Alabama hasn't claimed a Bassmaster Classic winner in 22 years but it now at least has a couple of pro fishermen with big targets on their backs.
Forty-eight fishermen will take to Lay Lake this morning for the second day of the Bassmaster Classic with Alabama anglers Boyd Duckett of Demopolis and Randy Howell of Springville squarely in their sights.
The Alabama pair recorded the two biggest catches on the first day of the Classic on Friday and immediately became the hunted.
Duckett caught 19 pounds, 15 ounces of fish, and Howell turned in a catch of 17 pounds, 15 ounces.
It was an exceptional day for Alabamians in the field. Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals caught 17 pounds, 5 ounces to take the fourth spot and Gerald Swindle of Warrior caught 14 pounds, 10 ounces to take the ninth spot. Aaron Martens of Leeds and Russ Lane of Prattville ended up tied for 14th with 13-pound, 13-ounce catches.
Californian Skeet Reese took third with 17 pounds, 8 ounces and Florida's Terry Scroggins landed fifth with 17 pounds.
Lay Lake, the Coosa River impoundment south of Lake Logan Martin, was generous with its fish Friday. The anglers primarily caught the more plentiful but typically smaller spotted bass as well as good numbers of the typically larger largemouth bass.
Duckett's big moment came when he yanked an 8-pound, 2-ounce largemouth out of the grass. It was the biggest bass caught the first day.
"My goal was to catch 17 pounds a day," he said. "An 8-pounder sure helps that.
"I caught all largemouth today and that was what I was after. I decided last September when I qualified for the Classic that I was going to go for broke chasing largemouths."
Duckett said he feels confident because the conditions are not optimal for largemouth just yet and it should get better each day of the tournament.
Howell got a slow start Friday but came on strong catching two of his bigger bass at 2:10 and 2:20, just minutes before the anglers quit fishing for the day.
Howell was fishing a jig below Logan Martin Dam close to where Jay Yelas caught his fish in winning the 2002 Classic.
"The current was on and the spots were behind the rocks trying to get out of the current," he said. "They were like cats. When something came by, they grabbed at it."
Moving current is critical to his pattern, Howell explained. Alabama Power was scheduled to generate power at Logan Martin Dam both today and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Howell said.
"Boyd (Duckett) found the trump card today," Horton said. "That's what it's going to take. Everybody is catching 3-pounders. If you can put an 8-pounder in the boat, that's huge."
Horton said a front is forecast to come through Saturday night and that will up the ante for largemouth fishing.
"That's going to turn the largemouths on," he said. "That will change things."
Swindle was kicking himself for making a few mistakes on the day.
"I didn't catch a fish until 10:30 this morning," he said. "It took me awhile to figure the fish
"When I finally did and got 14 pounds I decided to run from Logan Martin Dam to Lay Dam to check a spot. On the first cast I caught a 5-pounder and then lost it at the boat.
"Tomorrow, I'm doing just the opposite. I'm going down river first, then going up river. I've got to get it tomorrow."
Lane, the pre-tournament favorite, was forced to fish before a crowd of about 30 boats all day, but he didn't blame the fans on his catch that puts him more than six pounds out of the lead.
"I'm not out of this by any means," he said. "I just couldn't catch a kicker fish. I had a limit of spots in the first 30 minutes on my first spot. I'm embarrassed I went that long without catching a 5-pounder."
Martens predicted before the tournament that it would take 13 pounds each day to win. He did better than that with 13-pounds, 13 ounces but found himself more than six pounds out of the lead.
"I'm not out of it but it feels like it," a dejected Martens said. "I had a good bag of fish but it wasn't good here this time of the year."
The field will be cut in half after today's round with 25 anglers advancing to Sunday.