COLUMBUS, Miss. — The weather is playing havoc with the bass of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, and that spells trouble for the anglers fishing the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Busch Beer.
Except for Greg Hackney.
"This is one of the best days," he said, smiling hugely as he headed for his boat and preparations for round two. "Today I had, like, 15 bites. I just kept culling through them. I was just hunting one big bass."
So, on a day when just 24 of the 370 anglers managed to put a five-bass limit in their boats for the ride to Columbus Marina, Hackney pulled in 14 pounds and an ounce to lead the struggling field.
Hackney, the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Rookie of the Year who nearly became the CITGO Bassmaster Tour's season points champion, too, just can't stop succeeding, even though he's already locked in for a berth in the 2005 Tour and earned major bonuses for his Rookie of the Year award and his high finish in the season points.
"It may be confidence," he said. "I'm fishing with a lot of confidence. I'm fishing like I'm not qualified for anything. I'm fishing all out.
"I was sitting idle at home for too long. I just really enjoy the Opens because they're in the fall. They are really laid-back tournaments."
Hackney is 3 pounds, 7 ounces ahead of Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn., who brought in 10-10 for second place going into the second of the tournament's three days. Horton caught them on a Zoom finesse worm in green pumpkin, using a Spot Remover jig that makes the worm stand upright in the water.
Although most anglers guard their secrets until the final weigh-in, Horton was more than willing to talk.
"Nobody in this tournament has a Spot Remover," he said. "It's just something really simple and unique."
During his first outing on the Tenn-Tom, Horton hopes for a strong finish that will place him high in the season point standings. If his cumulative points put him in the top 15 after the series finale, he will earn a berth on the Tour. But his real goal is a crack at the Classic berths that will be awarded to the top five anglers in Decembers CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship.
"I made the Bassmaster Classic three years ago and I'd like to make it again," he said. "If I can make it by this one, I can do really well on Eufaula and Okeechobee."
The event on the Tenn-Tom was originally scheduled to be the second of three Southern Opens, but Hurricane Ivan forced tournament officials to reschedule the season opener on Alabama's Lake Eufaula for late October, flip-flopping the order of the first two events. The series finale will be on Florida's Lake Okeechobeee.
Open series newcomer Steve Naas of Florida rounded out the boaters' top three with 10-3, followed by Alabama's Coby Carden (10-1) and Arkansas' Stephen Browning (9-9). The non-boaters top five included North Carolina's Terry Chapman (7-9); Alabama's Bill Logsdon (7-6); Alabama's Walter Stringer (7-5); Jeff Graham of Georgia (7-2); and Kentucky's Mike Pickett (6-12).
Walter Swofford of Winter Garden, Fla., took home the Purolator Big Bass of the Day on the boater side with a 5-4 bass, but non-boater John Hudzinski of Rockford, Ill., earned the non-boaters $400 Purolator Big Bass award and set the benchmark for the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament. If no one boats a larger fish, Hudzinski will take home a $1,000 bonus from Purolator.
Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. and the launch will be at 6:45 a.m. at Columbus Marina. Both are free to the public.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Northern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Toyota, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Local Sponsors include Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau.