BUFFALO, N.Y. — Co-Anglers know there's much to learn from fishing with an Elite Series pro.
But the best lesson that these co-anglers learned on Day One of the Empire Chase presented by Mahindra Tractors was sometimes it's actually better to be in the back of the boat when bouncing along the harrowing waters of Lake Erie.
After the first day of competition, co-angler Robert Suhr was a quick learner, bagging big fish and making it back to the weigh-in in one piece. Suhr, from Rosecommon, Mich., used his familiarity with fishing Great Lakes and now sits at the head of the class with 20 pounds, 1 ounce of smallmouth bass.
Randy Bell is next in line with 19-9. Then, it's Bill Wray in third place with 18-13, Greg Hackman with at 18-7 and Lawrence Sifert at 18-6 pounds rounds out the top 5.
Wes Hood of Annandale, Va., was thrilled with the abundance of fish he experienced, but there was a caveat.
"Out in those seas, I'm glad I wasn't out on the front of the boat," Hood said. "It was an amazing day catching fish when you were nice and secure in the back of the boat."
But it wasn't just the co-anglers who were receiving a Lake Erie education. Alton Jones, fishing with co-angler Robert Green, witnessed a first on the water on Day One, as well.
"It's the first time I've ever seen someone barfing and boating a four-pounder, all at the same time," Jones said. Co-angler Green is in 11th place after the first day.
In fact, the winds whipping across Lake Erie kicked up the surf so much that Green wasn't the only co-angler who's stomach didn't agree with the conditions. Bill Valberg, a co-angler from nearby London, Ontario overcame his queasiness to find a solid bag. Fishing with Day One's pro leader Paul Hirosky, Valberg thought the rough seas might have actually helped him.
"I just puked all day," Valberg said. "I figured out the only time the bite stopped was when I stopped puking."
Co-angler Bill Spence, currently in ninth place, fished the day with Peter Thliveros. But when the rolling waters of the lake overcame him, he managed to hide his foul work from the driving Thliveros.
With some anglers making 40 mile runs one-way, time management 101 was another class that co-anglers literally sat through. If their equipment held fighting the whitecaps, many boats found themselves actually only fishing for a couple hours.
Bell, who's secondary job aboard Elite pro Greg Hackney's boat was working the all-important driftsock, was impressed with the way the two were able to get fish some 10 spots and still make the almost two-hour trip back in time.
"There really wasn't a wasted moment out there," Bell said. "Considering the conditions out there, it was incredible."
Hackney put Bell on enough good-sized fish to place him in second.
After Elite pro Todd Faircloth's boat broke down with a faulty gas line, co-angler Tim Creighton found that an effective use of time could still yield results, even when they were down for four hours trying to get the boat fixed.
"We both still got our limit," Creighton said. "And that's just a testament to knowing what you're doing even when presented with other factors."
With forecasts predicting similar weather on Day Two, they'll be much more to learn for everyone out on the water. Suhr just hopes he can retain the knowledge and position he gathered on the seas during Day One.