A "good case" of bass thumb

After weighing in his 25th-place limit of 15-3 yesterday, Caleb Sumrall was asked if he’d caught a lot of fish. The 31-year-old Elite Series rookie from New Iberia, La., simply held up his thumb. Enough said. Sumrall sported a “good case” of bass thumb as a result of landing a few dozen.

“I culled a 13-pound limit and another 12-pound limit,” Sumrall said.

The rising water level has apparently thrown Sumrall a curve today. He’s dropped into 36th place with a limit weighing 11-3. He’s only culled once, according to BASSTrakk, and Sumrall’s thumb is surely grateful. If Sumrall can hang on, he’ll make the second Top 50 cut of his career.

Spohrer getting comfortable

Gerald Spohrer appears to be getting comfortable in this his second season on the Elite Series. In his previous two events, the 36-year-old angler from Gonzales, La., has finished sixth at Lake Travis and 21st at the Sabine River. He came into La Crosse ranked 20th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points.

Spohrer was elated with his 16-pound, 7-ounce, fifth-place bag on Day 1, which came after a less than stellar practice. It appears he has expanded on it today, as BASSTrakk shows him with 15-14 at 12:45.

"I found a little sneaky spot," Spohrer said Thursday. "I don't know how long it will last. If the water keeps coming up, it will probably blow it all out."

But it was so good Thursday that Spohrer was able to pick-and-choose a bit.

"I'd throw my frog up in there, watch 'em hit it and then decide if I wanted to set the hook or not," he said.

Martens searches, finds a kicker

Aaron Martens was already within ounces of the Mississippi River magic number - 16 pounds - and he was culling through 2-pounders in search of a kicker, according to photographer Andy Crawford.

And he found it - a 4-pounder - that puts him over 17 pounds today. When Crawford and his boat driver approached Martens to do a Skype session for "Bassmaster LIVE," Crawford asked Martens which side of the boat to approach.

"Either side," Martens said. "I've got 17 pounds. There's not much more I can do."

Martens was one of the favorites coming into this tournament, having finished second, fifth and 30th in the previous events at La Crosse. He's fishing in the Black River, where he always does, and where he's graphed about every inch of it, searching for subtle fish-holding structure. Martens is fishing deep, primarily with a spoon and a shaky head, catching strictly largemouth bass.

The one fly in the ointment, so to speak, for Martens is Chris Zaldain, who is also fishing here. Martens was hoping to save some of his spots in this area, but feels he can't afford to with Zaldain here too.

Clarity factor

The rising water is indeed the storyline of the week, thus far, and now a related condition is coming into play. Rising water directly affects water clarity.

We are on the Mississippi River, and it has a reputation for much of its 2,230 miles. The upper river is different. it flows much clearer due to the geology and filtration effects of myriad backwaters laced with aquatic vegetation. There is a catch that is best explained by Casey Ashley, who caught 16 pounds, 7 ounces, to take sixth place on Thursday.

"When you get local rain in an area like where we are fishing, the water muddies up. When the runoff comes from up north, in Minnesota, it gets filtered and runs clear by the time it reaches here. There is so much current ripping through here that I could also clear back up again, sooner.”

This morning Wesley Strader added another dynamic to the water clarity factor now in play.

“As the water rises in some areas it brings in muddy water, and in some areas the clear water gets trapped inside backwaters,” he said. “It’s something to see it here, because it really makes a difference when you are needing to find clearer water."

Better fishing or better fishermen?

It appears bass fishing is better than ever, if you compare the Day 1 results from the Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River presented by Go RVing with the Day 1 results from the three previous Elite Series events at La Crosse,

For example, 15 pounds, 13 ounces left both Dean Rojas and Caleb Sumrall in 25th place yesterday. That Day 1 total would have been fourth in 2012, third in 2013 and seventh in 2016 Elite Series tournaments here.

Cliff Pace starts today in a tie for second place with 16-14. Pace has an interesting theory on why the totals were better here yesterday than they have been in previous years.

"I think the fishing is way worse," Pace said. "Our anglers are way better than they were, When we came here the first time I finished second, and I had 10 or 15 places where I could catch a hundred. You can't catch a hundred here now anywhere.

"This group of anglers is so much better. Fisheries are not better. Everybody looks at weigh-ins across the country and says fisheries are getting better and better. They're not, I promise you. But the fishermen we're competing against are."

Powroznik in the thick stuff

Jacob Powroznik is staring his day off right with three fish so far for about 8 pounds. He’s fishing midway through Pool 8 in some backwaters that are like a maze.

Just the way he likes it, he said.

He also said that where he is fishing wasn’t accessible two days ago. The rising river levels are making more habitat attractive to bass and angler alike.

Considering how muddy the main river channel is, and the secondary channels are becoming, this area has fairly clean water—as far as the Mississippi River is concerned.

There are lily pads here, duck weed and an extensive variety of other aquatic vegetation that are known for holding hungry bass.

He’s also caught one pike and one dogfish. But the quality of bass is impressive.

Lefebre is hot early

Dave Lefebre started the day in fourth place with 16-9. He's already got a limit weighing between 13 1/2 and 14 pounds, according to photographer Andy Crawford, who is following Lefebre this morning.

Lefebre wasn't surprised by his big bag Thursday, but he was stunned by the lack of competitors he saw.

"I didn't see another tournament boat all day," he said, "and it's a huge area, so I'm pretty excited."

Lefebre locked upstream into Pool 7. Several anglers have mentioned the fact that this tournament has always been won in Pool 8, where the takeoff and weigh-in site is located in La Crosse. But that doesn't mean it won't be won in another pool this year.

Ounces are everything

The average weight of the bass that hit the scales yesterday was 2.74 pounds, as 107 anglers caught 98 five-bass limits totaling 1,400.5 pounds. Day 1 leader Chad Pipkens caught the big bass of the day, a 5 1/2-pounder. A "kicker fish" in a limit here is 3 3/4 pounds and up.

All those numbers illustrate the tight margin between success and failure on the Mississippi River at La Crosse, where only 3 pounds separated 11th place - Darrell Ocamica with 16-2 - and 64th place - Gerald Swindle with 13-2 - after Day 1.

"Sixteen pounds a day here is strong," said Alton Jones. "That's four three-pounders and throw in a four-pounder. To me, this place is fishing as strong as I've ever seen it."