In their professional fishing careers, neither Brent Chapman nor Bobby Lane had ever caught a bass on a jigging spoon in a tournament. That all changed on Day One of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, when both anglers secured early limits on the heavy metal.
"I've never weighed in a jigging spoon fish," said Chapman. "And now I'm going to weigh in a five-bass limit of spoon bass at the Bassmaster Classic — that's just crazy."
Chapman's spoonfed bass weighed 13 pounds, 6 ounce to put him in 20th place after day one.
Bobby Lane got in on the spooning action as well.
"I've never caught a spoon bass in a tournament in my life," Lane said. "I caught five of them with the first five drops of my spoon early. It's pretty exciting to fish in a way I've never fished before, especially at the Classic.
Lane, however, knows that a Bassmaster Classic win is not going to come on a spoon.
"Probably the best limit I can get on a spoon is about 13 pounds, which is probably what I had when I left that first spot. It's a good way to jump start the day, but it's not going to get me in that 18- to 20-pound range needed to win."
Once Lane got his limit, he committed to a crankbait the rest of Day One, which produced a 3 1/2-pound fish, culling him up to 15 pounds for 15th place.
Pre-practice: help or hindrance?
Ask a few pros about the benefits of pre-practicing a lake before the official off-water period for the Bassmaster Classic, and the answers vary widely on whether it's valuable or not.
Some claim getting a feel for the way a lake lays out, how it fishes and an overview of the predominant types of cover can be a help. Others say pre-practice is useless, since fish change so much from week to week.
For Day One leader Charlie Hartley, pre-practicing was a big help. The Ohio native fished Hartwell for 18 days before the lake went off-limits in mid-December.
"A lot of times I think pre-practicing can be a waste of time, because things change — but this time it was valuable for me," Hartley said. "I'm not fishing the same patterns or depths I was fishing when I was here a couple of months ago, but I did find good concentrations of fish — and I'm fishing those same areas. Knowing those fish were there gave me the confidence to keep trying different stuff until I found something that worked."
Alton Jones, in 10th after day one, said he also spent a couple days on the lake before the off-water period, but never made a cast.
"I just rode around looking," he said. "My main goal was to take advantage of the water being so low. I marked a lot of stuff on the bank — rocks, stumps and brush — in hopes that the lake would come back up before the tournament began, and I would know where that stuff is. But it didn't pan out that way."
Mike Iaconelli, in eighth after Day One with 18 pounds, 5 ounces, also spent a few days on Hartwell in December. And he, too, never made a cast.
"I spent the entire time idling and graphing deep water," he said. "I did not fish or look for fish, I just idled around for hours, closely examining deep places where fish should live in the winter months. And I can honestly say that has helped me tremendously. The fish that I'm catching in this tournament are coming from deep places I found with my graph back in December."
Scott Rook, in second after Day One with 20 pounds, 13 ounces, said he visited the lake last September for a cursory two-day inspection.
"I just wanted to ride around and see what the lake had to offer in terms of structure and cover, but I can't say I found anything then that has particularly helped me this week. I developed the pattern I'm fishing now in the official three-day practice and during Wednesday's final practice day."
Kevin VanDam, in third place after Day One with 20 pounds, 3 ounces, did not spend any time pre-practicing. In fact, VanDam had never seen Hartwell before the official practice period last week.
"I found the pattern I'm fishing on the morning of the first practice day," said VanDam. "Based on my experience on Hartwell's two sister lakes — Russell and Clarks Hill — I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do before I got here."
Much of how VanDam is fishing this week came from lessons he learned at a Clarks Hill Bassmaster Tour event in early March of 2005.
"I learned a lot about those blueback herring in that event — how they migrate and move on cloudy and sunny days," VanDam said. "They remind me a lot of alewives that we have back home. They're a very nomadic baitfish, but there are certain places that they like to gather up. It's a lesson I learned the hard way in 2005 — I finished 12th in that event — one of those things I filed away, in hopes of using it again."