The first-ever competition day of the Toyota Trucks BASS Championship Week began this morning at Lake Jordan near Montgomery, Ala. This 2-day initial leg, titled the Berkley PowerBait Trophy Chase, featured the Top 12 pros in the season-ending BASS Angler of the Year points.
The new format places the emphasis on points, and it's Skeet Reese who came out ahead after day 1 at Jordan.
But Tommy Biffle gained a lot of ground.
Biffle caught the best sack of the day at 15 pounds even, and that temporarily moves him up six spots in the points race into a tie for 2nd with Kevin VanDam, who led the points heading into Championship Week.
VanDam's 10-14 limit puts him at 7th in the day-1 event standings, and he's temporarily 2nd in the points.
Skeet Reese, who led the points in the regular season but fell behind VanDam due to bonus points, is the new points leader. He weighed a 12-06 limit and sits at 5th in the event standings.
Overall, it was a tough day for those formerly near the top of the points, which opened the door for several others to claw upward toward contention. Mike Iaconelli, who was second only to Biffle today, moved up seven spots in the points to 4th, and Cliff Pace jumped up five spots 5th.
On the other hand, Alton Jones weighed a meager 9-07 today and dips to a temporary 6th-place points standings (after entering the post-season in 3rd).
Kelly Jordon, who began the day at 4th in the points, was the only pro not to catch a limit. He brought in three fish, which puts him 12th in the event and 12th in the points.
To help sort through the points shifts, below are how the standings would look if the tournament ended today. Each angler's name is followed by points total based on day-1 at Jordan. After that comes points deficit in red, then notation on upward or downward movement in green or blue.
1. Skeet Reese -- 236
2. Tommy Biffle -- 230 (6, up 3 spots)
2. Kevin VanDam -- 230 (6, down 2 spots)
4. Mike Iaconelli -- 220 (16, up 7 spots)
5. Cliff Pace -- 217 (19, up 5 spots)
6. Alton Jones -- 211 (25, down 3 spots)
7. Gerald Swindle -- 210 (26, up 5 spots)
8. Randy Howell -- 208 (28, down 3 spots)
9. Todd Faircloth -- 202 (34, down 4 spots)
9. Mark Menendez -- 202 (34, down 4 spots)
11. Gary Klein -- 195 (41, down 2 spots)
12. Kelly Jordon -- 192 (44, down 8 spots)
What's Happening Out There?
To no one's surprise, Biffle whacked a good sack of fish up shallow. They were spotted bass though.
To pretty much everyone's surprise, however, the deep bite pretty much caved. Some think that was due to spectator traffic. Fans were everywhere – a testament to this bass-rich region that represents the birthplace of the sport itself. Electronics humming, boats coming up and down off pad, banging, talking, shadows – it likely hurt the deep bite.
Tommy Biffle's leading bag could have been better – he lost his best fish.
Current also was thin and Alabama Power reportedly didn't follow the published schedule. Again, no surprises there. Still, shallow fish as a rule are the least affected by current, so that's likely why the shallow bite was so much better today. It's just a little curious, though, that some who were fishing for largemouths caught mostly spots, and some who were fishing for spots caught mostly largemouths.
With a day of fishing left, and the points race ultra-right, pros are understandably saying little about their strategy. To help frame what happened today, and what to possibly expect tomorrow, here's a look at each of the 12 pros, ordered by day-1 standings.
1st: Tommy Biffle -- 5, 15-00
Biffle's one of the best there ever was with a big stick, and he's "fishing the way he likes." Interpret that to mean shallow, with lots of docks in the mix. He caught all spots, which surprised him, and his biggest was 3-15.
BassFans likely know that Alabama is where Biffle's usually at his best. He finished 3rd at an Alabama River Bassmaster Elite 50 back in 2004, won this year at Wheeler and just loves the shallow, up/down water. He's going to be tough to beat tomorrow – especially considering that he lost his best bite today – and if he can answer with another 12 to 13 pounds, he'll be a serious threat for the title given his penchant for the Alabama River.
"I'm real fond of all the Alabama lakes," he said.
