First-timer Couch leads

LAKE WALES, Fla. — A cold front pushed through Central Florida late in the morning Thursday, creating tough fishing for the anglers in the season-ending CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Tohopekaliga.

Still, Rick Couch of Ocala, Fla., a first-time BASS competitor, was able to find a 20-plus sack on Toho to take the Day 1 lead. Couch was one of only two competitors to surpass the 20-pound mark much to the surprise — and disappointment — of the rest of the field.

"I had a spectacular day," said Couch, 37. "Fishing the later flight helped me tremendously, and I'm very familiar with the whole chain of lakes. I hit it hard for eight hours and had nine keepers. I'm absolutely going for the big bite."

Couch fished the four major lakes in the Kissimmee Chain, bringing in a five-fish limit of 22-14, including the Purolator Big Bass, a 7-pound, 5-ounce largemouth.

"I caught them all throughout the day, and the big bass on the final cast," said Couch. "I got hung up in the grass and the fish just ate it. I didn't know what I had until I swung it into the boat."

Tom Hamlin of Lizella, Ga., trailed Couch by less than a pound with a five-fish limit of 21-11 and J.T. Kenney, 31, of Frostburg, Md., currently sits in third with 18-13.

"I only caught five fish all day," said Kenney, who won a 2003 Southern Open on Lake Okeechobee. "I thought I'd have a 20 to 25- pound sack, so I'm pretty disappointed. I really thought there would be bigger weights."

Still, Kenney feels positive about his position and ability to bring in an even heavier sack on Day 2.

The local favorite, Terry Scroggins of Palatka, Fla., who also is second in the CITGO Bassmaster Open points standings, was in fourth place with a five-fish total of 17-2. Scroggins switched among several styles before finding his niche: He is flipping crawdad lures and tubes in vegetation.

Non-boater Tim Sisk of Cherryville, N.C., brought in a five-fish limit of 9 pounds, 11 ounces to lead Day 1 in the non-boater standings.

After Day 2, only the top 50 boaters and non-boaters will fish the last day, with their weights carrying over. The winning boater takes home a $50,000 prize package and the winning non-boater takes a Triton boat with Mercury motor valued at $25,000.

The Lake Tohopekaliga Southern Open is the last of three in the series. The Southern Open series will send the top 25 boaters and non-boaters in the points standings to the CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship on the Alabama River, Dec.1-4, in Prattville, Ala.

Location and Field

CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open

Lake Tohopekaliga

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