EVANS, Ga. — Pete Ponds is thinking of what could have been, and what might happen on Clarks Hill Lake in the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon.
Before Ponds, of Madison, Miss., left for the Amistad and the Western Swing, a friend from Jackson, Miss., gave him a special bait that he hadn't tied on until this week. After what he described as an average practice, Ponds caught 21 pounds, 1 ounce with his new favorite bait on Thursday and sits in second place.
"I've only got one, so I am using 20-pound Vicious line because I don't want to lose the lure," Ponds said. "Maybe I'm back on the right track again."
Ponds was one of four anglers that caught more than 20 pounds on Day One, which is better than the anglers had predicted. There were a plethora of limits but, as it is in Pond's case, the difference between the top 5 and 50th place isn't as much the technique as it is the lure.
Casey Ashley, who grew up on Clarks Hill and is leading the tournament with 22-6, said he's not doing anything special with his technique, and gave up the skinny on his style without any reservations. Ashley said he's throwing a jig in the shallow water on points and he's covering a lot of water.
"I've seen a lot of guys fishing points, but they're not throwing what I'm throwing," Ashley said, putting the emphasis on his lure. "I can't tell you the difference just yet."
But there may be more to Ashley's edge than just a lure. He has had a nice start to his rookie season on the Elite Series — he's second in the Rookie of the Year standings behind Derek Remitz — and was a favorite coming in because of his local edge.
Most of the anglers are puzzled because the fish are post spawn, but the local bait fish, the blueback herring, haven't moved shallow enough to get a good top-water bite. Ashley said it's hard to confuse him on this lake.
"I'm just fishing the place they're coming to even though the bait fish haven't got there yet," Ashley said, pointing out that he knows what the fish will be doing on this lake no matter what the stage or the weather.
Mike McClelland, who sits in third with 20-9, has something going that's similar to Ashley's pattern. He said patience is the key to catch fish when they are between stages.
"The fish aren't quite up right now, but they're where they ought to be," McClelland said. "You just have to slow down and throw the right bait."
According to McClelland, he wasn't throwing the right bait in practice and his roommate Jeff Kriet concurred.
"He was whining that he couldn't find them, and I told him he'd probably catch double my weight," said Kriet, who weighed in with 9-15 and sits in 53rd. "And sure enough…"
But McClelland and the rest of the field might have trouble keeping up with Ashley, who seems confident enough to catch bass no matter where he is on the lake or what the conditions might throw his way.
"Hopefully, some of the spots I hit today will replenish, but if they don't, I've got plenty of places to go to," Ashley said. "They're not stacked in any one area. I could fish all new water tomorrow and catch them just as good."