Flying High

DEL RIO, Texas — Victor Cunningham doesn't have the opportunity to fish the co-angler side of every Elite Series event, so he picks a couple of tournaments each season, as his job with U.S. Airways allows him to fly for free.

 Last year, for example, he fished at the tour's two California events.

 Cunningham picked a good place to get in on the action this year.

 An airplane mechanic from Phoenix, Ariz., he sacked 18 pounds, 13 ounces, Friday to seize the lead in the co-angler division of the Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors.

 He fished Day One with Arkansas pro Mike McClelland, who landed in second place on the professional side with 29-5.

 "What an awesome day," Cunningham said. "When you come into these things, you just hope you get a pro who can put you in position to catch some fish, and he did."

 Co-anglers are only being allowed a three-fish limit this week, a departure from the usual five-bass maximum: BASS officials reduced the co-angler limit this week because of Lake Amistad's reputation for producing giant bass and the potential for fish-care problems.

 Last week at Falcon Lake, where the BASS weight record fell, the loads of giant bass that pros and co-anglers hauled in caused crowding in livewells, an unhealthy situation for the fish. Because of Amistad's history of giving up big bass, tournament officials took a cautious approach to avoid overcrowding during this event.

 Co-anglers had little trouble filling the reduced limit Friday, with 99 of the 109 competitors carrying three-fish limits to the scale.

 Mike Williams of Delhi, La., is second with 17-9, followed by Billy Fillmon of Del Rio, Texas. James Lynn of Georgetown, Texas, who finished 14th last week at Falcon, is fourth with 15-5. Harry Parten of Sweet Water, Ala., is fifth with 14-11.

 Fillmon drew a huge ovation from the partisan crowd. Originally from north Texas, the retiree has lived in Del Rio since 2000. He's been making regular trips to Lake Amistad for 13 years, he said.

 "This is the first BASS event I've ever fished," said Fillmon, who fished Friday with Derek Remitz, last year's winner on Amistad. "The only problem with today is that I won't get to fish with Derek Remitz again tomorrow."

 Like Fillmon, Cunningham is no stranger to Lake Amistad.

 "I come out here every October and catch fish on topwaters," he said.

 With this year's Battle on the Border taking place about a month later than the previous two events here, fewer bass are actively spawning. Fewer pro anglers are sightfishing on shallow spawning beds, a technique that usually hurts co-angler success.

 Cunningham employed techniques he uses in the western U.S. to load the boat Friday. His Day One bag included a 7-4 kicker that he caught on a jig in deeper water. He also had a 7-1 bass in his bag.

 "I just used a lot of stuff that I use out West and brought it here," Cunningham said.

 His strategy also included big swimbaits. He said he caught a total of six fish on Friday.

 "I'm going for the big bites," Cunningham said. "I didn't come here to throw a 6-inch Senko. This tournament changed a lot since we didn't fish [Thursday], so I figure I need to swing for the fence."

 Co-angler competition will conclude Saturday, with the entire co-angler field competing both days. Because the first competition day was cancelled Thursday, there will be no cut to the top 50 co-anglers as in most events.

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