There was wind, rain, turbulent water and a wall of fast-moving mud that turned the Mississippi River into an angler’s nightmare.
And that doesn’t include a more than 20 degree temperature drop from the day before. If the 320 anglers — 160 professionals plus 160 co-anglers — in the FLW Tour bass fishing event on the Mississippi River wanted a challenge, they got it Thursday.
“Well, it was one of those days where I thought we were going to smell like a dog turd or garlic powder,” said Drew Montgomery, a pro angler from Maiden, N.C., who caught five bass weighing 14 pounds, 14 ounces, which left him in 16th place.
“I think they are going to come to me or they could swim away. It’s a 50-50 deal.”
While Montgomery sounded a bit like Yogi Berra, he may be perplexed all over again as it appears the anglers will get another dose of what Mother Nature can throw at them again today, with temperatures 30 degrees less than they were four days ago.
That didn’t stop one of the state’s very own, Matthew Stefan of Junction City, Wis., from landing five fat-bellied bass that tipped the scale at 18 pounds, 0 ounces, making him the first-day leader. That was just 2 ounces ahead of second-place Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C., who had a limit that weighed 17-14.
“I will take it. It (river) is fishing a lot better than I thought it would,” said Stefan, who fished pools 8 and 9 Thursday. “It is like fishing at home; I love it. It doesn’t feel like a tournament.”
La Crosse’s Tom Monsoor, a 14-year veteran of the FLW Tour, was fishing at home. Despite that, Monsoor had a forgettable day that he called, “terrible, just terrible,” as he caught five bass with a combined weight of 9-10, leaving him in 129th place.
Monsoor has his work cut out for him, and then some, if he is going to survive the cut. The field of 160 pros is cut to 20 after today’s round, and that field is then cut to 10 for Sunday, the final day of the tournament. The co-anglers are done after today’s competition.
“It is the way my whole year has gone. I kill them in practice and then it changes when I get to the tournament,” Monsoor said. “Oh my God, the lake (Lake Onalaska) was just trashed because the wind was blowing so hard. Most of the places I went to you couldn’t even fish because it was blowing so hard.
“Now I just go out and have fun; it’s all you can do. Obviously you go for broke as you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Stefan and Arey are just two of a dozen or more anglers with a legitimate shot at the $125,000 first-place prize in the pro division, while Tim Beale of Hernando, Miss., is in hot pursuit of the $25,000 co-angler first-place loot.
Beale caught five bass weighing 15-8, while Stoddard’s Cody Hackett is second (13-6). La Crosse’s Casey Goode (13-4) is third in the co-angler standings.
“I hate to be so vague, it just a mix,” Arey said when asked in what areas he was catching his bass. “Rock, wood, sand, clay, grass, docks. I am dead serious.
“I was done by 8:30 (a.m.). There are so many 2½- to 3-pound fish in here, you just got to be careful what you burn up. I thought I had about 17½ (pounds) before I culled that largemouth. I just said I am going to stop there.”
The best bass fishermen in the world, many of them bundled up in sweatshirts and rain gear — all, of course, dotted with sponsor logos — fished some 65 miles of the river in Pools 7, 8 and 9. Overall, they tugged plenty of bass from the murky water, but as they would attest, it was far from easy.
With violent storms sweeping through the area on Wednesday night, the river rose six inches or more overnight, and with that rise came plenty of challenges as streams flowing into the Mississippi dumped plenty of silt-laded water into the big river.
That, plus early-morning wind, made the first day of the four-day tournament a head-scratcher for many competitors — pros and amateurs alike.
“They were all cookie-cutter (same size), but I had a pretty good day on the water. God-willing, I’ll have another tomorrow,” said Matt Greenblatt of Port St. Lucie, Fla., who held the lead for a bit with a five-bass catch of 16-1, before ending the day in sixth place.
“I love this place. I never seen so many bars. You can’t fall down in this town without hitting a bar.”
With some big-time money on the line, it’s doubtful Greenblatt was having too many beverages Thursday night. He sure wore a big smile, however, as he knows he’s got a great shot to make the cut. Fishing on Saturday, then Sunday, would really make him smile. And it couldn’t be any more challenging than what he experienced on Thursday.
“You couldn’t throw another curveball at us. We had wind, cold, 30-degree temperature drop,” Greenblatt said. “And you could see the mud move in from 100 yards away. When that happened and you could see your (trolling) motor head disappear, my bite would disappear, too.”