HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. — In a tournament where every pound is precious, Mike McClelland and Chris Lane were grateful for the assists they got from other Elite Series pros during Day One of the Bassmaster Tennessee Triumph presented by Longhorn.
BASS rules place stiff penalties for any angler who comes in late for his appointed weigh-in time. Stiff, as in a one-pound penalty for every minute past the deadline.
McClelland took 26th place Thursday with his five-bass limit weighing 11 pounds. He made sure to give fellow Arkansan Scott Rook a big thank-you while on the weigh-in stage. McClelland hit an underwater object and disabled the lower unit in his outboard motor near the end of the day; Rook towed him to the weigh-in dock.
Lane figured he lost five hours of fishing time Thursday, but still managed to place just in front of McClelland with his limit weighing 11-2.
"I was probably 25 miles up the (Cumberland) river," Lane said. "I got on one of my spots and caught two of my biggest fish there. Then it kind of died off. I cranked up the motor and then couldn't get the boat on plane.
"I finally got on plane, but it wasn't running too good, about 48 miles an hour, and I'm headed back."
Lane stopped at one more fishing spot, then couldn't get on plane at all when he tried to leave.
"Steve Kennedy tied a rope to the boat, pulled me out and we got going," Lane said.
Say what now?
Lane explained that they had it all planned out. Once Kennedy's boat pulled Lane's boat out of "the hole" and got it running on plane — that's two boats tied together running 20 to 30 mph — Lane's co-angler cut the rope joining the two boats.
Had Lane ever done that before?
"Oh, yeah," he laughed, "that's standard procedure."
Lane was able to get his outboard repaired with an hour left to fish. He only had four bass in his livewell then. But he had just enough time to go to one of his spots near the weigh-in dock and caught a 2-pounder to fill out his limit.
"I feel good about tomorrow," Lane said. "I really got dialed in a little better today."
Even in the limited amount of time he had to do it.
Davis struggles, recovers
Mark Davis didn't have the day he expected after finding some solid patterns during three days of practice. But after going almost three hours without a keeper-size bass during one period Thursday morning, he was fairly pleased to weigh-in 14-5, which put him in eighth place.
"I really thought I could catch 18 or 19 pounds," said the Mt. Ida, Ark., angler of his practice experience. "But I wasted about half the day fishing some stuff that just changed up on me. I had to revert back to some backup stuff.
"I'd say half of what was working (in practice) didn't work today. But I was still able to limp along."
Davis could be a dangerous man Friday. The only man to win the Bassmaster Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic titles in the same year (1995), Davis is known for his post-spawn bass fishing abilities.
He went out in an early flight Thursday, so he'll have a longer fishing day and a later check-in time Friday. Many anglers mentioned Thursday that the afternoon bite seems to be better than the morning bite on Old Hickory.
And also echoing the words of many Elite Series anglers, Davis talked about the unbelievable number of bass he caught that fell just under the 14-inch largemouth minimum length limit. Davis estimated he caught 100 bass Thursday and only 15 were keeper-size.
"You're winding a fish in all the time out here," he said. "The trouble is that most of them are 12, 13 inches long.
"There's actually schools of fish here where you can catch them every cast and never catch a keeper. Usually in a school of bass there's a few bigger ones in there.
"My first 12, one of them kept. I'd put them on the board and every one was like 13 ¾ inches."
Just two good bites
Two 4-pound bass will go a long way in this tournament. As Gary Klein said before Thursday's launch, "If you catch a 4-pounder, it's huge. It really means something."
But to move up the leaderboard, you really need two of those bigger bass every day.
"If you can put two good ones in the boat each day, you're in good shape," said Dave Wolak, who had one 4-pounder in his limit that weighed 10-7. "I only had one today, and I'm in the middle of the pack."
Well, not exactly. Here's what just one 4-pounder can do for you, accompanied by four other keepers: Wolak is in 30th place. He's in the middle of the pack to make the top 50 cut, but in much better position than the middle of the pack in this 106-angler field.
Howell releases 3-pounder
As important as big bass are in this event, Randy Howell had to release a 3-plus pounder Thursday. He still finished in 11th place with 13-2, but he probably could have been in the top 5 with that other big one.
Howell felt a fish load up on his rod and set the hook. Something didn't quite feel right as he reeled it to the boat. When he lifted his rod and swung the bass into the boat, it fell onto his boat deck, but it wasn't hooked to the lure Howell was fishing. It was also carrying a wad of line from its mouth. Another angler had hooked the fish, and it broke him off.
"I didn't know if I had hooked the fish or the line that was hanging out of its mouth," Howell said.
So he called BASS tournament director Trip Weldon to get a ruling. And Weldon said if Howell hadn't hooked the fish, it wasn't a legal catch.
So Howell released it.
He felt better about the decision when he caught a bass weighing almost 5 pounds a few minutes later.
"It all worked out," said the easy-going Springville, Ala., resident.
"This place is a lot of fun to fish. You can go out here and catch 100 fish – it's just hard to catch those 14-inchers." — Kevin Short
"If I could just tape them together..." — Mike Wurm
"In practice, I got a lot of different things going, but that makes it hard to know what to do on tournament day." — Mark Davis
"I eliminated a lot of water today, so hopefully I'll be able to drive right to 'em tomorrow." — Boyd Duckett, who caught just four fish weighing 5-13
"I'm swinging with everything I got. I know what it is like to have a big lead. I did last year and VanDam took over. I'm just trying to catch as many as I can. I'm trying not to stumble and stay in it." — Skeet Reese, on the Angler of the Year race
"It is not a good sign when you can hide the weigh-in bag behind your back." — Emcee Keith Alan, in reference to Pete Ponds' three bass that weighed 4-14
"I found one spot, caught five fish off of it, and didn't dare cast up there again. Hopefully tomorrow I can go back to it." — Alton Jones
"I'm trying to set a personal worst. The only thing good about that fish is it's not a zero." — Ken Cook, on his 14-ounce spotted bass that left him in next-to-last place