After four days on the California Delta and most of the weigh-in on Day One at Clear Lake, no bass had crossed the scales bigger than 8 pounds, 10 ounces. That all changed with the last man to weigh-in Thursday.
Byron Velvick dropped a 10-pound, 11-ounce California beast on the rest of the field and leads the tournament by nearly 6 pounds.
"It was awesome when I stuck that fish, it didn't move and started peeling drag in the other direction," Velvick said. "When she came up and shook her head and couldn't get her body out of the water — that's when it became real for me."
The fight was an exciting one for two reasons.
"It was a pretty good fight," Velvick said. "I was freaking out. I didn't want it to come off or be hooked outside the mouth."
By California law, all fish hooked outside the mouth must be released. Fortunately for Velvick, it was a clean catch and he heads into Day Two having caught the first 10-pound bass of the 2010 Elite Series.
Struggles of a Clear Lake champion
Steve Kennedy won on Clear Lake in 2007 and set the BASS record for heaviest four-day stringer (at the time). This trip back down memory lane didn't go as he hoped, and he only brought in three fish, for 13 pounds, 1 ounce.
"I saw hundreds of fish and I couldn't get them to eat anything," Kennedy said. "Finally, in the last 30 minutes, the wind picked up and I caught two fish including the big one."
Kennedy spent some time throwing other lures, but in the end, it all comes back to the swimbait for him.
"You can't put it down," Kennedy said. "We get two or three days all year to throw it. I couldn't get bit on a dropshot or Kinami Flash, so I upsized."
The good news for Kennedy is that he was in a similar situation when he won in 2007. He started Day One outside the top-50 cut, over 12 pounds behind the leader and made a furious comeback with a 40-pound bag on Day Three.
Crews loses mojo
After fishing a nearly flawless tournament including catching a monster fish on his last cast to seal the victory on the California Delta, John Crews hit a wall at Clear Lake. On Day One he only brought four fish to the scales that weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces.
"I'm not even thinking about last week," Crews said. "I had a tough practice and didn't really execute well today. I'm not happy about that."
The $100,000 he just put in the bank should take some of the sting off of it though.
A special year
Guy Eaker plans on retiring from the Elite Series after this year, but if he continues to fish as well as he has, he'll be returning in 2011 for the Classic in New Orleans. After having the best day of fishing in his life on the Delta in practice, he pulled off a solid finish and is doing it again on Clear Lake.
His Day One bag of 21 pounds, 14 ounces has him in fifth place.
"This is my style of fishing, just like the Delta was," Eaker said. "I'm fishing grass and doing some flipping. I did break one off on 40-pound braid. The fish are so strong, when they wrap you up, it's over."
The only issue for Eaker going into Friday's Day Two is the number of boats in the area. He shared the spot with one other competitor, but others saw them catching fish.
"A lot of people saw us in there and a lot of people saw us catch them," Eaker said. "No one else was in there or doing what I was doing, so if anyone come in on me, I'm going to go over and start throwing at their boat."
Part of Eaker's resurgence has been because of his more aggressive attitude towards fishing.
"I've always said that I win a lot of practices," Eaker said. "I told Paul (Elias) we need to go out and kick butt. I've been known to sit on a spot too long, so now I'm trying to do more moving around."
So far, his strategy seems to be successful: Eaker is in position to make his second consecutive top-50 cut.
"I'm going to take all my swimbaits and burn them. If anyone wants to have a bonfire, I'll have one tonight."
— Jeremy Starks, after only catching one bass Thursday
"I lost three good'uns. Then I ended up hooking myself in the finger and couldn't get off."
— Kenyon Hill
"I went out last this morning and I ended up going around the lake three times looking for a place to fish."
— Marty Robinson, on being boat 93 and the crowded conditions on Clear Lake
"23 pounds really feels like nothing compared to a few years ago."
— Jared Lintner, after his 23-pound, 4-ounce bag has him in second place
"The line got caught in the buckle of my Gore Tex when I reached down to grab the fish and it broke off. I'm wearing a tank top tomorrow."
— Grant Goldbeck, on losing a key fish on Day One
"I was struggling in practice. I think it was because I was so tired from last week."
— James Niggemeyer, on making a big charge on the Delta to make the final day
"Today was much better than my Delta limit of one fish."
— Mark Menendez, after catching a real limit of five fish
"I'm just going to throw a swimbait all day tomorrow — that's all I have to do."
— Pete Ponds, after only catching two fish on Day One
"My day started this morning with Skeet."
— Aaron Martens, on finding Skeet Reese at his first spot
"10 years ago to the month is when I set the three-day record. I love Clear Lake."
— Byron Velvick, after taking the lead on Day One with 29 pounds