BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Two vastly different strategies secured the top two spots on Friday's first day of the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake.
Randy Howell concentrated on current-loving spotted bass for 17 pounds, 15 ounces on the upper end of the Coosa River impoundment. Alabamian Boyd Duckett blew out the field with a robust 19-14 bag of largemouths, anchored by an 8-2 monster taken in the still waters to the south for the $1,000 daily big bass prize.
An even 12 anglers topped the 14-pound mark and just four failed to secure a five-fish limit as they fought off the 35-degree early morning chill. The weigh-in featured a good mix of the region's famed football-shaped spotted bass and chunky largemouths as they staged for their spring spawn.
The Coosa River lake wasn't kind to all, though. Coming up short on the kind of fish needed to stay with the best anglers in the world were Elite Series stalwarts Denny Brauer (8-3), Kelly Jordon (9-8) and Edwin Evers (9-14), along with Bassmaster Classic legend Rick Clunn (9-6).
Duckett, a Bassmaster Open qualifier who will compete in his first Elite Series this year, grabbed a quick limit in the morning and then hit the bank to secure the kind of bag that had most in the 50-angler field talking.
"I didn't pay attention to the practice," Duckett said. "These fish are changing so fast, I just went fishing today. I was hoping to catch 17 pounds a day, and of course, the 8-pounder is a bonus in there. I'm just gonna try to move with the fish."
The emphasis on largemouths started long before Duckett splashed his boat at Lay Lake. "I decided from the very beginning (to target largemouths)," he said. "In fact, it was back in September at the (Open) qualifier on Lanier."
Duckett reported that while he caught most of his fish at mid-depth, the bigger ones came shallow. And there's a possible wild card on the horizon.
"I saw a few fish (cruising) today," he said. "Hopefully they'll settle down so that I'll have at shot them. Those are the ones that could win it."
Howell concentrated on a stretch of water about a half mile from where Jay Yelas caught his winning bag at the 2002 Classic on Lay Lake. The ebullient Howell praised Alabama Power officials for keeping the current flowing all day, keeping the area's spotted bass in a feeding mood.
"You can be consistent with spots as long as the water is moving," Howell said. "I've been calling the 800 number every morning a couple of times to try and keep up with it. They're saying they're going to keep running 6 (a.m.) to 2 (p.m.), so I feel good about the next two days."
Also buoying his confidence is the fact that Howell quit about 20 minutes early, right after he had landed two of his better fish.
"I thought they were both about four pounds and you just hate to throw a fish close to that back," Howell said. "Hopefully, I saved a few for the next couple of days.
Timmy Horton put himself in good shape with a solid 17-5 total, and he did it with only one largemouth. Everything went according to plan with the good, solid spotted bass, but the kicker-sized largemouth bite failed to materialize, something that he's hoping will turn in his favor over the next two days.
"The biggest key with these largemouths is having those warm nights," Horton said. "I was able to get a good limit of spots pretty early, which allowed me to relax and fish for largemouths, but it got pretty cold last night and I just wasn't able to get them to bite."
Horton said that he's sticking with his plan — sans the ride to the lower end of the lake — in hopes of staying with the spots.
Skeet Reese had a decidedly different approach to his day. That is to say, he didn't have an approach. A visibly stunned Reese said he simply chose a general section of the lake where he had caught a few in practice — five total bites — and where he could fish to his strengths.
"I had absolutely nothing going in to this tournament," he said. "I'm in shock. I honestly thought I had around 12 or 13 pounds. I didn't have time to find any kind of structure. I don't know where the first rockpile is in this lake.
"I just put down the trolling motor and fished all day long. I may have idled a quarter mile all day."