COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — The first four stops on this year's CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series often produced enormous bags of fish, some of them record breaking.
The field came back to earth on Thursday, however, during the opening round of the Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance on Clarks Hill Lake. Five of the 104 competing anglers were able to break the 20-pound mark and only 16 pros could muster better than 15 pounds.
But that could change Friday.
Thunderstorms swept across northeast Georgia late Thursday and brought with them the cloud cover needed to ignite the post-spawn bite. Skies are expected to be partly cloudy throughout the day Friday with more rain predicted this evening. That forecast has the Elite anglers thinking conditions should be conducive to a better catch compared to Thursday's dead calm and sunny weather.
Kenyon Hill holds the lead heading into the second day of fishing. The Oklahoma pro caught a five-fish limit that weighed 21 pounds, 13 ounces. Trailing Hill are Steve Daniel (21-9), Kevin Wirth (20-10), Jason Quinn (20-9) and Davy Hite (20-1).
That quintet has an early lead on the remaining anglers, but guys not too far behind know if the weather is as forecasted, they can certainly move up the leaderboard or at least survive today's cut to 50.
"I've got to go out and at least catch a limit," said Greg Gutierrez, who is in 23rd place with 13 pounds, 11 ounces. "I caught all my fish in one spot. I'm hoping it survived enough to do it again. The key is getting my bites early. If that happens, then I can run around and start looking for bigger bites."
Gutierrez caught some of Thursday's keepers on topwater lures, but also targeted some bass he saw on beds.
"I was throwing down baits early, early when it was dark, and then moved to topwater when the sun came up," he said. "That's sort of opposite of what would normally be done, but it was what worked for me."
Gutierrez said early cloud cover Thursday helped produce four quick bites, but the bite became more difficult when the sun was overhead. He said he'll go to the same spot Friday, but may have to change his game plan if he is to gain ground on Hill and company.
"What I understand now is they're dropping the lake," he said. "So all those shallow bed fish I saw are pulling off. I'm going to have to make some adjustments. I'll just back off and fish some deeper stuff and probably fish the island tops, stuff like that."
Peter Thliveros is another angler within striking distance of the leaders. He enters Friday's action in 29th place with 13 pounds, 1 ounce, but he wasn't so sure the change in weather is going to be as big a factor as some other anglers believe.
"I don't know, I think it will be about the same really," Thliveros said. "I don't see anything very much different. The cloud cover may help some. It's hard to say."
Thliveros is one of many competing anglers who said timing is very important on this body of water.
"There are certain areas where you know they're going to be," he said. "It just depends on whether you're there when they decide to feed or a school of those herring moves up. So it's a timing issue. You can probably handpick 20 or 30 places and run back and forth between them and catch fish all day."
Zell Rowland is one of four anglers tied for 51st place (11-2) and is squarely on the bubble. He's hoping to make a push into the top 50 and said the key to doing that is constant movement on Clarks Hill Lake.
"It's really tough," Rowland said. "For us to catch them right now afer the spawn, it's 'How many places can you fish in a day'? My life jacket never comes off and I hop from one point to the next. I'll probably fish 100 points in a day. You know where to look for the fish, but they're just not everywhere.
Chris Lane was one of the anglers who struggled Thursday, managing to catch three bass that weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces. He came upon some quality fish later in the day, however, and hopes to get them to bite Friday.
"I think if I catch 17 to 18 pounds, I'll be in good shape," Lane said. "But I'm shooting to make the top 12. I can do it, I know I can. So I want to catch me 22 or 23 pounds real quick. If you can put that in the well in the morning, then you're in good shape. Then you come out and do it the next day. There are so many fish and they're so balled up. Really, it takes five casts and it's boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You're done. It's just the right bait and the right casts."
Weigh-in is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Wildwood Park.