue boots Thursday and Friday at the Sunshine Showdown. With those boots comes a story.
Menendez received them several years ago as a gift from Japanese pro angler. He wore the boots during pre-practice for a BASS event at Venice, La., when a thunderstorm rolled in accompanied by so much lightning that Menendez boated back into Venice Marina.
"The young lady working there was named Miss Tootie," Menendez recalled. "Not Trudy, but Tootie.
"She said, 'Lord, Lord, Mr. Mark, I'm so glad to see you.'"
Menendez explained that he wasn't about to risk his life in one of those suddenly appearing and unforgivingly fierce Gulf Coast thunderstorms.
"She said, 'No, no, Mr. Mark. I am worried to death about your safety in Venice.'"
Menendez asked Miss Tootie about the root of that concern and she replied, "It's because of your boots. If one of these shrimpers sees those boots you've got on, we may never see you in the marsh again."
The Mudfish Blues
Dave Wolak wasted most of his morning fishing hours Thursday, so he was especially pleased to be in fifth place with 17-12 at the end of Day One. Wolak had found one big bass on a spawning bed during practice, and that's the first place he went after takeoff on the Sunshine Showdown's first day.
"I started on a bed fish in Harris Lake," Wolak said. "That was the only bed fish I planned on going to all day.
"I flipped in there and missed what I thought was the fish. I flipped back in there a couple of times. Nothing. Nothing. Then I hooked it.
"It was a mudfish."
In addition to not being a bass, a mudfish can be particularly disgusting to many anglers because it's considered an inedible "trash fish," and it has the looks to match its reputation. A full set of sharp teeth is the one characteristic you need to be aware of if you hook a mudfish, which is more correctly called a bowfin and in some places is known as a grinnell.
The species (amia calva) dates back to the Mezozoic Era, Jurassic Period 150 million years ago; mudfish are a remarkable fish in that aspect. And, when hooked, they put up an incredible fight, aided by their distinguishing long dorsal fin, which begins mid-back and extends to the base of the tail.
After spending three hours boating to and landing a mudfish, Wolak moved to more productive waters Thursday and saved his day, thereby avoiding a bad case of the "mudfish blues."
"You can always catch 8 to 9 to 10-pound limits out here, but it's the big girls that give you a chance to win." Dean Rojas, after weighing in an 18-pound, 2 ounce bag anchored by an 8-1 big bass
"I'm optimistic, but then again the glass is always half full with me. Now we just have to see who's going to do the dishes, right?" Day One co-angler leader Jim McDevitt on his chances of holding his lead
"I've never broken 10 pounds here. When I do, I'm throwing a party and you're all invited. Everyone's invited." Stephen Browning after weighing in 9-12 on Day One
"It's good to be back. This is home for me." Mark Davis
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Sunshine Showdown on the Harris Chain of Lakes, from Leesburg, Fla., March 6th–9th, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 10 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. ET. Daylight Savings Time starts Sunday, so remember to set your clocks.