DECATUR, Ala. — At high noon on Thursday's first day of competition at the 2008 Elite Series Southern Challenge on Lake Wheeler, 25-year old Birmingham resident Steven Wisdom wasn't feeling too well about his day on the water.
After all, he had not experienced so much as a glimmer of hope while fishing as a co-angler from the back deck of Elite Series pro Mark Menendez.
Keep in mind that by lunchtime, Menendez was already on his way to a seventh-place showing on the opening day of the tournament with a five-fish limit tipping the scales at an impressive 18 pounds, 1 ounce.
"I wasn't panicking," Wisdom said. "But it was starting to get tough (to not do so)."
Two hours and 12 keepers later, Wisdom's outlook had turned dramatically from sour to upbeat as he ended Thursday weighing a five-fish bag limit tipping the scales at 15-9.
That comeback bag limit was good enough for a 1-7 lead over second place co-anglers Jimmy Dudley of Canton, Ga., and Brian Hickey of Cadiz, Ky. Both anglers checked in five fish bottoming the scales out at 14-2 apiece.
But it was Wisdom's two-hour spurt of red-hot 'Bama fishing that was the biggest story on Day One of the June 5-7 co-angler event.
"The Lord really blessed me big time," Wisdom said.
"The key today was staying confident and focused. I mean I didn't have a nibble at 12 noon and then all of a sudden, everything went uphill from there," he added.
Wisdom — who actually received a text while on the water Thursday that let him know that he and his wife had a contract offer approved on a house they have been eyeing for some time — wasted little time in making up lost ground after catching his first keeper of the day.
"I got to five keepers in about 15 minutes although they were all little," said Wisdom, who works for the biodegradable lure company, Food Source Lures. "But I was able to (finally) cull the last (little) one at 2 o'clock."
In addition to using a medium running crankbait with a bit of chartreuse on it — Wisdom believes that's a key at Wheeler — and a 10-inch black-and-blue plastic worm, the angler admitted that his comeback performance wasn't so much about the lure as the encouragement he kept receiving from the front of the boat.
In fact, so impressed was Wisdom with Menendez's upbeat demeanor that he said afterward that he wished that Menendez had actually been the one to land two fish over four pounds that the co-angler caught.
Mind you, Wisdom is fishing in only his second Elite Series event as a co-angler and is very hopeful that he can make the cut to Saturday's final round and walk away with the $25,000 first prize.
"Classy — there couldn't be a better way to describe Mark," Wisdom said. "Sometimes, some of the guys that I've fished with in the Open events, when a co-angler starts catching fish, their whole demeanor will change. Not with Mark, it was amazing how he was so encouraging."
If Wisdom was encouraged by his mid-day flurry of bass catching, Dudley was equally encouraged by his own late morning hot streak.
"We could catch all we wanted on a crankbait when they were biting," Dudley said.
"We pulled up onto a spot about 9 o'clock and we started picking them up pretty quick. I guess it lasted up until about 12:30 p.m. or so — I think we caught three after 12 noon."
During that time span, Dudley estimated that some 70 or so bass were brought to the boat, meaning that both anglers had ample opportunity cull fish for a bigger weigh-in bag.
"I was really lucky to catch two big ones that put me up there at the top (of the co-angler leaderboard)," Dudley said. "This is a great lake."
The co-angler is hoping that Wheeler will be good enough to him the next two days to allow him to win the tournament. Three previous times, Dudley has been near the top of the co-angler leaderboard, only to watch opportunity melt away before the tournament's final bell had sounded.
"I couldn't hold it (those other times), but it also depends on the draw — you're kind of at the pro's mercy," Dudley said. "Getting a good partner really helps."
Hickey certainly found that to be a true statement on Thursday when he fished with Elite Series pro Matt Reed, who boated a 16-12 limit good enough for 11th place.
From the back of Reed's boat, Hickey was able to boat his own limit weighing 14-2.
Such figures were good enough to allow Hickey to claim a share of Thursday's second-place spot with Dudley.
"We had a little change later (on Thursday) when the water cleared a bit and it helped us catch some fish," Hickey said.
"(Fortunately) I was able to fish my strength, Mr. Reed was able to fish his strength, and we were able to kind of meet in the middle (in terms of catching fish)."
While Hickey's fish on Day One of competition came from his preferred power fishing style while using single hook baits like jigs and soft plastics, he isn't sure what to expect on Friday when he moves to the back of the boat with Elite Series pro Dean Rojas.
"I have no clue what he's going to do," Hickey said. "He told me he is going to make some changes and that I need to come ready to do several things.
"I'm really looking forward to it though, fishing with another top pro.
"It will be a learning experience."
There's little doubt about that.
After all, the end result of this Alabama co-angler classroom experience on Lake Wheeler this week between the co-anglers and the Elite Series' top fishing pros will make one co-angler very happy all the way to the bank by the end of Saturday afternoon.