STOCKTON, Calif. After a gusty day of practice and at the beginning of a spawn, the fishing in the California Delta had Bassmaster Elite Series anglers both wary and hopeful on the first morning of the Duel in the Delta presented by Mahindra Tractors.
While they predicted that an angler would need between 90 and 100 pounds to win this, the second event on the Elite Series, they conceded that the tides and the still-developing spawn would make reaching that plateau a tricky prospect.
They were also split on whether Thursday or Friday would generate the bigger bags.
"If [the wind] lays down and gets calm, the fishing will improve," said Mark Tyler, who eight years ago set a BASS event record with a 14-pound, 9-ounce big bass out of this very estuary. While he expects anglers to pick off the bedding fish Thursday, "this time of year, there are going to be more tomorrow," he said.
Of a different opinion were anglers such as Randy Howell, who said he expected the best bed fish to get picked off Thursday, and Shaw Grigsby, who said, "The way [tournament organizers] are inverting flights and the way the tide is, it's probably best to get a good stringer today."
That's never a bad strategy, especially in a tournament that offers as many plot twists as this one promises.
Interpreting tides is not something bass anglers have to do often, nor do they often fish in areas as urban as the environs of Stockton, smack between Sacramento and 4 million denizens of the San Francisco Bay area. That traffic could put a crimp in anglers' weekends. Angler Kevin Short looked nervously at the two-story, 40-foot pleasure cruisers parked at a nearby marina, ready to stir the sand in whatever patch of grass he was about to fish.
"If you feel like you can get a 30-pound bag today or tomorrow, you better get it," he said. After that, recreational boats figure to offset some of the gains made as the spawn develops.
Skeet Reese said he expects the leaderboard to shuffle more on Friday than usual. "As this weather stabilizes," the California native said, "more fish will move in. So the potential for big bags tomorrow is better than today.
"Another thing these guys are in for is, these delta bed fish are not the easiest to catch," he added. "In fact, they're among the hardest." When the tide is in, the bed fish feed but are hard to see. When the tide is out, they're visible but not feeding.
The tides seem to have thoroughly baffled Edwin Evers, who shrugged and said he was stuck just going fishing today.
"I just hope to catch them," he said. "I don't care which day. I think anything will be better than what we saw with that wind in practice."
The National Weather Service recorded steady winds of nearly 20 mph on Wednesday with gusts into the mid-20s. The forecast for Thursday calls for a high of 77 degrees. As of 8 a.m., an hour after take-off, the wind was a gentle 5 mph.
Evers also advised that anyone who wants to win this tournament ought to fish slowly.
"I fished fast in practice and caught a bunch of small ones," he said. "So if you fish slow, you must catch big ones."
Editors Note: ESPNOutdoors.com's new and exclusive pre-game show, Hooked Up, will start at 6:00 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, March 25. It will be hosted by ESPN2 Bassmaster television hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona, and can be seen in the same location on ESPNOutdoors.com where the live video weigh-in is streamed. Click here for more information