2nd: Mike Iaconelli -- 5, 14-12
Ike sacked the day's big bass (4-11) but had a hot/cold day. He suffered through long periods of grind, would suddenly start catching them, only to have it all stop and be back to the grind again.
He found three patterns in practice and didn't give up details, but said he felt one of the three was "the key pattern," and that's the one that produced today.
"It's a small lake, and you know those (big) spots are in there," he said. "It's hard to put a handle on where they go after the water stops moving. What's so surprising is how deep and how shallow these fish can be. In practice, I caught them as deep as 50 feet and as shallow as 1 or 2 feet."
3rd: Cliff Pace -- 5, 12-14
Cliff Pace stayed true to his word. Yesterday he told BassFans he had 29 rods rigged up and was going to fish whatever the conditions gave him. He went out with those rods today and stuck two good spots, one of which weighed 3-10. He's amazed that so many different things can work on a single lake.
One of Mike Iaconelli's three practice patterns worked today.
He was pegged as one of the favorites to make the Top 3 at Jordan, and barring disaster tomorrow, looks like a strong bet to do just that.
"Without question, there's no 6-acre lake in the U.S. that offers as many different patterns as Lake Jordan," he said. "Getting my tackle together yesterday, I think I had about 20 (rods out). And you can literally catch fish on any of those 20 different patterns. The fish offshore are scattered. The fish up near shore are scattered. I'm fishing what Mother Nature gives me. Everything I'm doing, I have to constantly run around, bounce off things – it's a never-ending cycle."
4th: Gerald Swindle -- 5, 12-10
Swindle's fishing his home state and in his eyes, this post-season's sort of like a football game. It's got four quarters, and he's in strong position with three more quarters to play. "All I'm trying to do is set the game up to get to day 4," he said.
He described his day as "a grind," which he noted is typical for September in Alabama. He's fishing his strength – shallow and fast – and his best bite was this morning when he "went to thrashing them pretty good."
5th (tie): Skeet Reese -- 5, 12-06
Reese is mum on what he's doing, but did say he's glad he cobbled together 12 1/2 pounds. He didn't light the world on fire, but he didn't have to today – he just had to stand his ground and stay in the race. He now leads that race by 6 points.
And like Swindle, he sees this as a four-quarter deal. One down, three to go.
Reese also said: "No doubt, I'm going to have to change things up. I'm indifferent about today. I look at it like I (shot) par. If you'd tell me that I could take this lead into the Alabama River, I might take it."
6th: Randy Howell -- 5, 11-05
Howell, who lives not too far away, made three or four trips to Jordan before the off-limits and had high expectations for this leg. So high, in fact, that he "big-eyed" his catch and thought he had 12 1/2 to 13 pounds. He was at least a pound off, and said that he was disappointed.
He flip-flopped today and tried for a while to catch shallow largemouths. When that didn't work, he went deep. He was one of those who felt the deep bite might have been disrupted by traffic. He said the fish were "biting funny." He also jerked a buzzbait away from a bass this morning, which he attributed to nerves.
"I was a little jacked up this morning," he said.
About tomorrow, Howell offered up what could be a sage prediction. With the roaming, on/off nature of the spotted bass here, he thinks it'll be hard for anyone to repeat tomorrow – in particular because big bites are so rare this time of year. So if he can improve by 1 to 2 pounds tomorrow, he should come out of this leg having made up significant ground.
Kevin VanDam lost key bites today – the deep bite seemed off for everyone.
7th: Kevin VanDam -- 5, 10-14
As a rule, KVD attracts the most spectators, and today was no different – he had 25 boats with him this morning. Always gracious, he called out the fans, thanked them, and tipped his hat to the hallowed bass grounds of Alabama.
Still, he all but died with his deep bite, then eventually bailed and scrambled to catch what he described as a "fortunate" but "mediocre" 11 pounds.
"It's going to be a shootout," he added, in reference to the points and tomorrow's fishing. "This is a good lake. You just have to capitalize on those opportunities when you get them. I didn't do that today. I knew that going in, but it was just one of those things. Hopefully they'll be a little nicer to me tomorrow."
