Swindle with three

As Senior Photographer James Overstreet and I wait on Dave Mercer to arrive at the ramp, we’ve caught up with Gerald Swindle.

Swindle is reporting three fish for maybe a pound a piece.

Swindle looked up at Overstreet, an avid Arkansas Razorbacks fan, who is back on the water for this event, and said “JO, even if you go by Arkansas scoring, that’s only 3 pounds.”

Whatever that means... The former Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year is steady after early morning schooling bass here on Lake Chatuge.

Lucas off to a fast start

Our Toyota Angler of The Year leader Justin Lucas is off to a fast start, with three small spotted bass in his livewell already. His first fish appeared to be a giant spot to us, though we were seeing it from 50 yards away. Turned out it was a hybrid, which is a combination of a striped bass and a white bass, which is not legal in Bassmaster tournaments. Justin told us he’ll be moving around a lot today. We’ve already followed him to four different locations in the first 25 minutes of fishing.

The goal: 14 lbs. a day

Lake Chatuge is full of bass, and it has better than average numbers of big ones - both spotted bass and largemouth bass. It's capable of producing a five-fish, 20-pound bag.

But that's unlikely to happen this week, according to Jake Whitaker, the one Elite Series angler with experience here. And the other 49 pros agreed after the past three days of practice.

Here's why: 1) Chatuge is only 7,200 surface acres at full pool and it's several feet below pool after the annual late summer drawdown; 2) It's late summer, water surface temperatures are still in the 80s and the fall feeding frenzy hasn't begun; 3) There are 50 of the best bass fishermen in the world competing on a very small lake; no one is going to have a spot to themselves.

So what's expected to be a good bag? The number I kept hearing yesterday at the anglers' meeting was 14 pounds a day, or more broadly, 13 to 15 pounds a day.

"A big bag here would be 18 to 20 pounds," said Whitaker. "Will we see it? I don't know that we will. This week anything in the teens - 13 to 15 - is going to be a good bag. If you can do that for three days, you'll have a shot to win."

Greg Hackney enters the day 42nd in the AOY standings, trying to move up into those top 35 guaranteed Bassmaster Classic spots.

"I think you'll see a lot of 8 to 12 pound bags," Hackney said. "So you'll need to be in the mid-teens to really do well. What I have in mind is that 14 pounds a day will be top 10."

Bill Lowen is another angler who needs to needs to move up this week, as he starts in 37th place in the AOY standings.

"I would like to say that 14 pounds a day would win," Lowen said. "I could see somebody catching a couple of big bags, but it's going to be hard to back it up."