November 2, 2006 by Rob Newell
DECATUR, Ala. - After a mild, drizzly day one at Wheeler Lake, Stren Series Championship contenders got the other side of the coin Thursday.
Overnight, a cold front blew though faster than expected, and the lingering clouds many pros were hoping for were long gone this morning.
Anglers faced stiff, cold northwest winds and dropping temperatures all day. Those who had caught fish in the Decatur Flats area yesterday had to drop back and punt today to stay in the top 10.
This morning, day-one leader Sam Bass of Section, Ala., made a "drive-by" pass through his best area on the Decatur Flats, which produced his 19-pound, 4-ounce string Wednesday, and knew it was not worth fishing.
"The water was muddy, and the water temperature had dropped about 10 degrees," he said. "I didn't even waste any time fishing it. I could tell by looking at it the fish weren't going to bite. I've been down that road before, and it's a good way to get burned."
Instead, Bass engaged his backup plan and headed upriver to a protected creek.
"It was `take a number' in there," Bass said. "Boats were everywhere, and we kind of played musical lay-downs, trading fishable targets with other boats."
Bass did produce two bass for 4 pounds, 8 ounces to maintain his lead with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 12 ounces.
And as for his plans the next two days, Bass is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"I don't think the flats bite is going to pick up again until Saturday," he said. "If the wind laid down tonight, the flats might be OK late tomorrow afternoon, but I've got some other stuff I'm going to try first."
The main reason Bass would like to see the wind lay down is so he can fish some offshore ledges.
"I'd love to get out there and sling that big crankbait around for a while," he added. "But I can't do it unless the wind quits."
Lane holds onto second
While others employed backup strategies today, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., was forced to make his Decatur Flats plan work to survive the cut.
"I tried to drop back and punt this morning, but fumbled the ball," Lane laughed. "I went to a couple of points I thought might be holding some spotted bass, but nothing happened. So I had to go back down there where I caught them yesterday and gut it out in the wind."
Needless to say, Lane had difficulties.
"It was much harder to fish in the wind," he said. "The mats are still there, but boat control is nearly impossible. I had to use the trolling motor a lot, and that is detrimental to the kind of fishing I'm doing. You can't backwash a mat with 100 pounds of thrust and then expect to catch something from it."
Lane still managed to catch two bass, including a hefty 5 1/2-pounder, which kept him in second place with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 8 ounces.
"Whether it blows or not tomorrow, I've got to go back down there," he said. "It's the only thing I've got going, and from what I saw yesterday, the right kind of fish live there."
Scott moves to third
Ricky Scott of Van Buren, Ark., bumped up to third place today with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 3 ounces.
After his primary area fizzled out this morning, Scott was forced to hatch a secondary plan.
"I knew that if the rain and clouds went away, my big-fish place was done," Scott said. "So I put the trolling motor down, picked up my favorite homemade plug and went fishing. I probably covered three continuous miles of river just chunking and winding. And that's probably what I'll do tomorrow."
Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., who now sits in fourth place with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 1 ounce, also had to make his Decatur Flats fishing plan work today, despite the wind.
He managed to coax a five-fish limit weighing 7 pounds, 7 ounces into his well this morning.
"It was just an off day for the flats," Lefebre said. "Whenever the wind blows against the current like it did today, it's a bad deal; it's one condition that really throws me for a loop.
"I don't think my fish have gone anywhere; they're just not biting with conditions like this. But it might be a good thing that I couldn't fish them real hard today. I really didn't hurt the area, and if the wind lays and the water clears up again, maybe the big ones will bite again."
Mark Shepard of Labelle, Fla., held a spot in the top 10 by going to plan B today. He is now in fifth place with a two-day total of 22 pounds, 3 ounces.
"I kind of practiced for this exact situation," Shepard said. "I found some fish down here in the flats for the calm days, and I found some fish way upriver for the windy days, and so far it's worked out perfect."
This morning Shepard abandoned his grass fish and headed to his out-of-the-wind fish upriver. He scratched out five small keepers up there, but what really excited him was catching his best fish down in the flats this afternoon.
"I came back down early to see how bad the flats had been beat up by the wind," he said. "I fished around a little bit and immediately caught my best keeper of the day. I thought for sure that wind had put a hurting on my best flats spot, but it didn't. So I'm pretty excited about the next couple of days."
Thanh Le of Las Vegas caught the Pro Division Snickers Big Bass weighing 5 pounds, 12 ounces for $750.
Szwankowski still leads co-anglers
Yesterday's co-angler leader, Tommy Szwankowski of Hope, Ark., maintained his lead today by bringing in four bass weighing 6 pounds, 3 ounces for a two-day total of 18 pounds, 10 ounces.
"I have to thank my pro partner from today, Jacob Powroznik," Szwankowski said. "At one point in the day, he actually put down his rod and quit fishing to let me catch some fish. We were flipping lay-downs, and he let me have one of his best stretches to myself. I caught two while he wasn't fishing, and I can't thank him enough."
Marty Sexton of St. Paul, Minn., is in second place in the Co-angler Division with a two-day total of 16 pounds, 6 ounces.
Sexton has chosen to debunk the co-angler convention of going to small soft plastics by sticking only with hard baits.
"Most of my pro partners have thrown Shaky Heads and little Texas rigs, and I've fished jerkbaits, crankbaits and Spooks behind them," he said. "The topwater Spooks didn't work with the cold front today, but the jerkbaits and crankbaits did."
Alan Hults of Gautier, Miss., is in third place with a two-day total of 16 pounds, 5 ounces.
Hults has caught all of his qualifying fish on one bait: a Texas-rigged Trick Worm in watermelon candy color.
Hudnall, Shuga round out top five
Phillip Hudnall of Newkirk, Ohio, is in fourth place with a two-day total of 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
Daniel Shuga of Botkins, Ohio, is in fifth place with a two-day total of 14 pounds, 9 ounces. Shuga also boated the Co-angler Division Snickers Big Bass award on day two weighing 4 pounds, 4 ounces and worth $375.
Day three of the Stren Series Championship begins at 7 a.m. at Ingalls Harbor Marina on Wheeler Lake.