DECATUR, Ala. — Terry "Big Show" Scroggins had absolutely no confidence in his ability to catch a big limit of bass on Wheeler Lake when he left the launch ramp Thursday morning to start the Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge presented by Advance Auto Parts.
"I always struggle when I come here," Scroggins said. "I always catch a lot of fish, but they're all little ones. So I just said the heck with it. I'm going to go have fun today and catch as many as I can.
Scroggins had more fun than any of the other 106 Elite Series pros Thursday, as evidenced by his 22-pound, 3-ounce five-bass limit that leads the tournament.
"I had kind of a terrible practice," he said. "I don't think I caught a fish over 2 pounds."
But Scroggins, like all the leaders on Day One, found that if you kept picking through the little ones, you'd find a gem every now and then.
"I'd catch 15 or 20 small ones, then — Bam! — there's a big one," Scroggins said. "I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow and see if I can catch another 20 pounds."
The Palatka, Fla., resident wasn't the only pro to top the 20-pound mark Thursday as Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, brought 20-9 to the scales. And he told a story much like that of Scroggins.
"I was just hoping to catch 13 or 14 pounds today," Faircloth said. "I just got real lucky. I caught a big one early this morning. It wasn't like I caught 20 pounds — wham-bam. It was something I worked on all day. I caught the last fish I culled five minutes before I came in.
"You just have to weed through them. That's the deal here. There's so many little fish mixed in with these big fish. That's kind of odd for this time of year. Usually when you find a school of 3-pounders, they'll be schooled up all the same size. But that's not the case here for some reason. You'll catch 20 (little ones) then maybe you'll catch a 3- or 4-pounder."
Dave Wolak just missed the 20-pound mark with his third-place total of 19-4. But he topped the chart in another category with the Purolator Big Bass of the day, which weighed 7-10.
"I just had a great day out there," Wolak said. "A 7-10 mixed in with the rest of your five fish, that's going to go a long way on any tournament anywhere in the country."
The success stories of the three leaders were only part of a surprisingly good day of bass fishing on Wheeler Lake. It was nearly unanimous among the pros that a 15-pound average over four days here would have you in the hunt for the $100,000 first-place check. While consistency will still be the key, that total-weight bar may have been raised a notch on Day One.
"I was done by 9 o'clock," said Kevin VanDam, who is fifth with 18-8. "I pretty much just practiced the rest of the day. I found a couple of new places actually."
Kotaro Kiriyama is in fourth place with 19-0. A total of 19 anglers topped that pre-tournament goal of 15 pounds a day. But Kiriyama and several others in that group are among the gang of anglers in the Decatur Flats area of Wheeler Lake. And that aspect of the tournament has gone exactly as forecast.
"It's no secret where I'm fishing, as well as where a lot of the other top guys are," Faircloth said. "It's a historic place on this lake, and it holds a big population of fish.
"There's just certain key areas out there, and, unfortunately, a lot of guys found those key areas."
Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, was another Decatur Flats resident Thursday. He's in 11th place with 16-12. But he's also certain that he won't be able to catch fish there for four straight days.
"We're going to run out of fish," Reed said. "But I'm going to jerk them as long as I can.
"It wasn't a deal where you could leave them and save them. If you left them, somebody else was going to catch them.
"The crowd is an issue. We're going to run out of fish. I just don't know when."
The fishing pressure on Decatur Flats will ease somewhat on Saturday after the field is cut to the top 50 following Friday's weigh-in. But it's in for another beating tomorrow. That's why some anglers, like VanDam, purposefully stayed away from there.
"I think (the pressure) is going to hurt a lot," said the three-time BASS Angler of the Year. "It always has on this lake. There's a lot of guys fishing the Flats, and it's hard to catch them two days in a row out there.
"I really was trying to look for some more obscure types of places. But these guys are so good, there was a lot of people on spots I didn't think anybody would find. That's what happens when you have the best in the world out there."
But some people are more locked-in to the highly-pressured areas than others. Those who have some back-up spots are more likely to repeat their Day One success. One of those is Timmy Horton, who was the prohibitive favorite coming into this event because he lives in Alabama (Muscle Shoals) and has had consistent success here in the past.
"I've got two places I intentionally didn't fish today that usually have big fish on them," Horton said. "If those pan out tomorrow, this could go pretty good."
The daily 7 a.m. launches and 4 p.m. ET weigh-ins are being held at Ingalls Harbor.