PADUCAH, Ky. — Kentucky's own Mike Auten claimed the lead Thursday at the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open presented by Busch Beer on the Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland rivers. It is the third time in as many months that BASS, the worldwide authority on bass fishing, has come to the fishery for tournaments that give anglers a shot at qualifying for coveted berths in the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
Auten who jumped out to the early lead with 17 pounds and 7 ounces of bass, predominantly the smallmouth for which the area is well known. Smallmouth are known for hard fights, wily behavior and unpredictable movements. Auten said he has spent three days fishing one area in which smallmouth are, for some reason, staying put.
"Smallmouth are notorious for moving around," Auten said. "A lot of times you'll catch them one day there and the next day they're gone. That could happen to me tomorrow. A lot of it depends on the water. It's a current spot and if they stop pulling current, they could stop.
"You just pound it for what it's worth on the first day and try to catch all you can catch, especially when they're smallmouth. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Texan John Hope was Auten's closest competitor with a day-one weight of 13-4, but knows it's still early in the tournament to be looking too far ahead.
"They were all over me today," Hope said of the competition. "I had to keep them shoved off all day. I caught three fish there yesterday and left. There were two limits taken out of there today. I'm hoping we didn't hurt (the area). It's the kind of spot that would renew itself. I can tell you I'll be sitting on it first thing tomorrow."
Iowa's Aaron Nelson brought in 12-2 to claim the third spot going into day two.
Tennessee's Keith Amerson was the early leader Thursday on the non-boater side. Amerson's 9-pound, 5-ounce limit kept him over 2 pounds ahead of second place Rick Brickman from Texas, who had 7-2.
"I had a great day," Amerson said. "I had a great partner in Tommy Martin and I just had a really good day. The fishing was tough and I hope I can catch them again tomorrow, it will depend on my partner tomorrow."
Texan Brian Merrifield rounded out the top three with a day one weight of 6-11.
The Purolator Big Bass of the Day Award on the boater side went to Texas's Art Garza. His 5-7 lunker earned him a $1,000 check from Purolator and, if it remains the largest bass caught in competition, it will earn him an additional $1,000 for the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament.
Competition continues Friday. Launch will be at 6 a.m. at the downtown Paducah Riverfront with indoor weigh-ins starting at 3 p.m. at JR's Executive Inn.
The Casting Kids competition will be held at JR's Executive Inn Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 can compete for the chance at a scholarship. Event instruction is provided by the Kentucky BASS Federation.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Central Open presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include JR's Executive Inn.