He’s been fishing professionally for the past 7 years, mostly on another circuit, but has recently made the switch to the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens for a crack at the Classic.
Though he’s miles from home, he feels comfortable fishing the tidal James River system.
“The good Lord shined down on me today,” he said as he weighed in 17 pounds, 1 ounce on Day One of the first 2012 Northern Open.
“I feel real comfortable fishing a system like this because I grew up fishing the Red and Ouachita rivers; there is a lot of the same stuff here,” he said.
This Open comes on the heels of another tournament he fished, which meant he only had one day of practice on the James. However, he immediately fell into a rhythm.
“I knew where and how I wanted to fish, and I got a good bite early on and just rolled with it,” he said.
“It’s a lot of junk fishing in pads, stumps, and wood, so there’s really no pattern except fish everything in sight.”
Dillard also credits a high tide for his bite. Though tomorrow’s tide will likely be different, he plans on sticking to what got him to the top. He’s currently leading the Luck “E” Strike Heavyweight Award, which awards $500 to the pro with the heaviest five-fish limit in the event.
Former Elite Series pro Ben Parker of Springville, Tenn., leads the Carhartt Big Bass Award with a 6-1 largemouth.
Dillard currently has just more than a pound lead over current runner-up Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala. Hawk relied on a Gary Yamamoto Senko all day, and said that he had to work it at a snail’s pace to get bit. His five-fish limit weighed 15-14.
In third place is Steven Colgin with 15-11, in fourth is Whitney Stephens with 15-9, and in fifth is Allan Glasgow with 15-2.
The 142 pros are vying for a grand prize of a boat and cash worth roughly $50,000, as well as a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic set for Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees out of Tulsa, Okla., in February.
In the co-angler division, Randy Bowles of Lanexa, Va., leads the pack with a whopping 10-4 three-fish limit. He said that the high water that blessed Dillard made fishing tough for him.
“I had to fish really slow; it was grind,” he said. “That high tide makes ‘em act different.”
Bowles flipped a jig in shallow water. Behind him is Donnie Mead of Richmond, Va., with 10-1, in third place is Alan Jackson with 9-11, in fourth is Robert Seymour with 9-7 and in fifth place is Ian Miller with 8-14.
Co-anglers are vying for a top prize of a fully-rigged Skeeter/Yamaha boat and motor package.
This event is the Northern Open circuit’s season opener. Each of the season’s three tournaments will award a Classic berth in addition to a boat-and-cash purse worth more than $50,000.
To claim the Classic spot, the Open winner must compete in all three of the division’s tournaments.
The public is invited to watch the morning launches from Osborne Park, 9530 Osborne Turnpike, Henrico, Va. Take-off time is set for 6 a.m. ET.
Weigh-ins on the first two days will be at Osborne Park beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
The final weigh-in will move to the Bass Pro Shops location in Ashland at 11550 Lakeridge Parkway. It is set to begin at 3 p.m. ET.
There is no admission charge for any Bassmaster event.