RUSSELLVILLE. Ark. — When you get around Ryan Lavigne, the Day One leader of the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, you know he is all about family.
When he left the stage after weighing in 17 pounds, 1 ounce, he went straight to his 3-month-old daughter, Lilly. She was fussy, and no matter how many family members had come to Lake Dardanelle to support Lavigne, no one could comfort Lilly like her dad could.
Lavigne fishes with and against his first cousin, Jamie Laiche, all the time. Laiche has made it to this same championship several times before, and he’s made it to the Classic.
Lavigne grew up fishing with his dad, who is among those in the crowd at the championship rooting for his son, and Lavigne gives all the credit from his good performance to his dad.
But where you can most see Lavigne’s commitment to family is in his dedication to his 6-year-old cousin, Tucker Townsend. Townsend has mitochondrial disorder, a disease that eats away at his cells and has caused many developmental problems for the child.
To support Townsend, Lavigne founded and serves as the tournament director for a benefit called Fishing for Tucker, which, in the three years since its inception, has raised nearly $55,000 for Townsend’s health care.
“This is something I do with my family to support him,” said Lavigne. “He’s been gaining leaps and bounds in the last two years or so. It’s very important to us.”
Lavigne, surrounded by his family — as well as friends who drove hours to be by his side — took a commanding Day One lead on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle.
Lavigne’s limit of 17-1 was anchored by a 5-1 bass that he caught around 10 a.m. He’s hoping to find another one like that on Day Two.
“I couldn’t find a good group of fish,” said Lavigne. “The last two days of practice have been hard. Today, when I fished a couple of the spots where I got bites in practice, I didn’t get bit. But I stayed off a lot of what I fished in practice,” he said, because he’s saving them for the next two days.
“This lake is changing,” said Lavigne, referencing the really cold snap forecast for before the start of Day Two. “I’m not that worried, though. I think the fish will hold up.”
Lavigne said it means so much to have made it to this point. “I probably fish in the one of the most competitive bass clubs in Louisiana, the Ascension Area Anglers. To qualify from that club is really difficult.”
Moving on to the Bassmaster Classic from here would be life-changing.
“Knowing where I started, it would be everything,” said Lavigne. “It would mean the world.”
Lavigne’s 5-1 bass was nearly the biggest bass of the day — that is, until Drew Sadler came up to the stage at the end of the weigh-in with a 6-1. Sadler, a member of the Bluegrass Bassmasters in Kentucky, won daily Carhartt Big Bass honors Thursday and the $250 prize that goes with it. If his fish holds up through the rest of the tournament, he’ll also take home $500 from Carhartt for the big bass.
Sadler sits in fourth place overall and is currently leading the Southern Division. Lavigne leads the Central Division. Each angler who leads one of the six divisions after the final weigh-in on Saturday earns a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
Other division leaders at the end of Day One are Laurence Hogue, Eastern; Jeff Lugar, Mid-Atlantic; Stan Dodson, Northern; and Tim Johnston, Western.
On stage, many competitors lamented the 14-inch length limit on bass. In fact, Mike Moran of Pennsylvania said he caught 50 fish Thursday, but only the five he kept were long enough to meet the requirement. Jesse Milicevic of Nevada had the same thing happen: “I caught plenty of 13 1/2-inch fish!” And Joe Cole of Wyoming estimated he caught 20 between 12 and 13 inches.
Whereas the length requirement will remain the same for Day Two, the weather will not. With a near freeze expected overnight, Day Two could produce very different numbers for anglers — in quantity and quality. Some anglers will perform better, and others who did well on Day One may drop off the top of the leaderboard on Day Two.
Competitors will meet again Friday at 7:15 a.m. CT at Lake Dardanelle State Park for launch, and they’ll weigh in at the same place as launch at 3:30 p.m. CT. Stay tuned to Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the event.