In other words, VanDam lost fish today – perhaps confirmation of what Howell said, that the deep fish were biting "funny."
8th (tie) : Mark Menendez -- 5, 10-11
Menendez was running and gunning all day. He caught most of his fish shallow. Funny thing was, they were all largemouths, but he was targeting spots.
He does have a strong record on the Coosa and loves to fish for spots, but like VanDam, missed his opportunities today. Menendez said he only lost two fish this whole Elite Series season that hurt him, but he lost four today "that would have really shook the standings up."
"It happens to all of us," he said, but his disappointment was obvious.
8th (tie): Todd Faircloth
Faircloth's best pattern was an early-morning grass bite with a swim-jig. That bite didn't work out today and he only caught a few. He said he was really counting on current, but it didn't go right away and that "threw (him) for a loop."
"Hopefully tomorrow I can go out and catch a limit pretty quick and then try to figure out how to catch a bigger fish," he said. "That's what I need to get back in this thing."
10th: Gary Klein -- 5, 10-01
After a flipping stick flipped up nothing but sticks in practice, Gary Klein went back to his California roots, spooled up with 6-pound line and started getting bites.
He threw the 6-pound today and got plenty of bites again, but broke his best three off. That's always a hazard when fishing the silk.
He's got respect for the fish here, though. "There's something special about these Coosa River spotted bass. They're fun to catch. They fight real hard. What a great fishery."
11th: Alton Jones -- 5, 9-07
Jones abandoned his main pattern after it was a no-show and caught his 9 1/2 pounds in about an hour and a half with a different pattern. He sees that as a mistake. He should have bailed earlier. If he had, he might have had the time to upgrade.
His flurry coincided with current generation, which started at about 11:00. He noted he thinks he can use that same pattern early tomorrow.
12th: Kelly Jordon -- 3, 4-01
Unless he can answer with 20 pounds or more tomorrow, Jordon's hopes for the title largely evaporated today. That's all the more disappointing, he said, because he had such a strong practice day yesterday when he seemed able to "catch them at will on three different patterns."
"I went all-in on them and stayed with them apparently way too long," he said. "I don't know what happened. Yesterday I had a shot at a 15-pound bag, easy. I just hope that materializes again."
> BASS founder Ray Scott was in attendance today and received a rousing cheer from the audience.
> BASS tournament director Trip Weldon lives a few miles from the festivities. He's an accomplished stick himself and cut his teeth on Jordan. He was a little anxious to start today's weigh-in though. The 6:00 kickoffs for Auburn and Alabama were fast approaching.
> About fishing in his home state, Swindle said: "It's good to be back. Alabama rocks. The water was full of spectators. Even if (you) were following VanDam, I still love you!"
Here's the weather forecast for the final tournament day.
> Sun., Sept. 13 - T-Showers - 84°/69°
- Wind: From the E at 7 mph
Day 1 Standings
1. Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, Okla. -- 5, 15-00
Day 1: 5, 15-00
2. Michael Iaconelli -- Runnemede, N.J. -- 5, 14-12
Day 1: 5, 14-12
3. Cliff Pace -- Petal, Miss. -- 5, 12-14
Day 1: 5, 12-14
4. Gerald Swindle -- Warrior, Ala. -- 5, 12-10
Day 1: 5, 12-10
5. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, Calif. -- 5, 12-06
Day 1: 5, 12-06
6. Randy Howell -- Springville, Ala. -- 5, 11-05
Day 1: 5, 11-05
7. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, Mich. -- 5, 10-14
Day 1: 5, 10-14
8. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, Texas -- 5, 10-11
Day 1: 5, 10-11
8. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, Ky. -- 5, 10-11
Day 1: 5, 10-11
10. Gary Klein -- Weatherford, Texas -- 5, 10-01
Day 1: 5, 10-01
11. Alton Jones -- Waco, Texas -- 5, 9-07
Day 1: 5, 9-07
12. Kelly Jordon -- Mineola, Texas -- 3, 4-01
Day 1: 3, 4-01
> Day 1 -- Michael Iaconelli -- Runnemede, N.J. -- 4-11