BUFFALO, N.Y. — The youngest member of the Bassmaster Elite Series, 20-year-old rookie Cory Waldrop, knew he was in trouble when he found himself standing in knee-deep water — in his boat.
And Waldrop didn't even have his outboard motor started when his Skeeter began filling to the brim.
"My motor was hydro-locked," Waldrop said. "I was back there tinkering with it when the waves started coming over (the stern)."
The story has a happy ending, like everyone else's on the opening day of the Bassmaster Elite Series Empire Chase presented by Farmer's Insurance. But it was not without its anxious moments.
"It was a gradual process," Waldrop said of the waves filling his boat. "But the waves started coming in faster than I could pump the water out.
"Full credit to Skeeter (for building a boat with plenty of flotation), because that boat was absolutely full (of water)."
Waldrop had installed a second bilge pump in his boat before coming to Lake Erie, where a 10-mile-an-hour wind can produce big swells. He said he'd install a third one before fishing another tournament here.
"It got so bad that my (co-angler) partner and I were standing on one side to keep it from flipping over," said Waldrop. "It looked like we were about to go down like the Titanic."
Despite the problem, Waldrop managed to catch a limit of smallmouth bass that weighed 12 pounds, 5 ounces, which was good enough for 74th place.
Kotara Kiriyama finished second in the Empire Chase last year, four pounds behind winner Edwin Evers. Kiriyama took fifth place on Day One this year with 20 pounds, 15 ounces.
But he said it wasn't as easily done as a year ago, when Kiriyama caught 20 pounds, 11 ounces on Day One on only seven casts. Kiriyama said it's obvious the area has been under more fishing pressure than it was last year.
He's fishing in the Dunkirk area, where he was last year, not far from the spot where Evers won the tournament.
"Everybody knows how to do it now," Kiriyama said. "They watched the (ESPN Outdoors) TV show from last year. They know how to fish and they have the confidence to do it."
Evers felt some of that too, but not because of the television show. When Evers got to his 2007 hot spot, "There were about five (Elite Series) boats sitting on it.
"I had to move around, but I think I can catch them every day."
Evers is in fourth place with 21 pounds, 3 ounces, but he noted that anyone could win this tournament because of the added factor of boat breakdowns in Lake Erie's choppy waters.
"As rough as it was out there today, anything can happen," Evers said.
KVD Singing The Blues
Kevin VanDam is hoping to add a fourth Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to his already best-ever pro bass fishing resume. He entered this event with a 16-point lead over second-place Todd Faircloth.
But the combination of Faircloth placing eighth with 20 pounds, 1 ounce and VanDam in 32nd place with 16 pounds, 11 ounces, left KVD singing the blues.
"I'm really shocked to only catch that," said the Kalamazoo, Mich., native. "That's really disappointing.
"I really struggled to catch anything decent. If the wind would let us fish, it would be amazing what we'd catch. These fish are in deep water and (schooled) in small spots. It's hard to stay on them in this wind."
The BASS Wind Jock?
Gerald Swindle is in 38th place with 16-0 after Day One. But he had a new fisherman's product in mind when he came to the weigh-in stage Thursday.
"Everybody's fishing with these wind socks," said Swindle of the devices used to slow a boat's drift in high winds. "I'm going to invent something called the wind jock.
"It wasn't too smooth out there. I've been thinking about that all day."
Painter Turned Fizzer
Most of the time, you can find Sue Watson painting houses for a living. That is, when she's not fishing in tournaments on Lake Erie. But for the duration of the Empire Chase, Watson can be found aboard the live-release boat, tied up to the dock positioned just down the ramp from the weigh-in.
"I've been fizzing fish on Erie for about 20 years," Watson said as she checked the contents of a particular live well. "This is the only time I work on live-release boats."
Watson, who competed in Bassmaster Open events on Erie in the past, explained how the specially-equipped live-release boat gathers fresh water from out in the lake, and how she mixes in a special formula and occasionally adds ice to regulate the temperature to maintain proper fish care.
"You don't want the water from the harbor, it's no good," she said.
"Fizzing" fish is a practice where hollow needles are inserted into the air bladder to release pressure and increase the fish's chance of survival when pulled from deep water to the surface.
Lake Erie Bassmasters
Joe Ferraro III watched the Day One weigh-in with eyes glued to the stage. The 16-year-old amateur and member of the Lake Erie Bassmasters was curious to learn anything he could from listening to the pros and co-anglers alike.
"My dad's in the club," he said. "I've been in it for awhile."
With 12 boats and five riders, Ferraro estimated the club's membership at about 17 people. Posted next to the weigh-in stage the adult members casually observed the proceedings, save the handful who were actually competing as co-anglers. But Ferraro couldn't get enough of the action.
"The one thing people might not know about Lake Erie is how big the smallmouth can get," he said.
And asked about his favorite Elite Series pro, the high school football player answered without hesitation.
"The fish could have swam under my legs, I had so much water in the boat." — Marty Stone, on the one wave he didn't manage to dodge Thursday
"I've fished all over the world, and I've never seen a smallmouth bass fishery like this." — Mike Iaconelli, commenting about Lake Erie
"This is truly the best smallmouth fishery in the world." — Gary Klein, on Lake Erie
"I only fished three hours. I had several (boat) problems. I'm happy with that." — Aaron Martens, on his second-place total of 22 pounds even
"Everything is pushed to the limit here. There's no room for error, and I made a couple today." — Rick Clunn, on his 68th-place total of 12 pounds, 14 ounces
"The highlight of my day will be cracking open that bottle of Evan Williams in about five minutes." — Jason Quinn, who is sponsored by the bourbon distillery, after weighing in a 95th-place total of 9 pounds, 4 ounces
"I had that patch and took four Dramamine pills and still got sick out there." — Bradley Hallman
"I've got to go dry my privates off. I'm a little wet." — Skeet Reese