SANDUSKY, Ohio -- Lake Erie’s highly-mobile smallmouth bass had much of the field scrambling for bites on Day One of the second 2011 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open, but several pros were able to adapt and crack the 20-pound mark.
No one was more surprised at leader Nate Wellman’s weight than Wellman himself.
“My weight was a complete shock. I really thought I had 18 pounds, but as I got to the scales, they felt a lot heavier,” he said. “But, I’m sure glad they put on that weight.”
In practice, Wellman found two areas that held fish bigger than the ones he caught today, but they weren’t home when he arrived this morning, so he fell back on Plan B.
“I caught 25 keepers today, and I threw back probably eight before I put one in the box,” he said. “I just tossed the 2- and 3-pounders back because they won’t help you here. Call it confidence or call it what you want, but that’s not that good of a fish here.”
Wellman kept a drop shot rig in his hand all day, and said that he’d get into more specifics about baits as the tournament progressed.
Wellman is one of the many Elite Series pros entered into this Open. They and the plethora of Open pros are competing for a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic, the prize awarded to the pro winner.
Not far behind Wellman is Bryan Coates, who was also surprised at his weight of 21-5.
“Today was better than I expected. I usually shoot for about 19 pounds or so, and I beat that, so I’m happy,” he said. “I started off on my first spot and I didn’t get a bite for an hour and a half, so I asked my co-angler if he was afraid of the big water, and he said no so we headed out to my other spot. After we got there, we both had limits inside of 45 minutes.”
Coates believes that weights will increase tomorrow if the winds are calmer than today, which is in the forecast.
In third place is Chris Malone of Ironton, Ohio, with 21-0. He suffered an 8-ounce fish care penalty that cost him second place. Like Wellman and Coates, Malone’s first spot turned out to be a dud but his second spot was “stacked with fish.”
In fourth place is 23-year-old Kyle Fox of Lakeland, Fla., with 20-11. Fox is a newcomer to the smallmouth game, having caught his first smallie when he was 19.
Rounding out the top 5 is Kyle Kempkers with 20-5. Only one other angler, Elite Series pro Derek Remitz, cracked with 20-pound mark.
On the co-angler division, a brand new, fully-rigged Triton bass boat with Mercury outboard is at stake, and the competition is stout.
Jonathan Shoemaker of Elyria, Ohio, caught a three-fish limit that weighed an astounding 14-12. Shoemaker admits that much of a co-angler’s success hinges on his pro’s ability to be around fish.
“I’ve done this co-angler game long enough to know that you need to be with a pro who’s on fish,” he said. “Then you need to get a few lucky bites.”
Just off the lead pace is Mike Chunko of Alliance, Ohio, with 14-11; in third place is Jon Jezierski of Troy, Mich., with 13-13; in fourth is Chris Van Vliet of Cleveland, Canada, with 13-11 and in fifth place is Brian Mailot of Columbus, Ohio, with 13-5.
The City of Sandusky, Ohio is hosting this Open, with launches from BatteryPark Marina, 701 E. Water St. at 6:30 for each of the three days. Weigh-in for Day Two will be held at Shelby Street Boat Launch at 2:30 p.m. ET. On Day Three, the weigh-in will move to the Bass Pro Shops in Rossford, Ohio, located at 10000 Bass Pro Blvd. 43460, and begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.