Two anglers took a gamble Thursday when they let fish go that looked to be struggling in the livewell. For Terry Butcher it was his first fish of the day.
"I missed my first bite, but threw it out again and caught one about 1 ¾ pounds," Butcher said. "I hooked him deep and he was bleeding pretty badly. When I came back to check on him 5 minutes later, he was already in bad shape."
Butcher faced a tough decision: keep it and take the 8 ounce dead fish penalty or throw it back and have to count on catching five more fish bigger than that one. He chose to throw it back.
"If I keep him, I don't have a chance to have a good bag," Butcher said. "At that time, it was a big decision because that was my first fish. It was a gamble, but it paid off. Ended up the smallest I weighed in was over 2 pounds."
Butcher ended Day One in 18th place with 12 pounds, 10 ounces.
Marty Stone had a similar story to tell. Around 10:30, he caught his limit fish and that's when the trouble started.
"I threw him in the well and he looked dead," Stone said. "I'm sitting there looking at the fish and just threw him back. He played possum for awhile, diving down and coming back up."
Did the decision pay off?
"I caught my fifth fish with 5 minutes to go," Stone said.
It may have been tight, but his 10 pounds, 1 ounce has him within the cut in 40th place.
Day One wasn't easy for past Clarks Hill champions. Defending champion Kenyon Hill ended up 14th with 13 pounds, 9 ounces and found that the fishing was better than he anticipated.
"Better fish bit today and you can tell that from the weights on stage," Hill said. "I caught some schoolers and had about a 5-pounder pull off."
The conditions for most of the day were sunny with a little bit of cloud cover early in the morning. While many anglers lamented the sunny skies, Hill actually found that historically the sun helped his bite.
"The year Davy won, on the sunny days, I weighed 18 to 19 pounds and on cloudy days, I weighed 12 to 13 pounds," Hill said. "I came in second that year and you just never can tell on this lake. I just have to go out tomorrow and fish the best I can regardless of the conditions."
Davy Hite, the former Clarks Hill champion did not fare as well as Hill, finishing the day in 44th place with 9 pounds, 11 ounces.
"I didn't get a good bite today," Hite said. "I had a limit in less than an hour and caught a lot of fish, but never got a 3-pound bite."
Hite has a lot of history on this lake, but that advantage has been negated by repeat visits from the Elite Series.
"When you come to the same place three or four times in a row, there's not many things you can do different," Hite said. "I fished Federation 6-man tournaments here 25 years ago and I've seen it go through this before. After all the low water, there are a ton of small fish, so the future looks bright."
"We caught them in a weird transition...there's a few up shallow, but most of them are moving deep." - Jason Williamson
"That's the smallest bass I've weighed in 35 years of tournament fishing." - Guy Eaker on weighing a 9-ounce bass on Day One
"I had a big treble hook stuck in my finger while fish were schooling all around me." - Randy Howell
"I don't have a clue what I'm going to do tomorrow, I swear I don't." - Mark Davis
"I've fished here my whole life and never seen it this tough in the month of May." - Casey Ashley
"When these guys say they're baffled, that just means they're not catching 20 pounds." - Rick Clunn
"The lake is full of fish, we're just not figuring it out." - Bernie Schultz
"I didn't catch many, but I caught some good ones." - Cliff Crochet
"It's nerve-racking out there, you don't have much time to catch them." - Day One leader Jeff Kriet
"These fish have completely forgot how to bite a jig." - Mike McClelland on the bait he won with on Clarks Hill Lake in 2007