PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — So, do black bass live in the Delaware River?
Oh, boy, do they. Boyd Duckett showed how those bass can be caught when the four-day Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Delaware River kicked off Thursday out of Philadelphia for the first time in Bassmaster history.
Bringing in a limit of five largemouth bass that weighed 16 pounds, 14 ounces — a respectable total anywhere during midsummer — Duckett of Guntersville, Ala., led the field of 106 pros, each after the event’s first prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Duckett — the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion — posted a hefty lead over Morizo Shimizu of Osaka, Japan, who took second place with 12-2.
Third place after one day was claimed by James Elam of Tulsa, Okla., with 11-12. Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., had 11-6 for fourth place. Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., had 11-5 for fifth place.
Those five pros on top of the leaderboard all weighed five-fish limits, unlike many others in the field.
Knowing well after two and a half days of practice time that Delaware River bass were going to present one of the Elite season’s biggest challenges, Duckett made a key decision: go for the big bass during the river’s just-right tidal conditions, taking the chance he would not end up with five in the box.
“I found a couple of deals that work a little better to get a bigger bite,” he said. “I’m throwing bigger baits. There’s no guarantee you’ll get five bites in a day here. At least if you get them, I want them to be bigger ones.”
Duckett said that toward the end of the day, he had a limit, but the smallest, a 2-pounder, was bugging him.
“I was like, ‘Oh, if I could just cull this one.’ Then finally I got my sixth bite, and it was a 3 1/2. I knew I had about all the river was going to put out for the day,” he said.
The five he weighed looked like cookie-cutter bass. The largest was weighed at 3-13.
Duckett said he’s working the main river as well as backwater areas, always trying to follow the tides.
Shimizu said he caught four of his five bass within one midmorning hour. When the action shut down, he moved to one of his secondary spots, but nothing worked for him there. He returned to the place that gave up the quartet. And there he landed his fifth largemouth of the day.
It was a stellar day after a very slow practice, he said.
“I say, ‘Never give up,’” he said, repeating what is not only a Michael Iaconelli mantra, but what has been Shimizu’s slogan for 15 or 16 years, he said.
Elam, with 11-12 worth of largemouth for third place, said he was learning how to work with the massive tide swing of the Delaware. The water drops 7 feet at low tide.
“I saw one place today in the morning (at low tide), where I caught a fish later. I thought I could pull up at high tide there and get bit,” he said. “I spent my practice time trying to figure out how to run the tides, and the windows when the fish would be biting.”
The largest bass of the day, a 4-3, was caught by Brandon Card of Caryville, Tenn., making him the frontrunner for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of up to $1,500.
Duckett leads the event’s competition for the Berkley Heavyweight award of $500 for the tournament’s largest bag of bass.
Philadelphia native son Iaconelli produced a limit of bass that weighed 9-2. It was good for 21st place. Now living in Pittsgrove, N.J., the Elite pro received a resounding vote of confidence from the crowd: “Ike, Ike, Ike, Ike,” they chanted.
Another hometown notable took the stage Thursday: Mayor Michael Nutter made an appearance to welcome the Elite Series to Philadelphia.
The full field will return to the river Friday for the second round. They’ll take off from the Frankford Arsenal Boat Launch (5701 Tacony St.) at 6:15 a.m., then weigh their catches on stage at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing (211 S. Columbus Blvd.) beginning at 3:15 p.m.
Fans are invited to watch the takeoff and weigh-ins all week through Sunday. There’s no admission charge to attend.
Other free Bassmaster activities at Penn’s Landing include boat rides Friday, Saturday and Sunday in new Nitro, Triton and Skeeter rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines. Fans can sign up for the demo rides at the Nitro, Triton and Yamaha booths.
The Bassmaster Elite Expo, which features local exhibits as well as those of Elite Series sponsors, will open Saturday at noon, and again at noon on Sunday. Free Expo activities include the screening of the newest Costa GeoBASS film on Saturday preceding the weigh-in.
The hosts of the event are Philadelphia Sports Congress, Visit Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic Youth Anglers & Outdoors Program. The local media partners are 6ABC TV and 92.5 XTU radio.
The Delaware River event will be featured on The Bassmasters on ESPN2 on Aug. 24 and 31 from 8 to 9 a.m. ET.