MONETA, Va. — When it's a tough day for the pros, you know it's gonna be an even tougher day for the co's.
Such was the case for the sun-beaten amateurs who cast from the rear halves of Elite Series anglers' boats Thursday and tried to clean up the scraps in clear, stingy Smith Mountain Lake at the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Only seven co-anglers boated five-fish limits, led by Simi Valley, Calif., native Tom Frink's 11-pound, 13-ounce bag. Just behind him are an 11-8 limit by Lance Peck of Tulsa, Okla., and the 10-12 bag by Steve Miller of Mechanicsville, Md.
Frink knows that he's a target. "I know that Lance Peck really wants some payback from last year at Santee Cooper," Frink said.
During that tournament, Frink edged out Peck and other competitors for the win. And after Day One at the Blue Ridge Brawl, Peck is breathing down Frink's neck once again.
The drop-off from those top few co-anglers was precipitous. The same 106 co-anglers who wet their lines Thursday will fish Friday, before a top-50 cut. Right now, that cut would stand at a miniscule 2-11 bag.
Still, with Boyd Duckett leading the pro side with more than 19 pounds Thursday, the co-anglers know the big fish are out there. With the skies as clear as the lake below it, this tournament could play out in a number of ways for everyone. Here's a view from some of the co-anglers who hung up their firefighters' uniforms, put up the keys to their tractor-trailers and came out of their workshops to tackle this summer tournament:
• Miller, in third, spent Thursday with BASS pro angler Jimmy Mize. "I'm just really enjoying myself out there," Miller said. "Jimmy and I talked about hunting all day so I never felt much pressure on me."
• Bobby Peaslee found the fishing good with Pro BASS angler Terry Scroggins, currently in 25th place. "We were running and gunning out there, having a lot of fun," Peaslee said after throwing plastics all day on the way to boating a dozen fish and finishing Day One in fourth.
• Robert Hudson, a co-angler from nearby Lynchburg, Va., found the jig his tool of choice on Day One. With a strong 9-12 showing, Hudson was pleased with his first day's sixth-place result. He was even happier with how the lake was fishing. "I won the boat here at this lake last October," said Hudson. "I'd rather it be cold but I'll take it hot, right now."
• Eulon Lee Jr., from Montgomery, Ala., felt his BASS pro was putting the pair on the fish throughout the day. "It was one here, then one over there. We found the fish where we were going, early," said Lee, who sits in 13th place.
• Jimmy Swindell, another Alabaman co-angler, boated a healthy 5-8 fish on Thursday. "I caught him on a green ZOOM finesse worm working a Carolina rig," Swindell said. "I just enjoyed being out there with Bernie Shultz." Swindell currently sits in 15th place with 6-14.
Those were the haves, outnumbered by the have-nots. Three-quarters of the co-anglers caught two or fewer fish. Thirty-one didn't catch a single bass.
All the more agonizing is knowing that happy, hearty bass are everywhere in Smith Mountain Lake. Having grown up on this lake, Douglas Eubank of Moneta believes that the anglers are seeing healthier fish as a result of a striper decline a couple years ago.
"Those stripers got sick and their numbers came down," Eubank said. "And the bass just got bigger and bigger on those shad. Now, you can really fish a pattern on this lake."
Eubank caught one fish weighing 1-7.