GROVE, Okla. — A quick glance at the leaderboard of the Elite Series Sooner Run presented by Longhorn Tobacco shows 13 anglers crowded at the top, within four pounds of Kevin VanDam's 21-pound, 11-ounce Thursday first-place total.But that pales in comparison to the crowd at "the cut." After today, the 116 pro angler field on Grand Lake will be cut to the top 50 for Saturday's competition. Seventeen anglers are bunched at the 14-pound mark - from Gary Klein, Preston Clark and Bill Lowen, all in 37th place with 14-11, to Ken Brodeur and Bradley Hallman, both in 52nd place with 14-1.Ounces rather than pounds will make the difference in getting a check for 50th place and above, plus a chance to fish Saturday, and 51st place and below, no check to offset the $5,000 entry fee, plus an early ticket home.
Anglers are likely to lose money in their boat livewells. Last year's Sooner Run champion, Mike McClelland, lost $1,000 in his livewell Thursday. McClelland's 11th-place first-day weight of 17-15 included a big bass that weighed 5-13. McClelland was slightly stunned when he came off the weigh-in stand, thinking that bass had weighed at least six pounds. Aaron Martens took the $1,000 big bass check Thursday with a 5-14.McClelland's fish undoubtedly weighed over six pounds when he caught it, before it regurgitated a foot-long gizzard shad in the livewell.
"It was unbelievable how big that gizzard shad was," said McClelland. "I bet it was closer to 13 or 14 inches long."
When McClelland won last year, he noted the importance of gizzard shad in the areas where he caught big bass. It's a Grand Lake trait.That's the key to catching the good ones," said the 39-year-old Bella Vista, Ark., resident. "There's always some smaller fish around the threadfin and smaller gizzard shad. But when those big gizzard shad start showing up on these points, something big is going to happen."Early in the week, during practice, with the lake higher and muddier, McClelland didn't see any signs that bass were chasing schools of big gizzard shad. But he started seeing it Thursday.
Friday the anglers took off at 5:50 a.m. under mostly clear skies, with a few high, scattered clouds, much like the day before. High temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees on this second official day of summer.
Bass fishing legend Bob Cobb will be a special guest on ESPNOutdoors.com's exclusive live pre-game show Hooked Up. Cobb will be a part of the 3 p.m. ET live update on Sunday and will sit in with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona an hour later for the live Hooked Up show at 4 p.m. ET.Cobb is an icon in the sport and helped start both the Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster Television show. He is also an Oklahoma native who is familiar with Grand Lake.
Cobb's debut at 3 p.m. will be during the third live update of the action on the water on Sunday. There will also be live updates at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m ET.
"The water is clearing up enough that you are starting to see (bass) chase bait around on these points more and more, even outside the willow trees," McClelland said. "When I caught my two big ones (Thursday) there were big gizzard shad on the points. The biggest key to this lake is being around the big gizzard shad schools."
And while the big bass are chasing gizzard shad, VanDam, a three-time BASS Angler of the Year, may be making a move that will leave the other Bassmaster Elite Series pros chasing him the rest of the season for this year's Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title.VanDam entered this tournament second in the AOY standings, with 1,460 points to leader Skeet Reese's total of 1,573. But Reese was in 49th place Thursday, with the Elite Series tour headed to New York's prime smallmouth bass waters for the month of July. It's the equivalent of a high fastball thrown in the "wheel house" of a baseball slugger."You can't win Angler of the Year finishing in the 30s," said VanDam, who is coming off a 39th-place finish two weeks ago at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake. "You've got to have top 10s and wins.
"I knew going into this that I had to have a real good tournament here. The next few tournaments are what I've really been looking forward to all season. We're going to be in Buffalo (Lake Erie), Oneida (Lake) and (Lake) Champlain where there are a lot of smallmouth bass. That's what I love to do. I'm really looking forward to that stretch."
What happens today on Oklahoma's Grand Lake could have a lot to do with how far the rest of the field has to chase VanDam for the 2007 Angler of the Year title.The weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. at Grand Lake's North Beach Development.
Editor's note: ESPNOutdoors.com invited the University of Oklahoma bass fishing team to join coverage of the Sooner Run. The collegiate anglers will post a regular blog and appear on Hooked Up, the live Internet shows that air at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET on Sunday in advance of the live weigh-in. Bob Cobb, creator of Bassmaster Magazine and Bassmaster television, will be the special guest on Hooked Up.
Daily live weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard will be at 4 p.m. ET. Please feel free to post comments to this blog via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.