MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Bassmaster Elite Series pros could have given themselves sore throats Thursday if they’d hollered every time they hooked into an Alabama River spotted bass.
Among them was John Murray. Spot-on his game, the pro from Phoenix, Ariz., brought in five spotted bass that weighed 18 pounds, 9 ounces. It was enough for the first-day lead by 5 ounces in the May 9-12 Alabama River Charge presented by Star brite out of Montgomery, Ala.
He has his challengers lined up for the remaining three days of competition. The first and sixth anglers on the leaderboard were separated by only 13 ounces.
Two anglers tied for second place at 18-4, both with limits of spotted bass: Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., and Jason Williamson of Aiken, S.C.
In fourth was Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., with five bass that went 17-15. Fifth was Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. His weight was also 17-15, but with four bass that did not survive because his livewell wasn’t on, he slid one spot below Lane.
Sixth place was taken by reigning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Ka., with 17-12.
Every pro but ten in the 100-angler field brought a limit to the scales to make the Charge’s first day a showcase for the Alabama River’s healthy and aggressive population of bass. Several pros reported catching 25 to 50 spotted bass and repeatedly culling.
Murray was below average in that one way. He said he boated about 15 spots Thursday.
He started the day with two game plans, but the sun eliminated one. The second plan panned out well. He had a strong limit at 9 a.m., then culled until noon.
“I had to work hard for them. I was fishing a little deeper than most guys, I think, and I caught them early, caught them good and then backed off them early,” Murray said. “Hopefully there’s five left for tomorrow.”
One factor was crucial to success on the river.
“Current is everything,” he said.
Williamson said he caught “at least 50” spotted bass Thursday. He had to weed through them for his 18-4.
“They’re small, and you have to grind on them and hope you get three or four of the better bites,” he said.
Elias caught about 15 spots out of about 10 places to end up with his 18-4. The largest, he said, was about 3-14.
He’s also counting on current.
“It’s night and day difference,” he said. “Without current, it’s over for me.”
Largemouth bass showed up, too, in several anglers’ bags. Kelly Jordon of Palestine, Texas, weighed the largest bass of the day, a 6-4 bigmouth, to lead the Carhartt Big Bass competition for a $1,000 bonus plus $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt apparel at the time of the catch.
The Alabama River Charge presented by Star brite continues Friday, when the full field of 100 will return to the river. Each is striving to make the Top 50 cut to move on to Saturday’s third round. Only the Top 12 after Saturday will compete Sunday for the $100,000 first prize plus a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
All Elite pros are earning points toward a Classic qualification and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Because the Charge is the fifth of eight regular-season Elite events, the AOY race is heating up. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., seeking his first AOY title, led the points race going into the Charge. Seven-time AOY Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., was six points behind him. The 2007 AOY, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., was third, trailing Evers by 14 points.
Reese and VanDam are reliving the AOY races of 2009 and 2010. Reese almost had both of those titles to add to his of 2007, but VanDam took them in the 11th hour — on the Alabama River during the postseason. With the postseason no longer determining the AOY winner, there are four events remaining in 2013 — including the Charge — for Reese and VanDam to settle old scores.
At fifth place, Evers fared the best on the opening day of the Charge. Reese was 26th with 15-4. VanDam was 53rd with 12-7.
“The current slowed down a little bit in the area I have,” VanDam said. “I expect to do a lot better tomorrow.”
Fans are invited to watch how the Charge and AOY race play out this week. Anglers will take off at 6:30 a.m. CT at Cooter’s Pond Boat Ramp (1844 Cooter’s Pond Road, Prattville, AL 36066). Because of high water, the launch location was changed from downtown Montgomery’s Riverfront Park.
As on Thursday, the weigh-ins on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be under the Riverfront Park Union Station Train Shed (300 Water St., Montgomery, AL 36104). The weigh-ins will begin at 3:30 CT.
The Elite Series’ competition out of Montgomery marks a return to the birthplace of B.A.S.S., owner of the circuit. Ray Scott founded B.A.S.S. in 1968 in the Capitol City.
The local host of the event is the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, http://www.montgomerychamber.com.
Bassmaster.com will continue through Sunday with extensive coverage of the event.
ESPN2 will air coverage of the Alabama River Charge presented by Star brite on June 2 from 8-9 a.m. ET on The Bassmasters TV show.