Early lead for Ehrler

LUFKIN, Texas — Brent Ehrler used a strange term to describe the way he fished Sam Rayburn Reservoir during Wednesday’s first round of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
 
“The fish are confused,” he said. “And you have to fish confused.”
 
The tactic worked, as the California pro caught 25 pounds, 6 ounces of bass to take the lead in an event that features a $100,000 first-place prize and an automatic berth into the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
 
His five-bass catch was anchored by a 9-1 largemouth that gave him the lead in the race for Toyota Big Bass of the week. The angler who claims that title will take home a Toyota Tundra pickup truck valued at $50,000. Total payout is $1 million.
 
“It’s really tricky right now,” Ehrler said. “Timing is everything. The fish are just everywhere. You go out, you go in. If it looks good, you fish it.”
 
As part of a catch/weigh/release format that is being used for the first time in an Elite Series event with a full field of 109 anglers, competitors were only allowed to bring one fish to the scales — and that fish had to be at least 21 inches long. The rest were weighed on the water by judges and immediately released.
 
At midday Wednesday, Ehrler wasn’t sure he was going to have much to show to the crowd back at the weigh-in stand. But then he tied into the 9-1 — the second 9-pounder he’s caught in a B.A.S.S. event this year.
 
“I was thinking about it, and I can only remember catching maybe one or two 9-pounders in my whole career on the FLW Tour,” Ehrler said. “I’ve fished the Elite Series for 2 1/2 years now, and I’ve caught three 9-pounders.”
 
Ehrler caught a 9-12 on the first day of this year’s Classic, which was held on another Texas fishery, Lake Conroe, in late March. During his victory in the 2015 Toyota Texas Bass Classic, which partnered this year with B.A.S.S. to create Texas Fest, Ehrler caught the Big Bass of 10-11 in his three-day total of 89-12.
 
Ehrler said Wednesday’s big fish may have been an isolated lunker like the one on Conroe — or it could be the sign of great things to come.
 
“I didn’t catch everything on one spot,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had a big school out deep, and I know I can go back and catch them again tomorrow.
 
“The fish are doing everything right now. I could go out and catch 10 pounds tomorrow, but I could also go out and catch 25 again.”
 
Ehrler’s catch was nearly a pound better than that of Idaho angler Brandon Palaniuk, who caught 24-7, despite an injury to his left shoulder suffered during practice.
 
Palaniuk was openly confident about his chances of duplicating his first-day catch — but not so open about the techniques he was using.
 
“My goal was to catch 30 pounds today,” said Palaniuk, who wore a special warming patch on his injured shoulder Wednesday. “I said I wanted to catch enough today to make the Day 3 cut.
 
“I had a couple of missed opportunities — and one of them, I know for sure, was a big one.”
 
Palaniuk caught several big fish during practice, and he said that gave him confidence going into the event. The plan he put together during practice paid off immediately.
 
“Today, my first fish was an 8-4,” he said. “I caught it on a place where I caught about a 9- or 10-pound fish in practice.”
 
In third place, just 8 ounces behind Palaniuk, is Alabama pro and 2014 Classic champion Randy Howell. 
Unlike Palaniuk, Howell said his first round didn’t go quite as well as his practice.
 
“I’m fishing a shallow pattern, and the water is dropping a little bit,” Howell said. “So I really don’t know how sustainable the pattern is.”
 
After Thursday’s second round, the field will be trimmed to the Top 51 anglers — and Howell should be a lock to make that cut if any portion of his pattern holds up.
 
“I didn’t really catch the numbers today, but I caught a couple of 5-pounders and a 6-pounder,” he said. “A 6-pounder is probably about the biggest fish I can catch for what I’m doing.”
 
The Top 51 will fish Friday’s semifinal round, and the field will take a break Saturday for a special fan appreciation day that will feature seminars, a Toyota ride-and-drive course, boat demos and an outdoors expo featuring a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Adventure Zone. Beginning Friday, a special Get Hooked On Fishing experience will be open to teach youngsters about recreational fishing. Hundreds of Lufkin area schoolchildren are expected to attend.
 
Only the Top 12 remaining anglers will compete on Championship Sunday.
 
Daily takeoffs will be at 7 a.m. CT at Cassels-Boykin Park in Zavalla, Texas. The weigh-ins will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center in Lufkin.

The event is hosted by the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

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