OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Everybody knows this: To get what you really want for your birthday, you need to pick it out yourself. Apparently, Shaye Baker wants a spot in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic for his 27th birthday.
He's one-third of the way there after taking a 4 ½-pound lead Thursday on Day One of the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card Tournament presented by Star Tron.
"This is the biggest bag of my life," said Baker of his 29-pound, 8-ounce five-bass limit that was anchored by the big bass of the day – a 9-1.
"I was shaking like a leaf when I caught that big one."
Baker turned 27 on Tuesday, when he caught one of the biggest bass of his life – a 7 ½-pounder – during practice for the Wild Card event. The party hasn't stopped since. If Baker could close out this tournament over the next two days and join his former Auburn University bass team member Jordan Lee in the 2014 Classic field at Lake Guntersville in February, it would be like a dream-come-true.
But Baker still has a lot of work to do. Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Russ Lane also had a big day on Okeechobee with 25-0, and four other anglers caught more than 20 pounds. How will Baker handle the Day One lead with so many experienced anglers, like Lane, trying to spoil his party?
"I love this place," said Baker about Lake Okeechobee. "I finished 11th in an Everstart tournament here in January. I missed 10th place by something like 11 ounces."
Like most of the anglers who did well Thursday, Baker had a flipping stick in his hands all day long. He didn't want to reveal any more details than that. But Lane was more revealing about a day when he caught about 40 bass.
"I was flipping a Big Bite Baits Real Deal Craw with 2- and 2 ½-ounce weights,," Lane said. "I was punching shallow mats, about 2 ½ feet deep. This morning they were hitting it on the first drop through the mat. This afternoon, I had to yo-yo the bait after it punched through the mat."
Lane's 25 pounds was anchored by a big bass weighing 8-6.
"I must have yo-yoed that bait about 30 times before I got her to hit," Lane said.
Even though there are, in the words of Roland Martin "hundreds and hundreds" of bass on spawning beds here now, the sight-fishermen, like Martin and Shaw Grigsby, didn't have a good day. Martin is in 40th place with 8-8 and Grigsby is 42nd with 7-15.
"In probably eight of the nine B.A.S.S. tournaments I've won, I've done it sight-fishing," Grigsby said. "And I've caught fish on beds at Okeechobee from October through July. I had three big ones spotted but they were all gone today. I never saw one of them."
That's just it – the leaderboard could undergo a complete reversal on Friday. Florida bass are well-known for changing day-to-day, especially at Okeechobee. If Baker is going to continue celebrating his birthday, he'll have to adjust as well. The field will be cut from 49 anglers to the top 12 after Friday's weigh-in.
"I found them today, but it's Florida," Baker said. "I don't know if they'll still be there tomorrow."