Lock picking

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FORT MADISON, Iowa — For a few Elite Series anglers, Day One of the Genuity River Rumble went exactly as planned. For most, though, it left them scrambling for a different game plan. With only 28 pros bringing a limit to the scales, Day Two will be a chance to try something new.

One strategic decision facing the pros is whether to take advantage of the five pools on the Mississippi River available for this event. The field launches from Pool 19, and close to half of the boats chose to move up to Pool 18 on Day One. A few locked on up to Pool 17, like Oklahoma's Fred Roumbanis. He reached a pool that didn't produce like he had hoped, but that he is still convinced can get him the weight he needs to finish well.

"I had an area that had some bites, and I think I can catch five there," he said. "I'm going to get there, I just don't know if I can get back."

Yet most anglers aren't going to take that risk, especially when they didn't find any spots in practice worth the time it takes to get through the locks. Charlie Hartley, currently in 58th place, wasn't planning on leaving Pool 19 at any point.

"I went to one other pool in practice, but it just isn't worth the lock time," he said. "If it was locking for a 20-pound bag, that's one thing. But I was struggling to catch them there too."

In Pool 19, Hartley thought he had found a strategy that would let him avoid the crowds. And with many anglers predicting this event would be won by an angler fishing by himself, it seemed like the right thing to do.

"I had a spot to myself and was catching some in the morning. I thought, 'Why go join the crowd?' But I never caught any keepers. I finally left to try another location and ended up catching 10 fish in the last hour yesterday."

Boyd Duckett, currently in 21st place with 10 pounds, 1 ounce, didn't lock on Day One, but his decision to stay in Pool 19 was not his own.

"I had one place down river, but there were two barges, so I stayed in this pool," he said. "I wasn't convinced I could catch five, so I am happy with my limit."

Duckett will probably try Pool 20 at some point, but it is a difficult decision considering his relative success in Pool 19. For those staying, it may mean fishing in a crowd, but there only seems to be a few areas worth trying. With limited resources, many anglers like Duckett and Hartley will get to those few spots early and start that strategy sooner, even if it means fishing around other boats.

But many anglers aren't convinced their spots are going to hold up to the pressure, let alone a bigger crowd. Shaw Grigsby currently sits in sixth place with 12 pounds, 8 ounces. Even with Day One success, he is worried that his current plan will not last through the tournament without a backup area.

"I've got to hit some of the same spots," Grigsby said. "I've worn them out, so it'll be a lot tougher."

The same situation goes for Guy Eaker, who went up to Pool 18 in practice, but was worried about losing too much time during the actual competition. He is in 45th place with 7 pounds, 3 ounces, and needs to catch at least that on Day Two if he wants to fish on Saturday.

"I think these guys that went up there caught them yesterday," he said. "There are two arms up there that I would like to target, but it just takes too darn long."

To several anglers struggling to make something happen on Day Two, Pool 18 appears to be more likely to produce bigger bags. That may be a result of "the grass is always greener," considering tournament leader Randy Howell caught his 16-plus-pound bag in a popular backwater on Pool 19. But either way, the decision may be over if they are too afraid to move through the locks.

For anglers who took the risk yesterday and found success, the plan on Friday will look the same. Alton Jones fished in a popular Pool 18 spot on Thursday and weighed in 12 pounds even. He is not expecting another 12-pound day, but he still believes it will be possible to catch a healthy limit.

"I'll be happy to have them today," he said. "We were culling fish yesterday, so I know there are still fish there."

Jones is not worried about his area becoming more crowded on Day Two. He knows that most anglers in the Elite Series are respectful of each other, even if they don't have any better options.

But if they do come up into Pool 18 looking for better water?

"We'll run 'em out of there," Jones said. "But in a nice way."

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