RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Lake Dardanelle was more than humbling to the 193-angler field on Day One of the Toyota Trucks Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship as only one five-fish limit crossed the stage.
Arkansas' Darrell West was the lone man to fill his bag, putting up 14.65 pounds on a day that saw 88 anglers fail to bring in a fish.
"I'm not surprised. Fishing on Dardanelle is terrible," West said. "But with this high, muddy water, I feel like my knowledge of the lake really helped me today. I was able to have confidence in places where I've caught fish before."
More than 3 pounds behind West was Benjie Seaborn of Guin, Ala., with four fish weighing 11.41 pounds. Third place belonged to Curtis Staley of Huntsville, Ala., catching four fish for 10.49 pounds, while Andre Dickneite of Freeburn, Mo., had four fish at 10.43 pounds.
Rounding out the top five was James Blakenship of Lexington, N.C., bringing in two fish for 10.32 pounds, one of which was a 7.18-pound monster that held up as big bass.
While most of the field struggled on a warm, sunny day in west-central Arkansas, West, who finished second on Dardanelle in a Weekend Series event earlier in the year, managed to boat six keepers, all in the second half of the day.
"I ran all over the place first thing this morning and I didn't have a fish in the boat," West said. "There were a couple areas that I didn't practice in because I've had success there before and that's where I ended up catching all my fish. I even had my best area to myself."
West estimated that the winner of the tournament will need around 10 to 12 pounds each day and felt fortunate to exceed that. There is no doubt that West was around quality fish though, as his Day One partner, Jerry Hembree, also leads the tournament on the amateur side with a three-fish limit of 10.09 pounds.
Even so, the heavy rain that hit most of Arkansas last week has been pushed through the system and dropping water levels could change the playing field for all contestants.
"There is a good possibility they are going to drop the water," West said. "The more it clears up, the better, but if they drop it a lot overnight, it will make the fishing even more difficult for everyone."
One notable absence from the top of the leaderboard was Manson, N.C., angler Jeff Coble. With two Weekend Series Championship wins and a runner-up finish in last year's event, Coble was a pre-tournament favorite. A glance at the results shows that he finished Day One in a tie for last place with a zero, but Coble didn't even make it out of his hotel room.His tournament teammate, David Wright, said Coble got food poisoning and hasn't been able to fish. Coble could make up ground if he fishes Day Two as the current cut mark is only 6.14 pounds.
The full field fishes for three days with only the top 25 moving on to Saturday's final round. At stake is the $100,000 prize and a berth in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic for the winner.Wright finished the day in 34th place after only bringing in one good fish that weighed 5.33 pounds.
"I came out here and practiced before the cutoff and caught fish, but when I saw the water this week, I just wanted to go home," Wright said. "As much as I like multiple day tournaments, I'm not sure it's going to matter for me here. Normally, having this many days gives you a chance to come back if someone catches a big stringer."
Wright lamented catching only two keeper fish in three days of practice, but his one key bite on the first day of the tournament will at least keep him in striking distance of the 25-cut.
The anglers launched and weighed in out of the Lake Dardanelle State Park, which will play host to the finale of the American Bass Anglers BBQ Tour sponsored by Early Times Kentucky Whiskey on Friday and Saturday.
"This is the perfect venue for this tournament," said Morris Sheehan, owner of American Bass Anglers. "The city has bent over backwards for us and we are happy to be here. This tournament is made up of the common, everyday workers that are fishing for a chance to make it to the Bassmaster Classic — everyone is shooting for that."
Festivities continue at Lake Dardanelle State Park, with the weigh-in at 4 p.m. ET. Complete results from the event can be found at www.abaproam.com.