MANY, La. — Never have so many Bassmaster Elite Series anglers walked across the weigh-in stage and stated what a horrible three days of practice they'd had prior to a tournament. Of the 99 pros competing Thurday, it seemed like 75 percent voiced their lack of confidence going into the Toledo Bend Battle.
And that includes the six guys who weighed 20 pounds or more on Day One of this four-day event at Toledo Bend Reservoir.
"It was the hardest practice I've ever had on a lake with this potential," said Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss. "I probably had 10 bites (in three practice days)."
In spite of that, Pace took the lead Thursday with a five-bass limit weighing 23 pounds, 2 ounces.
"Every time I opened my livewell, I couldn't believe what was in there," Pace said. "It's been that hard for me (in practice). Today is a day I'll remember for a long time, a long time."
Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., is sharing a house with Pace this week on Toledo Bend. He confirmed Pace wasn't overstating his previous misery.
"Every night we were fussing about how bad our day was," Davis said. "It just goes to show that you never really know what you've got until you put it in motion and really see what's there."
Davis had 20 pounds, 3 ounces Thursday, which was good for fifth place.
Professional bass fishermen are notorious for sand-bagging: Telling everyone who will listen how bad their practice was when they know the opposite was true. But the stories of bad practice days got so repetitious Thursday, it was remarkable.
"I caught my first keeper in four days at 10:30 this morning," said Stephen Browning, who is in 42nd place with four bass that totaled 12-1. "That's no lie"
Browning, a 46-year-old long-time pro from Hot Springs, Ark., further emphasized the point by saying, "Not in the history of my fishing have I ever had a practice that tough. To say that about Toledo Bend, that's quite a statement. We've been to some really bad lakes over the years, and I've had better practices than I had here. And this is one of the greatest lakes in the country."
The "greatness" of this legendary 65-mile-long reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana border started to show itself Thursday. Now that some anglers are starting to dial-in a pattern, all the negativity built up from Monday through Wednesday is being replaced by optimism.
There is an abundance of big bass in Toledo Bend. A 13-pounder was weighed in a tournament last weekend. And several others in the 10-pounds-plus range have been caught recently as well.
The big bass Thursday was "only" 6-14, caught by Russell Parrish of Riesel, Texas. Davis' 20-3 bag didn't include anything that weighed much more than four pounds.
"One eight-pounder with a stringer like I had today, and then you've really got a big stringer," Davis said. "That's what it's going to take down the stretch to win this thing.
"It should take 80 pounds to win, 20 pounds a day."
That's quite a statement considering that Dean Rojas won here last May with a four-day total of 70 pounds, 15 ounces. Bass were on spawning beds then. This is a post-spawn event where the fish are in big schools around deep structure.
"I think it's going to take 88 pounds to win," said Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., who is in fourth place with 20-13. "Somebody is going to pop 'em big one day, 30 pounds probably.
"It's going to depend on (weather) conditions, but if you get a day where they bite all day long, it could get ugly."
Veteran angler Denny Brauer, like seemingly everyone else, had a bad practice and then had only five bites Thursday, but he put all five in the livewell. They weighed 22-8, which put him in second place.
The 63-year-old Camdenton, Mo., resident may have best summed up this week on Toledo Bend so far when he said, "I've been in this game long enough to know that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring."
Thursday definitely brought some big surprises.