PARIS, Tenn. — A big, fast shallow bite helped Jerry Williams of Conway, Ark., to a 2-pound, 4-ounce lead Thursday at the Bassmaster Central Open on Kentucky and Barkley lakes out of Paris, Tenn.
Anchored by a 6-pounder, William's five-fish limit weighed 19 pounds, 15 ounces, keeping him in front of Larry Byrd of Lake Charles, La., who brought in 17-11. Right behind the leaders were two Bassmaster Elite Series pros: Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., who had 16-9; and Bradley Hallman of Norman, Okla., with 16-5.
"I pulled up on a little spot this morning — a little point was all it was — and got a 6-pounder, a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder, all in a row, then moved about 100 yards and got a 5-pounder," said Williams, a retired boat manufacturers representative. "Added to the 2-pound fish I had caught first, I was done for the day."
Williams called it "just luck," but he's in the hunt for the tournament's $45,000 first-place prize.
Byrd, who's a member of the technical pro staff for Lowrance Electronics, said his limit of all largemouth bass came off ledges.
"I always fish deep," he said. "I probably caught 30 to 40 fish today — not all of them keepers. One hole produced most of the keepers, but then I got off the hole because I didn't want to beat it up."
Besides the prize money, Central Open pros also are in a points race to qualify for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic and Bassmaster Elite Series. As the second of three events on the 2008 Central Open circuit, this week's tournament will establish the points race front-runners going into the circuit's season-ender at Lake Texoma, Oct. 30-Nov. 1, out of Denison, Texas.
The top 10 after the Texas tournament will be invited to advance to the Elite level, and the top three will earn berths in the Bassmaster Classic on Louisiana's Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, Feb. 20-22.
The points leader in the race for one of the three Classic berths is Billy McCaghren Jr. of Mayflower, Ark., who won the season-opener on the Red River — the 2009 Classic site. He managed only 44th place Thursday.
Williams sits in third place in the points race. Butcher and Hallman are aiming for Classic berths after falling short of the 36th-place cutline to qualify through the 2008 Elite Series.
"I want to make the Bassmaster Classic," said Butcher, who started the Kentucky Lake event 37th in the Central Open points standings, and is looking for his first Classic entry. "That's all I'm here for, that's the goal."
Butcher said he worked several patterns to put together his limit of five largemouth bass.
"I had six keeper bites today and was fortunate to put them all in the boat," he said "I'm fishing deep and shallow."
Another Elite pro, Jami Fralick, made the top five. The Martin, S.D., pro was part of a three-way tie at 15-12 with Marvin Ettredge of Shreveport, La., and Billy Hurt of Spring Creek, Tenn.
Hurt hefted a 6-14 largemouth up to the scales to win the Purolator Big Bass award of $1,000 on the pro side.
In the co-angler division, Jeremy Montoya of Fort Collins, Colo., weighed-in a bag that hit 17-1 for the Day 1 lead in the competition for a Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig valued at $32,000. He had a lead of over 4 pounds on Travis Gray of Princeton, La., with 13-0. Third was Lloyd W. McDaniel of Roxie, Miss., with 12-13.
Co-angler Jim Barnette of Decatur, Ala., scored the Purolator Big Bass award of the day with a 5-2 and earned a $300 bonus.
Fishing fans can keep up with the Bassmaster Central Open action through Saturday at www.Bassmaster.com. Live video and real-time leaderboards from the weigh-ins will begin at 2:30 CT. Daily results and photo galleries are also available.
The pros will take off at 6:30 a.m. CT Friday and Saturday at Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Highway 79 N., Buchanan, Tenn. The weigh-ins will begin at 2:30 p.m.
All events are free and open to the public.