Lots of big bass were caught on Day 1 of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Tournament on Lake Guntersville. Here are the stories of how seven of the biggest bass were caught and the emotions each of the Elite anglers experienced during the battle. We'll start with veteran Bernie Schultz (photo above), who had the Phoenix Big Bass of the Day, a 7 pounder.
Bernie Schultz, 7 pounds
“I was slipping down a bank, and catching some fish. Nothing exciting; 2 to 3-pounders. I got a bite, felt just like the rest of them. I set the hook, and it just buried me in the grass.
“It tore out, came out in the channel, and I got it up high enough where I could see it, and it looked like about a 4-pounder. That was the best fish so far, and it was hooked good, so I took my time. I wanted to get my hands on it, and by the time I got her up to the top, I put my thumb in her mouth, I realized it was a lot bigger fish.
“When I pulled her out of the water, she had this freakish frame. She's real short, but super deep, big hump behind her head. Super healthy fish, beautiful fish, and she tested all my tackle.
“I had a few expletives. I let a few of them out. I was pretty stoked.
“It's been a long time since I've had a big fish. I caught a 7-pounder at Fork. But I used to catch a lot of big fish, and I just haven't been catching many big fish in the last few years. It's really been frustrating. So, it’s nice finally getting a few big fish, and they're coming in the boat.”
Brandon Cobb, 6 pounds, 7 ounces
“I was fishing in a community hole with three other boats. It was me, Shane LeHew and Skylar Hamilton.
“We're all sitting there in a circle basically and Shane sets the hook. I'm watching, "Oh, dang. Shane's got one." He's reeling it in, reeling it in.
“All of a sudden I look down, my line's pulling back because I was watching him set the hook. Shane's is about a 2-pounder. Mine came up in the middle of all three of us. I was like, "That's not a two pounder."
“They kind of eased off and it was swimming towards Skylar's boat, so we kind of eased back and fought it around the boat five times. I caught it on a 6-pound test with a 1/0 hook and took me about four or five minutes to get it in.
“Finally got it inside the boat and lipped it, pulled it in. The heart was definitely pounding on that one.
“With 6-pound test, with that light line, that little bitty hook, the whole time I'm reeling him in I can feel his teeth sawing the line. The whole way in I can feel it.
“Every time he'd shake his head I'd feel “ku, ku, ku” teeth sawing the line. So you couldn't pull it hard and I just let him basically circle out like a tuna to the boat.”
Brandon Lester, 6 pounds, 5 ounces
“I had already fished this place about 9:00. It's an old roadbed. They get up on top of that roadbed later in the day, and I knew they would eventually get there. I caught some small ones off of it this morning. I caught a couple of 3-pounders, but not anything big.
“So, I come back about 1:00. I mark them. I graph them. I get lined up. I fire in there, catch two or three small ones. Then I caught one about 5 and a half. I think it weighed 5-7.
Then three casts later, I feel a little tick and, honest to God, it felt like a bluegill. It was just, tick, tick. I set the hook and it was pretty apparent it wasn't a bluegill. I thought it was an 8-pounder, to be honest with you.
“I told my marshal, I said, ‘Oh, my god. It's a giant. It's an 8-pounder.’
“But it was one of those fish with a great big head and it was humpbacked. But it was real skinny.
“At that point, I knew 20 (pounds) is what I was shooting for. I feel like that's where you want to be today to be in contention going forward in this tournament.
“I knew I was over 20. I ain't going to say I quit fishing. I kept on fishing that place. But I didn't fish it quite as hard as. It was a good one to catch, for sure.”
Hank Cherry, 5 pounds, 4 ounces
“I had a feeling about a place I'd been looking at the whole time I was fishing. I went over, made a perfect pitch, bait hit the bottom, the line jumped about five feet. I revved down and cracked.
“I don't know what I was thinking. What I remember, I just know five cranks of the handle, and she’s up in the boat.
“At that point in time, that was number four. That's what just gave me the peace to settle down. Everything's going to be just all right.”
Brock Mosley, 5 pounds, 4 ounces
“I pulled up on one of my offshore places and as soon as I got there I knew I was going to catch them.
“I was hoping it had enough break. I pulled out my drop shot and fished out to it. About the third or fourth cast she bit.
“She felt really big and I had to really work her to get her in. I was throwing 8-pound test line, so I was kinda just babying her in.
“She came up and jumped two times. I mean it was heart-stopping every time. By the time I got her in, I was shaking so bad I had to sit there and collect my thoughts. I knew that fish made my day and probably made my tournament if I can catch them again tomorrow.
“I wanted to scream. But I didn't want anybody to hear. There's boats everywhere.
“I wanted to scream. But all I did was I gave my marshal a high five, I was pumped up. And we sat there and took a second and let it sink in. That's one thing I've been lacking every day is a big bite like that, so I knew that was going to make my day.”
Paul Mueller 5 pounds, 4 ounces
“I had two that were around the same size, but I'm going to say my biggest fish was the one I caught in the morning. I caught it in on a Reins 10-inch bubble and shaker worm on a magnum jighead.
“When I hooked it, I thought it was a catfish because it just went ballistic. Then I saw it was a bass. I didn't think it was hooked that good so I kind of played it out. And the fish took me around the boat a few times.
“Well, I get it around the final time. And I try to lead it around the trolling motor to come to the console. I think the fish has cleared the trolling motor but it actually ran into the trolling motor. I have Spotlock on, my trolling motor kicks in and wraps the line. Now I have line wrapped all in my trolling motor and a fish that I don't even know if it's still on.
“I turn off the Spotlock, I lift the trolling motor. I see the fish is there. I just reached and grabbed it, thankfully it was exhausted by then. But I was almost halfway in the water by the time I got my hands on it.
“It was the ugliest fish catch ever. It was horrible, it was probably my worst fish-landing of all time. But I landed it, so you know what? Hey, it's all good.”
Garrett Paquette 5 pounds, 2 ounces
“I was fishing a ledge where there was a little, subtle drop where I had caught some bigger fish in practice, and I'd already caught my limit, it was fairly small, so I figured, ‘I'm gonna go over here and, you know, try to upgrade my bag.’
“I'm sitting there and a boat pulls up to me and it's Thomas Allen, and he's like, ‘Hey, can we jump in and do a story for you? I want it to be done from your boat."
“I'm like, ‘All right, well get in.’ So, he's sitting up there quizzing me and I'm kind of half-distracted, you know, trying to answer questions. All of a sudden my rod goes thump.
“I still had the hook way out there and this fish came up and jumped. It was kind of mayhem. He was in the driver seat where I needed to get and he had his laptop and everything spread open. So he's rushing, he's throwing stuff to the back of the boat and I'm fighting it.
“I'm trying not to, you know, obviously not let it come off. We got it close, and it was still pretty crowded with him and another marshal there, but it was neat. I mean, it made for an interesting moment.
“It was like perfect timing. He had a camera. We were taking pictures of it jumping next to the boat. We got it in, kind of high-fived, and put in the line and went on with the interview.
“Just another day on the Elite Series.
“But a fish like that is what separates you from 40th place right now into the top 20.”