SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Co-angler Tom Frink said some of the lightning bolts screeching through the air Thursday over Oneida Lake reminded him of the sound of incoming mortar rounds in Iraq, where he served two tours of duty with the U.S. Air Force.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kelly Jordon reported that one lightning bolt "shocked the rod out of my hand."
"It hurt real bad," Jordon said. "If you've ever dragged your feet on the carpet and touched a doorknob in the winter time, it hurt about three times that bad."
Those were just a few of the scares that occurred during a thunderstorm-filled Day One of the Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide.
"It was really a pretty good fishing day, except for the lightning," said Kevin VanDam, who is locked in a two-man battle with Todd Faircloth for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. "It was pretty hairy out there for awhile.
"It's not much fun. I got out of the middle of the lake and got close to the bank when it was at its worst.
"Winning Angler of the Year is great. But I want to live, too."
Clark Reehm was prepared to take a dead fish penalty — on himself — Thursday.
"I was across the shoal from Charlie Hartley," said the Elite Series rookie from Russellville, Ark. "I told him if I got struck by lightning, make sure my fish get in. I'll take the dead fish penalty."
While he jokes and laughter came after the anglers got off the lake, there was nothing funny about when the storms were sweeping across Oneida.
"It was terrible today," said co-angler Ronnie Tyson, who fished with Mike Iaconelli. "I don't think I've ever seen so much rain, lightning and hail.
"One time, during a hail storm, the bottom of the boat was white with hail. And another time or two, Ike and I felt a buzz in our rods."
Co-angler Mike Bass was one of several anglers who mentioned how, at times, his fishing line would float up in the air after a cast because of all the electricity in it.
As Denny Brauer came to the weigh-in stage to his "theme song" of "I Saw God Today," written by Elite Series co-angler Rodney Clawson and performed by George Straight, a bright lightning bolt struck in the distance, followed by a loud clap of thunder.
"The song says, 'I saw God today," BASS emcee Keith Alan noted. "I think I just heard Him."
The Elite Series pros thought they'd seen the worst side of Mother Nature after surviving the winds that formed 6- and 8-foot swells on the open waters of Lake Erie last week. But Thursday, on a lake a tenth the size of Erie, the weather proved even more daunting.
Kermit to the rescue
Dean Rojas entered the Empire Chase at Lake Erie last week fifth in Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. Knowing he had no chance of catching the leaders, his goal was to solidify that top-five spot for the season.
He left Erie with that mission unaccomplished. The Lake Havasu City, Ariz., resident had his worst tournament of the season, finishing 97th and dropping into eighth place in the TTBAOY standings.
"For some reason, that lake has my number," Rojas said of Erie. "But it's over and done with. It's time to move on."
After the first day of practice at Oneida, Rojas was certain he could ride his favorite lure — the SPRO Bronzeye Frog, which he nicknames Kermit — to a much more satisfactory ending to his season.
Rojas has become so accomplished at casting the topwater lure he can put it in places many pros wouldn't dream of casting.
"I made the decision basically to just have some fun and go for it," Rojas said Thursday morning. "Just pick it up and don't put it down.
"I'll get my five every day. I have no doubt.
"It's killing me, because I was ready after the first day of practice."
Rojas proved he wasn't kidding when he weighed-in a five-bass limit of 15 pounds, 14 ounces Thursday afternoon. It was good enough for fourth place in the standings, and left Rojas still chomping at the bit for another day on Oneida.
"I'm catching some smallmouth on a frog, too," Rojas said of the lure, which is considered predominantly a largemouth bass bait. "I do that every time we're here. The smallmouth get real shallow here, too, like 2 feet.
"But I'm catching the largemouths super-shallow."
Rojas seemed to be the only angler not bothered by the weather Thursday.
"I hope it does this all four days," he said.
Denny Brauer didn't think he had much chance of success this week at Oneida Lake — and with good reason. Based on his history here, there was no reason to think otherwise.
"This lake has been very, very tough for me," said Brauer, who has won over $2 million on the BASS tour. "I think I finished 94th here the first year and 49th (out of 50) last year. I haven't looked forward to coming here all year.
"I had a rough practice. I was catching largemouths where smallmouth are supposed to be and smallmouth where largemouths are supposed to be. It'll kind of screw you up."
But Brauer didn't fish "screwed up" Thursday. He caught a limit weighing 15-3, good enough to put him in a three-way tie for 11th place.
"It just shows you that you have to be careful about your expectations," Brauer said.
"It's over. I done swung for the fence. It's done."
— Gerald Swindle, on his chances of moving up from 47th place in the TTBAOY standings into one of the Bassmaster Classic qualifying spots in the top 36
"I have more rods on the deck than at any time this year. I can't fit another one under the strap. I have everything from braid down to 8-pound line."
— Kelly Jordon, on the wide variety of methods he's employing to entice Oneida Lake's bass
"That (Bassmaster) Classic is so important for us. There are about 20 of us battling for three or four places."
— Boyd Duckett, on the importance of qualifying for the Classic. The 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion entered this event in 42nd place in TTBAOY points and didn't help himself much Thursday, finishing in a three-way tie for 48th place on Day One
"The fish weren't where I thought they'd be, and I didn't catch them on what I thought I'd catch them on."
— Steve Kennedy, who adjusted on the water Thursday to take the Day One lead with 17-10