LEWISVILLE, Texas -- Mark Tyler doesn't think he can win the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open ... but he's pretty sure about the third. For Open winners to maintain Classic qualifying status, they must fish all three Opens within the division. Tyler, off the Elite Series for the first time in a decade, has his eye on the berth.
"I'm going to win on the Arkansas River, so I have to fish all the Opens," he said. "I feel I can fish my way back to the Classic." Like so many others, the angler originally from California but now residing in Van, Okla., is having issues with Lake Lewisville. Tyler caught three fish Thursday for 6 pounds, 5 ounces and stands in 36th. "To have the start I have, I'm pleased," he said. "It's difficult to figure out when the fishing is so tough. You need bites to be able to figure this out. It's a grind."
In his 10 years fishing the top bass circuit, Tyler made one Classic and had 12 top 10 finishes. He earned over $404,891, which included a victory in California Western Open in 2003. Tyler said it was brilliant of B.A.S.S. to put a Classic berth on the line, making Opens more important, but he added why not add a few more Classic spots. "Who cares if it's 65 guys, it's the prestige these guys and their sponsors are seeking," Tyler said. At 38, Tyler decided in November that he wouldn't continue on the Elites, but still has his eye on the biggest fishing prize. "I'm going to win an Open."
California Delta. April 15, 1999. Noon. 14 pounds, 9 ounces. Mark Tyler remembers it well. It was the day he caught the biggest fish ever weighed in B.A.S.S. competition. He was on the California Delta out of Stockton, and had "one guppy in the livewell." In those days, two pros competed on the same boat and split time on the front and back decks. He offered to relinquish the trolling motor reins but his partner that day had trust in him and allowed him to keep control. "OK, let's go back to this spot we had tried three times," Tyler said. "I was flipping a quarter-ounce black jig." He reeled in a 9 ½-pounder. "I started shaking, fish that big are difference-makers," he said. "Then on the next flip, wham. I went from having one 12-incher to over 24 pounds in two flips. It just shows how your fortunes can change. That's why you keep slinging."
Terry Drace, who worked for Bassmaster Magazine in the early 1970s, just had to say hello to 1974 Classic champion Tommy Martin. Drace lives in The Colony on Lake Lewisville, and wearing a jacket covered in various B.A.S.S. patches gathered through the years, wanted to visit with someone he remembered well -- and who remembered him -- from the first days of the Bass Anglers' Sportsman Society. "Tommy always had a good reputation at B.A.S.S. tournaments," Drace said. "He was always a straight guy. He's a gentleman ... most of them are all gone."
Around for the prehistoric days of bass tournaments, he said he put a bug in Ray Scott's ear that turned into the Bass Research Foundation, which began the conservation of fish. "There would be anglers dragging 15 fish across the parking lot ... I told him you're killing yourself out of a business," Drace said. Drace said that when Scott realized the folly, Scott turned it around to his benefit, getting businesses to put in funds to try to return all the fish to the water alive. Drace pointed out the Bass Research Foundation patch on his back. "Ray Scott was the best businessman," he said.
Local angler Billy Cline enjoyed his Day 1, especially after catching 16-5 and being only 5 ounces out of first place. "I've done pretty good here before," he said, noting a victory in a B.A.S.S. Weekend Series event here. Cline wouldn't give up any tips for the visiting anglers other than he was "chucking line." "I tried for the record for the most casts I've made in one day," he said. "The best area today was new. I just stumbled on it. Found some in practice but this just had more quality fish."
Day 1 started off wet, with rain drizzling at launch then picking up into showers until mid-morning, when the weather calmed and bright skies shone through. Shortly after, though, the wind began blowing and by weigh-in was a constant 20 mph, gusting to 30.
"Bluebird skies is one of the worst things that can happen for this lake," said Brian Clark, who's fished it for more than 20 years. Being on his home lake didn't help, however, as he managed one fish that went 2-8. "It was really tough," he said. "I only got two bites today, but it's been cold and the lake has been low. When that happens, they get gone in a hurry. It's like they read the textbook and got out of town."
Back to Venice
Jeff Kriet, fresh from the Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, described Day 1 as the "worst tournament day of my life." The Ardmore, Okla., pro said that his areas looked like the scene at takeout; tons of boats piled on top of one another. He managed only two fish for 4 pounds, 3 ounces, and stands in 56th place. "I need to run back to Venice (La.) to do any good here, I think," he joked of his spot that earned him 21st in the Classic. "If I only got 10 flips in, it'd be worth it."
Kriet is one of 10 Elite Series pros in the field. Most are looking to take some pressure off their Elite seasons by grabbing an Open win and the Classic berth for 2012, which most think will put them way ahead of the game. Kriet said that would allow him to take chances in the Elite season, go for victories and not stress so much about points.
Elite Series pro Chad Griffin had a slow practice, only registering three fish on his final day. But, one was a whopper. "I caught the lake record spot during practice; I know it," he said. "I thought it was a hybrid, so I was playing around with it, then it shot up and I saw it was a huge spot. "I got it in the boat, and it weighed 5-2. I was close to calling the TPWD and getting it confirmed, but I threw it back. A buddy later told me that the record is only about 3 1/2 pounds."
Heroes to zeroes
There were 46 anglers on the pro side who did not weigh a fish. That included Elite Series anglers Stephen Browning and Todd Faircloth, both of whom had a fast turnaround and little practice after fishing in the last weekend's Classic.