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At the first Sudden Death round of the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup on Florida's Lake Istokpoga gets closer, all eyes are glued to "The Weather Channel" as steaming cups of coffee are sipped by the anglers before the morning's launch.
Glued there as anglers hope to catch the latest on the approaching tropical menace named Hurricane Sandy, a storm that pummeled Cuba with winds of more than 100-miles per hour.
With Sandy's outer bands approaching Florida, the first six Sudden Death competitors are hoping for the best as forecasters warn of squally weather, heavy rain bands, gale force wind gusts, and the potential for limited windows of good fishing opportunities as the day wears on at Istokpoga.
"We've had them all week," said MLF pro Gary Klein of the windy conditions. "The hurricane has developed and is now a Cat 2 and it is coming up the East Coast and it really is affecting us.
"I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but I do know that everyone of these anglers is going to be doing what they do best.
"Nobody that qualifies today (for the championship round) is going to get it handed to them, they're going to have to earn it."
Despite the ominous clouds gathering on the southeastern horizon, Klein remains highly optimistic that the group of anglers fishing in Zone 2 will get things figured out quickly.
Especially since they probably HAVE to do so given the forecast and the 20-pound cutline that exists.
Zone 2: 4.2 miles primary shoreline, 2.5 miles island shoreline, 2,822 acres
"Obviously, I'm going to try to be the first across the cutline," Klein laughed when asked what his game plan was for the day. "That's the big deal here today (to us) and 20 pounds is the mark."
Is such a mark doable? Klein shrugs his shoulders and notes that the field has endured stiff northeasterly and easterly winds all week, first from an early week cold frontal passage and now from the approach of a hurricane.
"We have some really extraordinary conditions," the MLF co-founder and Texas pro conceded. "We're on a really good Florida lake that has a really good population of fish in it (as we've seen).
"However, we keep getting pounded by this hurricane that is coming up the East Coast. And we've got some pretty adverse conditions, sunshine (one minute), thunderstorms (the next) and high winds."
But like golfers competing on a highly difficult U.S. Open golf course where the rough is high, greens are lightning fast, and scores are barely over par, Klein says that days like this are what makes a Major League Fishing pro what they are: anglers with the ability to compete anywhere in the bass fishing world under even the most adverse conditions.
And like golf fans glued to their television sets for the nation's championship each June, he also thinks that fans of Major League Fishing will greatly enjoy what they see as the Outdoor Channel cameras cover the action.
Even if the anglers don't enjoy it very much.
"I think today is the kind of day where we're going to have to dodge the bullet a couple of times throughout the day," said Klein, one of the sport's legendary pros with an astounding 77 Top-10 finishes under his belt. "But it is the same for everybody.
"We've got a pretty strong group and all of us have caught fish to get here and we know what we're looking for. We have baits that we have confidence in."
One thing Klein is certain of is that he and the other five semi-finalists had better get a good read on the fish early on in the day.
"I think today is going to be one of those days where you can't sit back and wait for things to develop," said the 29-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. "The interesting thing is that during (our other competitions), the third period is the period where guys figure it out or the fish start biting.
"It seems like some of the greatest "come-from-behind" or "get-further-ahead" runs have come in the third period. But we may not have that third period available to us if three guys get to 20 pounds quick."
Will that alter his strategy from Elimination Round?
"There's going to be a little bit of strategy involved," said Klein. "I've been catching most of my fish on moving baits here. I caught the majority of my fish (in the Elimination Round) on a spinnerbait. And my best bite was in the first two periods.
"Hopefully I can kind of carry that into this round and not only find a few fish (early), but obviously, catch enough to get me over the hump."
How will he do that?
"Traditionally down here in Florida, I fish a lot of target oriented baits - pitching, flipping, back up in the cover where the fish kind of have a tendency to set up a little bit," said Klein, an eight-time winner on the B.A.S.S. tournament trail with nearly $2 million in career earnings.
"But when you're fishing in Florida, you can have a tremendous system like this coming through and everything is moving, the weeds are moving, the cattails are moving, and everything is moving.
"So the fish get real skittish, they might get further back in where the water is calmer. So the guys that bury their boats (in such places) may still be able to catch those kinds of fish (that we expect in Florida)."
Klein says that as Sandy approaches, he will cover water, make good on-the-water decisions as quickly as he can, and slow down when he gets into good areas.
"In my previous round, I couldn't really tell you that I was going to catch a fish on which cast," he said. "(But) I felt good about areas (although) I didn't know which angle or cast I was going to get the bite on.
"So I was really trying to be thorough, especially when I saw something that sparked my interest. When I did, I would slow down and try to make a lot of casts in that area."
He hopes to do so again, even as Cat 2 Hurricane Sandy comes calling.
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