Gross grabs Day 1 Champlain lead

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — This time last month, Buddy Gross was struggling to walk after suffering a freak ankle injury while horseback riding.

His right ankle is still grotesquely swollen, but it didn’t slow him down on the water Thursday as he caught five bass that weighed 21 pounds, 13 ounces to take the opening-round lead in the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Champlain.

“I made some good calls today,” said Gross, who weighed in four largemouth and one smallmouth. “I hit some stuff that I’d hit before and managed to catch a few.

“I had two smallmouth in my bag for the biggest part of my day, but I stopped on one more spot on the way in and caught another 4-pound largemouth to cull one of those fish.”

With three days left before the tournament is done, Gross didn’t go into specifics about where and how he was catching either species. But he did say he only hit about three of the 30 places he found to fish for largemouth during practice.

He had all but one of the bass he weighed in by noon.

“I’ve got a bunch of stuff left to fish, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good,” said Gross, who picked up his first career Elite Series victory last year on Alabama’s Lake Eufaula. “They weren’t there like I expected them to be for most of practice, but they seem to be showing up now.

“If I can make it to Saturday when the sun is supposed to come out, I think it could be really good.”

As for the injured right ankle that dogged him during a 52nd-place finish at last month’s Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Ray Roberts, Gross said it is just a matter of being careful. 

“If I hit it just wrong in the boat, it still sends a sharp pain,” he said. “It’s still swollen really badly. I know I need to see a specialist, but right now I just want to fish.” 

Gross holds less than a 1-pound lead over second-place pro Bryan Schmitt of Maryland (21-11) and third-place angler Randy Pierson of California (21-0).