EVANS, Ga. — Brent Chapman was fixing his tackle long before daylight on Day One of the Pride of Georgia on Clarks Hill Lake presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, and he noticed Steve Kennedy idling by.
"You going to catch 40 pounds today, Steve?" Chapman asked, referring to Kennedy's record breaking tournament on Clear Lake in the last Elite Series event.
"I hope I can catch a 4-pounder," Kennedy replied. "I'd be jumping up and down."
Everyone knew Clarks Hill Lake would be a far cry from the 10- and 12-pound bass they were catching in California, but what they didn't expect is that it would be a far cry from … Clarks Hill Lake.
"The fish are just in transition," said Skeet Reese, who is atop the Angler of the Year standings. He said the timing wasn't right for the top-water bite, which is what Davy Hite used to take the title on Clarks Hill in 2006.
"The lake truly lives by the bait fish called the blueback herring, and they are still out deep," he said. "So, the top-water bite is not real great like it was last year."
And as usual in these tournaments, when things get tough, anglers start to turn toward the locals to figure out the bite (see Pros Picks). Terry Scroggins spent an unusual amount of time on South Carolinian Casey Ashley's boat Thursday morning, and everybody was trying to get face time with local Jason Williamson at the Anglers Alley on Wednesday.
"It gives me some advantage [being local], but these fish aren't really committed to one thing right now," said Ashley, who grew up about 40 minutes from Clarks Hill and said he has been fishing it his entire life. "Most of them are post spawn but they haven't gone deep."
Williamson said he might have had an advantage if the conditions were right, but he puts himself in the same boat as everybody else at the moment — confused.
"The storm that blew in muddied up half the lake," Williamson said. "And with these guys being here at this time of the year for the last two years, I don't know that I have much of an advantage."
Ashley said he likes the way things are shaping up, but his confident words were lined with a little uneasiness. As Reese said, "The pressure's not on me. The pressure's on the local boys to catch them." But Ashley was optimistic.
"The fact that it's tough helps me a lot," he said. "There are a few places that have the bite right now, and I'm sure a lot of guys have found those places. It's just going to be a rat race to see who gets there first."
One guy who won't be entered in that race is Chapman. He said that he had a tough practice and is going to try and junk fish his way to a limit. But with that, he said you shouldn't listen to him or anybody else when they say their struggling.
"I've heard a lot of guys griping about how tough it is, but I've learned not to listen to all that," Chapman said. "These guys like to gripe a lot."
Ashley, who is currently second in the Rookie of the Year standings, made a rookie mistake on Friday by bringing a little positive to the party.
"Later on in the week as the water warms up, it's going to turn on big time," he said. "Once they move up, I know where the bluebacks go. It doesn't really matter if somebody is sitting on my spot because I've got 100 more."
But his efforts were quickly shot down by a seasoned veteran.
"This lake is about 1000 piece puzzle and right now, I've got about 10 pieces put together," Reese said. "If I can finish in the top-25 or top-30, I'll be tickled to death."