PRATTVILLE, Ala. — Many of the 90 anglers entered in the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship figured a 20-pound stringer would be sufficient to survive the two-day cut.
Mike McClelland almost reached that total Thursday in the first day of action here on the Alabama River.
The Arkansas pro landed five bass for a one-day total of 17 pounds, 12 ounces. His haul gave him a sizable three-pound lead over Texas angler Matt Reed and a solid step toward a top-five finish that would earn McClelland one of the five remaining spots up for grabs in the 2006 Bassmaster Classic.
McClelland pulled his limit from the main artery of the Alabama River system on a morning that offered slate-gray skies and temperatures that reached as low as 35 degrees and steadily hovered in the mid 50s. All this after a two-and-a-half hour delay to the start because of fog.
Oddly enough, McClelland caught some of his nicest fish after he inadvertently passed up by 50 yards the initial spot he planned to fish. The production came in current using a War Eagle spinnerbait with a Colorado blade outfitted with red kicker blades — a lure he often uses on river systems.
"When I realized (I had passed up my spot), I thought, 'Well, I'll just go down current which I very seldom do and throw a spinnerbait until I get to the good stuff and then turn around and start fishing my way back up.'"
After that backup plan proved successful, McClelland began flipping jigs in a different area and found similar results.
"I probably caught my second biggest fish doing that," McClelland said. "They were all right in one specific area, probably 25 yards long. I caught three of my better fish on one little piece of wood in the river."
Reed, who landed five fish totaling 14-12, was pleased with his results, considering the adverse weather conditions each of the anglers faced. He said he used a variety of spinners and crank baits to battle changes in the water levels and currents.
"I'm tickled to death," Reed said. "I only caught five fish today and I've been getting only five or six bites a day at most. But I've been catching some quality fish. I think I had six bites today. If I can get a bite, I seem to be getting some quality fish."
Reed said the fog delay disallowed him from reaching some of the spots he had pegged for the opening day of angling.
"That fog drove me nuts," Reed said. "I ran for over two hours today. I made three stops – caught two fish the first stop, two the second stop and one on the last. So I didn't fish a full four hours."
Arkansas' Doug Garrett is in third place after the first day with a five-fish weight of 13-3. He figured 10 pounds a day for the first two days will give him a chance to make the cut when the field is whittled to 10 anglers tomorrow afternoon.
Garrett landed the biggest bass of the day — a 7 pound, 12 ounce lunker.
"After I caught that big fish, I got a little conservative," Garrett said. "I was going to double back and hit some of my other spots…because it's a timing deal. But I decided to leave them alone. I had a good enough bag for this day."
Arizona's John Murray (12-7) is in fourth place with Virginia's Rick Morris (12-0) in fifth.
Four anglers in the field (Terry Scroggins, Scott Rook, Jeff Kriet and Gary Klein) entered the Open Championship already having secured berths in the Classic. Scoggins leads those anglers with a 10-pound, 4-ounce total that has him in seventh place. A top-five finish by either of the four anglers would open the door for past Classic champion Takahiro Omori to return to the 2006 Classic which will be held in Orlando in February.
Omori ended the first day at the Open Championship with a five-fish total of 5-4 — putting him in a tie for 36th place.
The second day of fishing is scheduled to begin Friday at 6:15 a.m. Weigh in will begin at 2:30 p.m. — Andrew Canulette
Non-boater: You gotta have faith
You've got to have faith. Or so they say. But what do they know anyway?
Bill Beekman came into the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship in Prattsville, Alabama with about as much faith in himself as management has in a multi-year Terrell Owens contract. In fact, he had one of the worst practice days of his bass fishing career on the Alabama River.
"We went out Tuesday and practice was absolutely horrible," said Beekman. "I think all day long I caught a total of two fish and the biggest one was maybe 10 inches long. To be honest, going into today I didn't have much faith at all."
Not a total shock from someone who is from the East End of Long Island, New York and had never fished on the Alabama River before. What is a shock though, is that after traveling 18 hours to get to Prattsville and a couple of bad days of practice, Bill Beekman leads the non-boater division of the Open Championship with a day one stringer of 9 pounds, 9 ounces.
"We started off quickly," stated Beekman. "Dave (Wharton) threw his line in the water and then I threw mine, a few seconds later he had a bite and then a few seconds after that I did too. First cast double hook-up."
Beekman was paired with David Wharton out of Texas who currently sits in 13th place in the boater division of the Open Championship with 9 pounds, 10 ounces. Almost the exact same weight as Beekman.
The non-boater leader will be paired with Michael Johnson during the second day of competition. Johnson is currently in 27th place in the boater side of the standings. Beekman assumes that he will need at least 10 pounds to retain the lead after tomorrow's weigh-in.
Jack Farage from California holds down second place with 8 pounds, 10 ounces, with Stanley Chandler out of Florida close behind in third place with 8 pounds, 7 ounces. In the number four position is John Pate from Alabama with 7 pounds even and rounding out the top 5 is Rommel Bagay from California with 6 pounds, 15 ounces. — Scott Cooley
Alabama Power dictates outcome
There's an old saying around the Alabama River: "The tournament goes as Alabama Power goes."
To the outsider that may not mean much, but to the 90 professional anglers in the Bassmaster Open Championship, no words have ever rung truer.
In simple terms it means catch rates and patterns will more likely be dictated by what Alabama Power does with the water levels on the river, rather than the particular mood of the fish these anglers are fishing for.
"Current is everything on this river, at least to me,'' said Doug Garrett of Arkansas who is in third place after day one of the tournament. "Without it I don't catch these fish."
The same sentiments were reinforced throughout the top of the standings. Including by Mike McClelland, who leads the event with 17 pounds, 12 ounces. All of his fish were caught on the main river and each of them was related to a current break or eddy in some way.
"The current is what puts them in a position to be caught,'' McClelland said. "After you figure out where they are in relation to those breaks and eddies it can be pretty easy."
The tough part though is when it comes to current on the Alabama River, there's another old saying that can come into play: "Live by the sword, die by the sword."
The sword in this case is the current. And its presence is not dictated by Mother Nature. It's ruled entirely by the wants and needs of the Alabama Power Company.
"Alabama Power is notorious for running water on the north end of the pool during the evening to fill it up and then start running water on the south end to drop it the next day,'' said Trip Weldon, Bassmaster Tournament Director, who has fished the river most of his life. "We've had a lot of rain, and now it's cold so every morning when everybody wakes up and starts turning up the heat in their homes, all those power strips get going and they have to turn the water on to generate electricity."
In those terms, it would seem like an angler would almost beg for a cold front just so those not fishing and wanting to stay warm at home would create more current on the river for all those cold anglers. But it hasn't gotten that desperate yet, at least at the top of the leader board.
The reality of it is, though, what Alabama Power does in the next few days by generating electricity along the Alabama River will impact the outcome of this event. And it's anybody's guess on what that might be.
Garrett reported fishing in one area during the course of the event on day one where the water dropped more than 2 feet in less than an hour.
"It kind of took me by surprise,'' he said.
Alabama Power does offer a generation schedule for anglers savvy enough to call their pre-recorded message. For Friday, the schedule will be to run two generators pushing water down river at more than 17,000 cubic feet per second. The only problem, they'll do it from 5 a.m. to noon, unless of course they change their mind. — Steve Bowman
For those who couldn't see the action on the water today, the Open Championship will air on ESPN2 on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006, at 10 a.m. EST.
Daily weigh-ins at Cooters Pond Park are free to the public. Weigh-ins begin at 3:30 EST and BASS founder Ray Scott, who was at the tournament today, will lend a hand at the weigh-ins over the weekend.