GUNTERSVILLE, Ala.— It may have taken an extra 24 hours, but Terry Butcher proved to himself on Friday what he's known all along — that he can compete at the highest level of bass fishing.
After a rocky start to the 2007 Elite Series, the Oklahoma pro came out strong on Lake Guntersville during the opening round of the Southern Challenge presented by Purolator. Butcher bagged a five-fish limit that weighed 26 pounds, 3 ounces and gave him more than a 3-pound lead over the field.
The opening weight carries extra significance as the tournament has been shortened to three days after foul weather scuttled Thursday's start.
Lake Guntersville, a 69,000-acre fishery in the northeast corner of the state, is known to challenge anglers by forcing them to deal with a myriad of conditions. But Butcher has had success here before, holding an early spot in the top 10 here last season before faltering later in the tournament.
He's determined to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"I just had a great day," Butcher said. "I caught fish all day. I couldn't do wrong. I've got a couple of patterns going and I'm just running them. It's no specific spot. I caught a good limit this morning so I decided rather than to go to some fish I already had, I just practiced some more today. It worked great. I culled all day long."
Butcher's biggest fish weighed just over six pounds and he had pair of five-pounders that bumped his weight upward. He said because he caught fish early and didn't visit all of his spots, he thinks he can do well again Saturday before the field is trimmed to 12.
"I didn't see use in hammering on them any more today," he said. "The places I caught fish, I didn't stay long. So, I think I have some more."
Chasing Butcher is Jason Quinn, who is in second place with 22 pounds, 10 ounces. Kevin Van Dam, who makes no secret of his affinity for this fishery, is in third place with 21-4. Terry Scroggins is fourth with 21-2 and Pete Ponds, fresh off a good showing at Clarks Hill last week, holds down the fifth spot with a bag weighing 20-7.
Like Butcher, Quinn said he had several patterns work for him on Friday.
"I had a couple things going, but most of the fish I caught today came from out on the deep grass," Quinn said. "I've got some places I can go catch a limit pretty easy. Today, I had one in about 10 minutes."
Quinn's biggest fish weighed 7-10 — a lunker that narrowly missed being the big bass of the day. He thinks the fishing is only going to get better as the tournament progresses.
"The fish that are spawning are heading back out there," he said. "The grass is the best I've ever seen it here. It's unbelievable. It's everywhere. Those fish aren't wasting time. When they're (finished spawning) they're going right to it."
Chances are VanDam is onto a similar situation as Quinn. A noted power fisherman, VanDam said the bites in deeper water set up in his favor.
"Today was a good day to fish,"VanDam said. "There were a good amount of clouds and a good amount of wind. I was able to fish the style that I like to fish. That made it fun."
Scroggins fished the shad spawn early on Friday before moving farther offshore.
"I had to find some clean water and I finally got on them pretty good," he said. "Tomorrow, I feel pretty good about what I'm going to do.I'm in the first flight tomorrow and I know right where I'm going. So, it should be easier for me tomorrow."
Saturday's launch is scheduled for 5:50 a.m CST.