SYRACUSE, N.Y. — No one left Oneida Shores Park Thursday feeling better than Brent Chapman and his wife, Bobbi. Much of the pressure cranked up by Chapman leading a tight Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race had vanished during the course of the day.
Chapman was operating under the heaviest weight of all – not blowing a lead in the last event – and he put some serious distance between himself and his closest competitors with a Day One second-place total of 16 pounds, 12 ounces at the Bassmaster Elite Series Ramada Championship.
"I'd have been happy with 11 or 12 pounds today," Chapman said, "based on how hard practice was and how unsure I was about what I was going to catch today. It was a huge relief."
With 16-12, Chapman almost quadrupled his lead over his closest competitor in the $100,000 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. His margin was only 13 points over Ott DeFoe and 20 points over Todd Faircloth entering the day. After Thursday's weigh-in, Faircloth had moved into second place in the AOY race, but he's now 40 points behind Chapman.
Faircloth felt good when he crossed the weigh-in stage early in the 97-angler field with a five-bass limit weighing 14-5. But at the end of the day, that was good for only 22nd place.
DeFoe finished 59th Thursday with 12-5. He'd be 70 points behind Chapman now, if these standings were final. But they're not; Chapman's current season-long total of 662 AOY points is based on the tournament ending today, which it doesn't, of course.
But to change those standings on Friday, Faircloth would have to make a huge move up the standings. More importantly, Chapman would also have to falter precipitously. There's a one-point differential between each place in the final standings, when points are officially awarded.
With a lead coming into this event, Chapman was essentially competing within himself for the AOY title; as long as he did well, nobody could catch him without performing significantly better than not only Chapman, but several others.
And Mike Iaconelli was the only angler who posted a better day, with his 20-pound, 3-ounce first-place bag.
The Chapmans were, understandably, all-smiles Thursday, with Bobbi's being the biggest.
"He was way more calm than I was (before today)," Bobbi said of her husband. "I've been a nervous wreck. When you love somebody, you want so bad for them to do well."
Brent Chapman's key to success Thursday occurred over a month ago, when he came to Oneida Lake to pre-fish before these waters went off-limits. It's not something Chapman has done often. And he admitted that he wouldn't have considered doing it this time if there hadn't been so much at stake.
But Chapman wasn't sure he'd helped himself when he got to Oneida this week, and the amount of aquatic vegetation had exploded from what he'd seen a month ago. Almost every angler struggled in the three practice days this week. But Chapman had picked up some clues in the pre-practice period, clues that paid off Thursday.
"If I hadn't pre-practiced, I'd be pulling my hair out right now," Chapman said. "But I've got two good areas now, and I haven't even been to several other areas I've got."
Chapman's goal going into this tournament was 14 pounds a day. He topped that by almost three pounds Thursday and put some distance between his rivals. Chapman will certainly sleep more soundly than he did the previous night.
"I'm definitely off to a good start," he said. "I've got a little bit of a cushion now. It was an incredible day."