EVANS, Ga. — Professional bass fishing is increasingly a young man's game. The last two Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Anglers of the Year — Skeet Reese and Mike Iaconelli — are both in their 30s.
But Thursday's opener of the Pride of Georgia tournament presented by Evan Williams Bourbon was a good day for old men on Clarks Hill Lake. Denny Brauer, 59, took the lead with a five-bass limit weighing 22 pounds, and 62-year-old Dave Smith took Purolator Big Bass honors with a 7-1. He is fourth overall with 17-4.
And while he's only 42 years old, Davy Hite is considered one of the veterans of the Elite Series tour. The South Carolina native is in second place with 18-15.
However, none of the three sounded confident about repeating his performance as the tournament moves into its second day, after which the 108-angler field will be cut to the top 50 Friday.
"I'd pull up to a point, throw out in the middle of nowhere and a good one would get it," Brauer said. "Stuff like that is tough to duplicate. It was one of those days where I felt like I kept myself in the right type of water.
"But whether I can duplicate that or not, I don't have a clue."
The Camdenton, Mo., pro, who has won over $2 million on the BASS circuit, caught all his fish on a Strike King football head jig with a Rage Tail Craw trailer.
Hite, who lives in nearby Ninety Six, S.C., said he caught only eight bass Thursday, but one of them weighed 6-11. And the two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year is going to keep swinging for the fence.
"When I finish 100th (in a tournament) people say, 'What's wrong with him,'" Hite said. "I can tell you what's wrong. I fish for big fish. I didn't catch but eight fish today. I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow, and I could come up with zero.
"The way I look at it, you don't remember the guys who had the .340 batting average. But you remember the guys that hit five-, six- or seven-hundred home runs.
"I've been fortunate enough to win seven BASS events. And I sure want to make it eight."
Hite's seventh BASS win came at Clarks Hill two years ago when he won the Elite Series Pride of Augusta tournament.
Smith, who entered this event ranked next to last in Angler of the Year points, was quick to credit the encouragement of 37-year-old Kelly Jordon for his success. Smith was part of Jordon's four-man team that won the PAA's Toyota Texas Bass Classic 10 days ago at Lake Fork.
"(Jordon) just gave me a lot of confidence in my fishing," Smith said. "I caught them pretty good there. He supported me. He even talked to me last night. So a lot of this goes to Kelly Jordon.
"I've never seen a guy so positive. Not only is he positive about the sport of fishing, he's positive about every fisherman that we have. I've never heard him say anything but good things about all the fishermen.
"I've been down on my luck the last four or five tournaments. But I felt really good coming in here, and I felt really good today. Confidence is everything, and he's really helped me out."
Speaking of confidence, the Del City, Okla., resident said the seven-pounder only showed a brief glimpse of itself. But Smith was certain about what he'd seen.
"I saw a fish flash in about seven or eight feet of water," he said. "I just thought she was on a bed down there. I was doing like a blind bed-fishing deal."
David Sherrer, who will turn 53 years old later this month, is in third place with 18-8. He caught most of his fish in less than four feet of water.
"It's a grind," Sherrer said. "You've just got to be at the right place at the right time."
"A grind" would be an apt description of how most of the Elite Series pros felt about Day One on Clarks Hill. Most of the field struggled to find big fish. Twenty-two anglers had totals between 15 and 12 pounds. Another 28 are stacked between 12 and 10 pounds.
However, Day One at Clark's Hill this year fished amazingly like Day One at Clark's Hill last year, when Casey Ashley led with 22-6, 17 anglers were bunched between 10 and 12 pounds and 50th place was 10-1 (versus 11-0 this year).
Everyone agrees the fishing should only get better as the tournament continues, with a stable warm front positioned over this 71,000-acre lake on the Georgia-South Carolina border.