SOUTHMONT, N.C. — At the dock in the pre-dawn gloaming on Lake High Rock, Stephen Browning was still smarting from Thursday's weigh-in.
"When I caught a limit, I was feeling pretty good," Browning said. "Then I found out that (nearly) everyone had caught a limit.
"Next time somebody asks me what I'm catching in practice, I'm going to say I'm killing them — lie, lie, lie. I don't care if I didn't get a bite in practice — lie, lie, lie."
Day One of the Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts saw across-the-board weights that were roughly double what most anglers figured they'd catch. Some, such as leader Edwin Evers, who sacked 19 pounds, 8 ounces on this 15,000-acre impoundment, reveled in the surprising abundance.
Others, such as Browning, whose 10-1 bag was good enough for only 39th place, are left wondering how to make a comeback on water that turned out to be better than anyone expected. Twelfth place will mean another day or two of fishing; 25th will at least bring a check.
"We're not going to worry about the cut right now," Browning said. "We're worried about $10,000. I'm not real optimistic about what the day will bring. But we will swing for the fences. That's the fun thing when no (Angler of the Year) points are involved. Nothing to do but swing away."
Brent Chapman felt the same desperation when he returned to the dock Thursday and learned that he should have sacked much more than the 11-11 he brought in so proudly. Thinking he would be well within the 12-cut, he left some water untouched for Friday.
On Friday morning, he said his first step would be to return to that hole and ravage it. After that, he was hoping to happen upon at least one 5- or 6-pound fish.
"I'm going to stick with what I've got going, and get lucky," he said. The 12-cut would be swell, he said, "but the other thing is to get one of those nice $10,000 checks."
Likewise, Scott Rook (31st, 11-8) said he "backed off" water that he didn't want to exhaust on Day 1. "The fish just bit real good yesterday," he said. "You could pull up on any spot and catch 'em. What has eluded me is the 4- to 6-pound bite."
Matt Reed (25th, 12-4) said he was going to stick to the strategy that put him just inside the money cut.
"I'm flipping shallow cover," Reed said. "As long as they don't pull all the water out of the lake, we'll catch fish." He suggested that the current generated Thursday by Alcoa's hydroelectric operations helped the catches.
Asked what he could do to make up ground from 37th place, Greg Hackney seemed unfazed by the task ahead.
"I don't know," Hackney said. Then, with a smile, as he popped a piece of gum into his mouth: "I know how to try."