DEL RIO, Texas — Despite wind that howled all day long, expectations of a stellar opening to the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series season were met in grand style Thursday on Lake Amistad.
Ken Cook of Oklahoma led the charge with a five-bass limit weighing 31 pounds, 10 ounces, his career best by more than three pounds. The top five had at least 30 pounds and it took at least 20 pounds to make the top-40.
Three pros caught 10-pounders — Pete Ponds of Mississippi with a 10-5 to claim Purolator Big Bass honors, and Dean Rojas of Texas and Ray Sedgwick of South Carolina with 10-1 lunkers. Terry Segraves of Florida narrowly missed the mark with a 9-15 and Jeff Kriet Oklahoma nudged it with a 9-13.
A crowd of local who know what Amistad is capable of producing expected big catches. So did the pros, but actually being able to catch limits and numerous fish that anywhere else would be exceptional was just icing on the cake.
"I probably caught 30 fish that were 2½ or 3 pounds each," said Steve Kennedy of Alabama. "It was incredible. In the area I stayed in, because of the wind, it seemed like there was a fish on every bush I threw at."
Cook worked swim baits in a stretch where he said bass were piled up "in two or three areas," but he had to relocate them Thursday.
"I didn't have enough places with big piles of fish other than this one spot, so I just worked it over," he said. "I checked two other areas and they didn't have the fish on them, so I knew they had moved. This was just a big shallow flat, probably a 3-mile long bank where there were just a few places with fish."
Reed hunkered down
Steady northwest blasts of 26 mph to 39 mph forced some pros to alter their plans, but it obviously didn't affect everyone. The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory early Thursday morning for most of the day, but by late evening the gusts had abated.
Matt Reed of Texas anchored his 31-8 catch with a 9-3 largemouth after patiently working one of his primary areas less affected by the wind than his other spots.
"It really made me not go where I probably would have started, and I just stayed and worked on those areas harder," he said.
"I spent more time in there than I probably would have. I actually threw my first keeper of the day back in the water, which I have never done in my life, because it was the male bass on a bed.
"I don't like to catch the male but this one bit, and it probably was a 2½-pounder. But I tossed it back so the female wouldn't leave. Then I pitched back in and caught her."
Reed's co-angler, Mike Bass of Texas, caught a limit of three fish weighing 10-9 and said it was "awesome and depressing at the same time. Watching him catch those fish was great. But I broke off two fish, one of them that would have helped me a lot. But she dove for the vegetation and I never saw her."
Ponds fought with his 10-5 Purolator Big Bass for several minutes before getting it in the boat. His catch of 31-7, also a career best, put him in third place.
"I'm catching them a little differently than everyone and the wind helped me," he said. "About 11:30 a.m. it slacked off a little bit and I caught most of my fish in about an hour or 90 minutes. The big one hit on my third cast on a V&M Punch Craw on 14-pound Mossy Oak line.
"I usually use 10-pound test for sight-fishing, but I knew this one was big enough that I had to change. The 14-pound test was the smallest line I thought I could get away with and still have a chance, because of the clear water."
Ponds was boat No. 31 and Kennedy was No. 30, but Ponds beat Kennedy to the area that had the big fish and three other bedding fish. After a brief discussion, they agreed Ponds would take first crack at the big one and then Kennedy could go after the other three.
"Watching him catch that big one about killed me but it was fun," Kennedy said. "I caught two of the others in there."
Seagraves almost left
Terry Seagraves lives in Kissimmee, Fla., and regularly fishes on Lake Toho, site of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic two weeks ago. It's a big-bass lake, one of the nation's best, so he's accustomed to big fish and their finicky ways during the spawn.
But he almost made a critical error Thursday en route to his catch of 30-6, which included the 9-15 caught on a crankbait.
"Two minutes before I caught that fish, I told my partner it was not the place I wanted to be," Seagraves said. "Then I caught that one and decided it was the place to be."
Mike Iaconelli of New Jersey bounced back from his Day One disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct during the recent Classic with a strong showing, posting 30-5 to sit in fifth place.
Similar to the Classic, when sightfishing dominated before weather changed things the final two days, Iaconelli believes the sight-fishing bite may taper off by the weekend. To counter that, he spent the morning sight fishing and then checked a couple of other areas he believes could pay off Friday or this weekend.
"It's kind of a transition deal, not bedding and not deep," he said. "I think that mid-depth range could be more stable because the sight-fishing bite may be less of a factor by Sunday. I checked my areas and three-quarters of the fish were there (bedding), but about a quarter already had moved out.
"So I'm looking at that mid-depth range and have four patterns to choose from that are working: one with Berkley Gulp! baits, one with a jig, one with spinnerbaits and another that I'm not talking about yet. How many places can you go where one pattern holds up? Not many, which is why I think this mid-depth situation could work."
Time and again during the weigh-in, the pros lauded Amistad and congratulated the fans for having such a great lake. It proved to be more than just cursory compliments because even on a wind-swept day, it proved to be among the best — if not the best — in the nation.
"Trip (Weldon) said last night (in the angler briefing) that this was arguably the best lake in the country," said Tim Horton of Alabama. "Well, the argument's over."