SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — After Keith Poche stepped off the Bassmaster Classic stage, he did not fully realize he had just taken the lead from Greg Vinson by 1 ounce. Someone backstage helped drive it home to him.
“This is a blur right now. My first Bassmaster Classic, at home in Louisiana, and I’m the leader. I don’t know what to say,” said the Natchitoches, La., native who now lives in Pike Road, Ala.
Poche’s 17 pounds, 13 ounces, was a five-fish limit of Red River largemouth bass. Vinson, of Wetumpka, Ala., had 17-12 out of his five fish.
Dustin Wilks of Rocky Mount, N.C., was third with 16 pounds, 9 ounces. Wilks has David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., breathing down his neck: Walker weighed just 1 ounce less than Wilks, 16-8.
The game of ounces continued at the 2012 Classic’s first day with Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., in fifth place, posting 16-6, just 2 ounces in back of fellow Tennessean Walker.
So overcome by the success of his first trip across a Classic stage, a walk he’s been dreaming about all his life, Poche had to take a deep breath before he could say much about his day on the Red River.
He was then able to recount how his bass came from an area he initially pegged in practice as a one-keeper stop in the rivers’ Pool 4, a one-lock trip from the launch site. He quickly discovered that larger fish had moved up onto beds, so he stayed. He had the area to himself most of the day, and he threw one lure, working one pattern.
“There’s enough in there that I think I could have caught fish all day,” he said.
Poche weighed the day's big bass of 6 pounds, 13 ounces. If it holds, he would win the tournament's Carhartt Big Bass award.
Vinson said his first keeper of about 2 pounds came about 8:45 a.m., but then the bite seemed to shut off.
“I had to figure out where they were. They’d actually moved from where they were in practice,” Vinson said. “I was kind of discouraged at first today, because after that one bass bit, I thought it was going to be ‘on,’ but I had to search around to find them again.”
He said all his keepers came in water of 3 feet or less, including his anchor bass of close to 5 pounds.
Vinson’s lure selection Friday was the “kitchen sink.”
“It was more about an area today than a lure,” he said. Like Poche, he did not have to share his area with other competitors, a factor that was key for many anglers near the top of the leaderboard.
Dustin Wilks started his day with one 12-incher about 10 minutes into his day.
“I didn’t practice there much, so I didn’t know the area. I had to take time to learn it,” he said. Once he did, he culled that first small keeper and continued to build his total to what turned out to be 16-9.
“I have to think real hard about what I’m going to do tomorrow,” Wilks said. “That area I was in today won’t hold up, there are too many other boats in there.”
Walker, who won the final regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series event of 2011, said he made a long run to one area and camped there all day and will return to it Saturday for the second day of competition.
“To move around and run and gun, I end up fishing mediocre,” he said. “There was only one other boat in there this morning, and then I had it to myself.”
Brothers Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala., and Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., tied with 16-4 to share sixth place.
First place in the Bassmaster Classic, often called the world championship of bass fishing, pays $500,000. The competition continues through Sunday, when only the top half of the field will compete.
Daily weigh-ins are at the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City. The concurrent Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods is at the Shreveport Convention Center. At Red River South Marina in Bossier City, the daily Classic Launch presented by Red River Waterway Commission opens before the 7 p.m. start time for competitors. All fan activities are free.
Over the three days of competition, fans can watch at Bassmaster.com. Beginning March 3, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic will air 15 hours of Classic coverage. Check local listings for air times.