RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. Mark Tyler knew the fishing would be tough on Lake Dardanelle this week. Then the fog moved in, and matters only got worse.
He was among the 100 Bassmaster Elite Series pros forced to loiter at the dock for an extra three hours and seven minutes on Day One of the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive while officials waited for a dense white haze to lift from the lake.
"It's go, go, go, go, go. Stop. Wait. Do nothing. Then go, go, go, go, go," Tyler said. "You get out of your rhythm, for sure."
When he missed a fish early, Tyler "almost came unglued mentally," he said. Without the extra time, he figured he couldn't make up the extra bite, and he turned out to be right: He weighed in only four fish, one of 59 anglers who didn't catch limits on the day.
"The pressure is amplified," Tyler said of the shortened day. "You know you're going to have just those five bites."
Many anglers predicted that they'd get only about five to seven keeper bites under ideal conditions. Lopping three hours off the front of the day only increased the difficulty. Some stumbled because they fished water closer than what they would have preferred; others simply felt the hot breath of the clock on their necks.
Up and down the leaderboard — though mostly down — anglers found that there's tough, and then there's tough in a hurry.
"Time flies so fast on a short day," said Jeff Connella (59th, 7-7). "You don't get to do everything you want to do."
Guy Eaker (55th, 8-10) said he never got to fish his second-best place because of short time. Dustin Wilks (68th, 6-0) couldn't find a bite and didn't have time to improvise. Mark Davis, pressed for time, hit a spot where he knew he could at least catch some fish; he got four quickly, moved, and never got another the rest of the day on the way to a tie for 57th with 8-0. Marty Robinson (89th, 2-6) got only one keeper on seven bites. "We got up there so late in the day," he said. "Maybe it was an early deal."
As the minutes and hours ticked away during the delay, Mike McClelland could only stew. While most anglers were talking about how tough the fishing would be, he knew, based on his crummy practice, that he really didn't have much.
"It was definitely frustrating, knowing I had the kind of practice I did," McClelland said. "I knew I needed that full day."
He caught one early, which at least lifted the zero off his shoulders, but found himself rushing through the rest of the day. He tallied just two more fish the rest of the day, finishing in 56th, with 8-7.
"I fished a little too fast," he said. "I slowed down and picked a place apart, is when I caught fish."
Boyd Duckett, who won the Bassmaster Legends on Dardanelle in 2007, skipped the 35-minute run he intended to make in favor of sticking to the creek near the launch dock all day. His strategy was essentially to catch five and survive — and it brought him a limit that went 10-10, good for a tie for 37th place.
"I stayed close by today," Duckett said. "With a short day, you might not get five. I've got some better fish up the river."
Other anglers were less hampered by the short day. Alton Jones, for one, might have benefitted. He thought he was fishing conservatively by filling his limit early, then looking for some sight fish in the well-picked-over Illinois Bayou. To his surprise, he was able to catch a 3- and a 4-pounder late — two fish he assumed would be gone, because "at least 15" other anglers knew about them, he said.
Then there was Matt Sphar, who raced a half-hour up the river, found his fish, couldn't get them to bite, and managed to finesse two fish into his livewell only as he made his way back to the dock.
He didn't think the delay hurt that miserable pattern one bit.
"Actually," Sphar said, "my day felt really long, 'cause I wasn't catching them."