GREENVILLE, S.C. — The leader after the first day of the Bassmaster Classic, only the biggest fishing tournament in the universe, is some dude named Charlie Hartley.
Surely the only angler on the Elite Series who skateboards daily, Hartley sacked 21 pounds, 1 ounce Friday on Lake Hartwell to take a 4-ounce lead over Scott Rook and 14-ounce lead over Kevin VanDam.
That would be 12-time BASS winner Kevin VanDam, who has won two Classics among the 17 he has fished.
The 43-year-old Hartley, by contrast, is fishing his first Classic and has won precisely zero BASS tournaments. The Grove City, Ohio, angler finished 79th in the
Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and had to qualify for the Classic by winning the points race in the Southern Opens.
A self-described fishing "addict," Hartley said he would have fished the Opens even if he didn't need them to qualify for the Classic. "If I'm going to be on the water anyway," he said, "there might as well be some money on the line."
Now there's $500,000 on the line, and on a day when 17 of the 50 anglers weighed in less than 10 pounds of bass — including four anglers with a previous Classic victory or Angler of the Year title — the 20-pound sacks were all the more impressive.
For many anglers, especially those who targeted docks and structure in shallow water, the near-freezing, rainy day was nasty, brutish and long. Reigning Classic champ Boyd Duckett landed only two of the six bites he got all day. Former Angler of the Year Timmy Horton brought only one bass weighing 3-9 to the scale.
Reigning Angler of the Year Skeet Reese checked in only three fish weighing 11-5, and didn't get his first bite until noon. "I guess that cold rain hurt 'em a whole lot more than I thought I did," he said.
Reports from the anglers varied, but some said water temperatures in their chosen spots dropped as much as 8 degrees. Many said they managed only five or six bites
Some of those who adapted survived. When Jared Lintner, for example, realized that his hoped-for pattern was doomed, he went junk fishing and caught his 13-2, five-fish limit on five totally different baits.
"What am I going to do?" Lintner said. "I didn't learn anything today. I guess I'll just retie and go fishing."
Others recovered from a baffling morning. Fourth-place Terry Scroggins (19-3) didn't catch a fish until 10:30, when he scrapped everything he'd been doing in practice and improvised a pattern that carried him through the day. "Once I got it going, it was easy to see what I needed to do," he said. "Things are looking pretty good."
Rook arrived at his morning spot, realized he was chum and went hunting for water of at least 48 degrees. "I made an adjustment, and I worked," he allowed. "I think the weather made 'em bite pretty good, especially in clear water."
Rook moved plenty, at no time faster than when he outraced a recreational angler who was following him from hole to hole. With the pitfalls of spectator traffic looming, Rook was asked whether it would be better to lead on Day One or be in second place.
"Shoot," he said, "I want to be in first place every day. Especially Sunday."
Anglers such as VanDam, Mike Iaconelli (8th, 18-5) and Casey Ashley (t-5th, 18-10) worked deeper water for fewer bites, but heavier fish.
VanDam estimated that with top-end weights so high, anglers with less than 15 pounds were eliminated from realistic title contention. That leaves only the top 15 anglers in the scattered field.
"You see a lot of 20s today," Iaconelli said. "But — three-day tournament. You know what I mean?"