DEL RIO, Texas — After last year's Bassmaster Elite Series tournament focused so much attention on the huge numbers of big bass in Lake Amistad, some of the pros were worried if all those monster bass would still be in the lake a year later.
That concern was eliminated after the first day of the Battle on the Border at Lake Amistad on Thursday when two 36-pound five-bass limits topped the leaderboard and a 12-pound, 7-ounce fish took big bass honors.
"After the hurt we put on this lake last year, I thought all the attention might have changed this lake," said Kevin Short. "Uh, I don't think so."
Short's 33-pound, 6-ounce stringer was good for only third place Thursday. Steve Kennedy, the 2006 Elite Series rookie of the year, leads with 36-10, followed by Scott Campbell with 36-0.
It was Campbell, a 24-year-old Elite Series rookie from Springfield, Mo., who caught the 12-7 monster of the day.
"I had 20 pounds in the boat by nine o'clock," said Campbell. "I felt good because this was my first Elite Series tournament and I didn't want to bomb. The rest of the day was just surreal."
Large soft plastic swim baits, made famous from some of the big bass caught on California lakes, like Castaic, produced Campbell's big fish and were the key for Kennedy, too.
"I had never thrown a swim bait until this week," said Kennedy, who is from Auburn, Ala. "I had 30 pounds by 9 o'clock this morning. It was the best day I've ever had. You never expect to be culling six- and seven-pounders."
Campbell said he saw the 12-pounder from 20 feet away as it came after his swim bait.
"I was freaking out," said Campbell, who landed the lunker around 1 p.m. "You can imagine. I couldn't fish for about 10 minutes after that."
On a day in which 8-pound bass didn't even get weighed for big bass honors, Kennedy, Campbell and Short had plenty of competition on the leaderboard. Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., is fourth with 30-12, Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., is fifth with 29-11, Ken Cook of Meers, Okla., is sixth with 28-15 and Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, is seventh with 28-7.
"This lake is just incredible," was said so many times on the weigh-in stand that it became a cliché.
Lake Amistad, a 37,000-acre impoundment on the Texas-Mexico border, was dedicated in 1969 when President Richard Nixon and Mexico President Diaz Ordaz shared the podium at the ceremony. The bass fishing has always been good here, according to many local residents. The rest of the world is finding out just how good.
When Short didn't make the two-day cut in last year's tournament here, he took his wife, Kerry, fishing on Saturday and she landed a 10.55-pounder — slightly bigger than the 10-pounder that was Short's lifetime best. So Short, who lives in Mayflower, Ark., has been reminded more times than he'd like in the last year about just how good this lake can be.
But even he had trouble with the idea of culling 4-pound bass Thursday.
"This lake is so full of fish, it's just sick," laughed Short. "When you're culling 4-pound fish, it's just wrong. That's not supposed to happen. I didn't want to let go of them when I was putting them back in the lake."
There are two things that every pro angler agreed on Thursday. One, the bass in Amistad are on the move. With water temperatures rising toward the 60-degree mark, many fish are moving to spawning beds or staging in areas just before spawning. And, two, there are bigger fish in Amistad than the ones weighed in Thursday.
Scroggins caught a fish in practice that weighed every bit of 14 pounds, according to the camera phone photo he had as proof. And Scroggins, who had 30 pounds in the boat by 8 a.m. Thursday, was able to use most of the day as another day of practice, searching for other areas where he could take advantage of these spawn-staging bass.
"I think I can catch another 30 pounds (Friday)," said Scroggins, who won the Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida's Lake Kissimmee a week ago. "I know I can catch another 20 pounds and that's with no big fish. There's no telling what's going to happen the rest of this week."
No one would argue with that. Especially after a day in which a 20-pound limit, which would usually have you near the lead in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament anywhere else, was good for only 40th place Thursday, and in danger of not making the cut to the top 50 after Friday. Only on Lake Amistad will a 4-pound average have you singing the blues.