EVANS, Ga. — On a day when the fish were scarce and the limits few, James Lee just tried to follow the lead of the Bassmaster Elite Series angler who was fishing off the front of the boat.
Good thing he found a way to outstrip his pro on a tough first day of the Pride of Georgia presented by Evan Williams Bourbon. Lee wound up with a limit of 9 pounds, 15 ounces and a perch in third place, while his pro partner, Ken Cook, finished the day in 100th place on the pro side, pulling just four fish weighing 4-15 out of Clarks Hill Lake.
Joe Buddin's 11-9 bag barely led Mike Harris' 11-5 for the lead after Day One. Other than those top three, only eight other co-anglers managed to weigh five-fish limits.
Asked how Lee managed such a bag, he said "luck" while Cook, beside him, said "magic."
Lee, of Snellville, Ga., a part-owner of a house paint manufacturing company, said he didn't catch his big 3-8 fish until about a half-hour before the day's end.
"He had the mojo working," Cook said.
Not many anglers on either side of the tournament did Thursday. A day expected to feel at least a little rain instead featured high, blue skies that made finding fish even tougher than anglers expected. The post-spawn fish vexed many of the pros — you know it's a rough day when Kevin VanDam catches only four fish weighing less than 8 pounds — but the co-anglers really had a tough go. Sixty-one of the 107 co-anglers returned with two fish or fewer. More than a fifth of them caught no keepers.
Buddin, of nearby Sumpter, S.C., said that he has rarely seen the lake's conditions as demanding as they were Thursday, even though he fishes it at least once or twice a year.
"You go a long way, then get your bites all together," said the sporting goods store owner, who was fishing with Peter Thliveros. "They weren't eating real well. We missed a lot of fish."
Patrick Pierce turned in the heaviest three-fish bag of any co-angler on the heft of the 6-12 bass that was the day's biggest and which alone would have put him in 15th place.
"I was just trying to pick up the scraps behind Mike, who doesn't leave much," said the Jacksonville, Fla., angler who normally fishes opens but is "slumming it a little bit" to fish the co-angler side of the Pride of Georgia. The fish went around the boat a couple of times on the catch, and Wurm helped to bring the thing aboard.
"The only thing that worked for me was dragging a worm," said 11th-place Ed Rice, who outfished his pro, Kurt Dove. "It was tough. All day it was tough."
Rules prohibit co-anglers from divulging any information to the pros during their outing, but in the case of one local, 24th-place Bart Blackburn, he knew that he wouldn't have improved his partner's day in any case. His pro, Mike McClelland, weighed in five fish worth 20-9 and a position in third place heading into Day Two.
"He was dead on," Blackburn said. "He was on the exact right pattern he needed to be on. When you're with somebody of the caliber of fisherman he is, it doesn't leave much for you."