LEESBURG, Fla. — Usually the first day of a Bassmaster Elite Series event provides a pretty solid pecking order for predicting who will make the top 50 cut that occurs after the Day Two weigh-in. But hardly anyone has been eliminated from making the cut after one day of the Sunshine Showdown, presented by Advance Auto Parts on the Harris Chain of Lakes.
The 109 Elite Series pros took off at 7:30 a.m. from Venetian Cove under cloudy skies, southerly winds of about 10 miles per hour and temperatures in the high 60s. A wind advisory has been isssued for this afternoon and isolated thunderstorms are predicted for this area of central Florida. Temperatures are expected to reach 80 degrees.
"I don't really care if the wind blows 100 miles per hour," said Dave Wolak, who is in fifth place with 17 pounds, 12 ounces. His total Thursday was anchored by a female largemouth weighing 8-1. Wolak is concentrating on shallow water protected from the wind.
"If I come in with five solid fish, with what I had yesterday, say 10 to 12 pounds, I'll be in good shape going into the third day. Then I'll just have to grind it out."
It's the presence of those big female Florida-strain largemouth bass that keeps everyone in contention on Day Two.
"All you need is one or two of those good female bites, those 4- or 5-pounders, to be right back in it," said Alton Jones, who is coming off the Bassmaster Classic championship two weeks ago on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. Jones sits in 66th place with a five-bass limit that weighed 8-14 Thursday.
"I thought I was going to have a good day," Jones said. "I'd found some good females (on spawning beds). But with those late-season spawners, the females are there one day and gone the next. They could be back again today."
Day One leader Bill Lowen of North Bend, Ohio, is proof of how quickly your luck can change on the Harris Chain this time of year, when there are bass in all stages of the spawn, from pre- to post. Lowen only had one 13-inch fish in his livewell at 1:30 p.m. He finished with the Berkley Heavyweight Bag of 21-10 that included the Purolator Big Bass of 10-6, and the $1,000 checks that accompany each daily award.
Billy Brewer, a rookie from the Waco suburb of Bruceville, Texas, had a 13-inch fish in his limit that weighed 20-7, which was good for third place. He caught 7-pounders on consecutive flips Thursday afternoon.
Ninety-two anglers caught a limit Thursday, so that's an easily attainable goal. It's a kicker fish or two that will make all the difference on "cut day." Mike Wurm of Hot Springs, Ark., currently holds 50th place with 9-15.
The old formula on the Elite Series was to double the 50th place Day One weight and subtract two pounds to determine what the cut weight would be on Day Two. Last year that formula didn't hold up very well, as the second day weights tended to climb on the Elite Series.
"I think it will go down a little bit, just because of the type of fishery we're on here," Jones said. "I'm going to say the cut will be around 17 1/2 or 18 pounds.
"Last year you couldn't do that, but I think you have to factor in this fishery. If it goes up here like it did a lot of places last year, I'd be very impressed, and probably in trouble."
Because of the dingy water in most of the Harris Chain's eight lakes and the time of year, when most of the bass have already spawned, there's not much sight-fishing taking place among the pros this week. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they're not catching some spawning bass.
Bryan Hudgins, who is in second place with 21-6, lives in Orange Park, Fla., less than a two-hour drive from the Harris Chain. He caught a 6-pounder sight-fishing Thursday, but thought many of his other fish may have been on spawning beds, even though he couldn't actually see them on a bed.
"There's certain things in the area where they're spawning that I really got honed in on," Hudgins said. "If you've got an isolated (lily) pad clump, that's guaranteed to have a bed on it.
"But you've got to actually visualize a bed being there and have confidence there's a bed there. You can't see them, but you've got to have that confidence to throw in there and fish real slow and methodically."
It's difficult to fish slow and methodically when you're trying to play catch-up on the leaderboard. But that will be the key today.
Several anglers, including Lowen and Wolak, have made adjustments to their fishing patterns that allowed them to bring in big sacks Thursday. And they're all being tight-lipped about exactly how they're catching fish.
"I'm not flipping," Wolak said. "I'm probably fishing different than everybody else."
If Wolak and the other leaders' patterns hold up, it will be after Sunday's 12-angler finale for the $100,000 first place check when those lips will loosen and everyone will know the bass fishing secrets some of the pros have discovered on the Harris Chain this week.
Weigh-ins begin daily at Venetian Cove at 4 p.m.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Sunshine Showdown on the Harris Chain of Lakes, from Leesburg, Fla., March 6th–9th, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 10 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. ET. And a reminder … Daylight Savings Time starts Sunday, so remember to set your clocks.