DECATUR, Ala. • Chris Payne of West Blocton, Ala., relied on several different baits to amass the biggest bag of the day of 18 pounds, 8 ounces at the Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Oakley on Alabama's Wheeler Lake. Payne established a sizable margin Thursday of more than 4 pounds over second-place competitor Jimmy Mason of Rogersville, Ala.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Herren, who has been hot of late scoring a second-place finish at the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Smith Mountain Lake last weekend, was third with 14 pounds, 0 ounces. Two non-Alabama anglers, Brandon Coulter of Knoxville, Tenn., and Brian Hatfield of Ashland, Ky., rounded out the top five. With many competitors able to catch limits it was Payne and Mason's quality kicker fish that made the difference Thursday.
"I was throwing something different every time I turned around," Payne said. "I'm going to try and do the same tomorrow, but there are so many boats watching me it's hard to keep water too myself."
Payne found all his fish on a flat and while he threw a variety of baits, he wasn't willing to divulge what they were. Payne says he lost a few "good fish" but thinks he can overcome that if Friday's conditions are similar.
Mason, of Rogersville, Ala., took an approach opposite of Payne by relying primarily on one bait, a shad-colored Booyah spinnerbait. Mason keyed in on the shad spawn and covered a lot of water to find his fish. Mason also caught a number smallmouth bass, which was different than most of the field.
"I was looking for places where I thought the shad would be spawning at, and I was right on a lot of them," he said. "I'll go out and do the same thing tomorrow, but if that falls off, I've got a few largemouth backup plans that should keep me up there."
Mason thinks that weights in the three-day competition will drop as the tournament progresses with increased traffic expected on the water through the weekend. The impoundment is already fishing small with fish bunched up in a post-spawn pattern and more boats will have anglers jockeying for productive water.
"Even though I think weights will fall tomorrow, I'm aiming even higher so I don't start to slack off," he said.
Pro anglers are vying for $45,000 cash and points toward a berth in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Ala. February 19-21 on Lay Lake. Points standings can be found on Bassmaster.com.
In the co-angler division, Barry Pavia of Fruitland Park, Fla., landed 14 pounds, 2 ounces and holds the lead over Ed Paul of Alabaster, Ala., who had 11 pounds, 10 ounces. Clint Sterling of Winter Garden, Fla., was third with 11-2.
The winning co-angler will receive a Triton/Mercury package valued at $32,000. Nearly one month after BASS veteran Tommy Biffle's nail-biter of a win at the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Alabama's Wheeler Lake, BASS has returned to the popular fishery for the second Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Oakley.
Wheeler Lake, which is home to populations of both largemouth and smallies, has been the site of 11 BASS events, including the Bassmaster Elite Series' Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel in April, when Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., took home the trophy with a three-day total of 50 pounds, 13 ounces, in the weather-shortened event.
Fans are invited to the Open's Thursday-Saturday takeoffs and weigh-ins at Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market Street NW, in Decatur. Anglers will launch their boats at 5:45 a.m. CT and the weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 2:05 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public. The daily weigh-ins for the second stop of the Southern Open will be streamed live on Bassmaster.com, along with other unique content including photo galleries, live leaderboards and daily game stories.
The final stop in the three-tournament Southern Open division is the Oct. 22-24 event on Santee Cooper Reservoir out of Manning, S.C.
The Decatur Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau is the tournament host.
Official Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine.
Supporting Sponsors of the 2009 Bassmaster Opens: Bass Pro Shops, Triton Boats.