Bass Exodus

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The first clue that the day wasn't going to be the famine that anglers had advertised came when the first boat crossed the floor. Terry Scroggins climbed out with a 12-pound, 6-ounce bag, and began blubbering about how tough practice had been.

"What made the difference?" emcee Keith Alan asked.

"I don't know," Scroggins replied.

His befuddlement quickly became a theme of the Day One weigh-in at the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts. After a practice that anglers almost uniformly dismissed as terrible, a hefty majority of the 51 pros competing for the $250,000 grand prize had no problem finding fish, and seemed themselves shocked that the bass were so abundant, even if they fumbled to explain just what happened.

After Scroggins, Gerald Swindle weighed in a 17-2 bag that wound up as only the fifth-biggest of the day. Skeet Reese followed that with a 15-10.

"I've never seen a lake change overnight like this one did," he said. "I thought 8 pounds a day would get a cut."

Reese, it turned out, had put his money where his mouth was, and had bet fellow Elite Series angler Marty Stone — who didn't qualify for this tournament — that the cut weight would be about 16 pounds. Stone said it would be more like 26. Immediately backstage, Stone was describing the steak dinner that Reese would soon owe him.

But even Stone probably underestimated what these pros appear to have scooped out of High Rock Lake. The 12th-place angler after Day 1 was Kevin Van Dam, who sacked 14-15. Reese's predicted 8-pound outing would have been good for 44th place.

Backstage, Reese stood with fellow pros Jeff Kriet and Ish Monroe watching the weigh-in on TV and marveling at the weights.

"It's going to be ugly," Monroe said.

"Dude," Kriet said, "the whole lake turned on."

Someone asked why, and Reese said loudly, "We don't know! None of us know!"

On the screen, Alton Jones weighed in 14-2. "That's crazy," Kriet said, who had thought he was having the day of his life when he had four fish by 7 a.m.

"I have no idea how a lake changes like that," Reese said.

"You slowed down and grinded it out," Kriet said.

Monroe disagreed: "There was a 20-minute span where I had five bites between here and the truck," he said, pointing to a truck about 15 feet away. Kriet had to concede that, yeah, it had been a wild day.

The question then became, why? Anglers said they didn't detect much difference in the lake itself — the water level was slightly lower, and temperatures slightly higher, but no revelations. A quarter-inch of rain fell overnight, hardly cause to phone the Weather Channel.

Mike McClelland (3rd, 18-7) said that the wind blowing from the northeast instead of the south, cloud cover and a low pressure front all helped him, and led him to believe that Friday's best fishing will be over by mid-morning.

Denny Brauer, though, thought the changes in the weather would have hurt the fishing. "I thought I had one exceptional day on the water," he said of his 15-7 bag. "Then I got back to the dock." Most everyone had slayed them, he realized. He's in ninth place.

Gary Klein (20th, 12-13) theorized that anglers didn't have an accurate idea of what the lake held because "most of us anglers are smart enough not to press the issue in practice."

That is, they're feeling out water, rather than pounding it. Their sloppy guesses could be a factor of simple unfamiliarity, as several of the anglers in this field hadn't fished High Rock since the 1998 Bassmaster Classic.

Several anglers did have a competition day to rival their worst practice. Five weighed in fewer than 5 pounds, including zero weights by Zell Rowland and Boyd Duckett, who joked that he in fact turned over his plum sack of plump bass to "a really needy family" at the dock.

There were more than enough miraculous turnarounds to offset those sob stories, and enough to make a sensible observer to wonder anew whether pro anglers' pre-competition assessments of their practices have any basis in reality.

"I don't believe it when these guys say it's tough, because they always seem to catch them," Brian Snowden said after weighing 18-10, good for second place.

Klein concurred that the anglers at this level of competition can solve a fishery faster than he has seen in the past. Russ Lane had an even simpler explanation.

"(Conditions) didn't change," he said. "These guys are the biggest sandbaggers I've ever seen."