BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Only the second woman to compete in a Bassmaster Classic, Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., weighed in a five-fish limit Friday of 6 pounds, 13 ounces, landing in 30th place on the Day 1 leaderboard.
Two-time Classic champ and 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam led with 19 pounds, 8 ounces, in the contest for $500,000, the first-place prize.
Martin-Wells posted a limit of bass on a tough day when 21 of the competitors — some of whom are Classic veterans — didn't manage five fish. According to the early, unofficial Lay Lake catch reports from BASSTrakk, she had the first limit of the day among the 51 competitors.
She said that was by 8 a.m.
"It was almost in five casts," she said. "I culled three, and then I left, because they were all the same size, and there wasn't any need to stay there."
Four of her fish were spotted bass. The one largemouth "was in there with the spots. He was a confused child," she said. "But the area they were in wasn't a typical place for spotted bass."
She wasn't able to upgrade the weight.
"I was strictly trying to catch a bigger largemouth, but it just didn't happen. They've still got their coats on — overcoats. They're cold."
She said she used a shaky head jig for her early limit, then went to flipping mats, a tactic that proved unproductive.
Martin-Wells became the second woman to qualify when she won the 2009 Toyota Tundra Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year award. The 2008 AOY, Kim Bain-Moore of Alabaster, Ala., made history in 2009 as the first woman to fish the Classic.
Martin-Wells, 46, winner of four titles on the women's tour, including a championship on Alabama's Lake Mitchell, has been taking her first Classic experience in stride.
"None of this has made me nervous," she said, smiling. "Call me crazy — somebody said I had ice water running through my veins."
She said several spectator boats on the lake pulled up to watch her fish.
"Did they stop because it was me? No. They stopped because it was a wrapped boat that had a camera boat beside me," she said.
On stage at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, she told the crowd, "I had a fantastic day, I had a ball."
As the first woman, Bain-Moore attracted intense attention from the media and the public. It's been a different experience for Martin-Wells, and she has been able to focus on the fishing.
"It was my plan from the get-go to try to catch a limit quickly because I fish better, I settle down, with a limit in the boat," she said.
Saturday, to make the Top 25 cut for Sunday's finale, she said she will go with her same tactic: put a limit in the boat, then work at upgrading.
The rising water temperature Friday, from about 42 to 48 degrees, is expected to continue, a help to her and to everyone else, she said.
"It's the trend that's important," she said. "The water's been cold, cold, cold, and now it's trending upward. The days are getting longer, another variable that will make the fish move up. Anybody could go out and bust a 20-pound bag tomorrow doing the same thing they did today, even those who didn't get a bite. It could all change that quickly."
The public is invited to attend the Classic in Birmingham and witness the crowning of the 2010 Classic champion, who on Sunday will claim a first-place prize of $500,000 from the total Classic payout of $1.2 million.
Launches are set for 7 a.m. CT Saturday and Sunday at Beeswax Creek Park in Columbiana. Daily weigh-ins will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex arena. Doors open daily at 3 p.m. CT. All events are free and open to the public.
The 2010 Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods will be at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Show hours are set for 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. With no admission fee, the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo offers hours of quality family fun. Exhibitors are slated to offer activities such as free games with prizes, autograph sessions with top bass pros, raffles and product giveaways.
ESPN2, www.ESPN360.com and Bassmaster.com will provide extensive coverage of the three-day competition. Schedules are posted at Bassmaster.com.
Sponsors of the 2010 Bassmaster Classic: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, Humminbird, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.