SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — The Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Women's Tour Championship is shaping up to be a contest among champions.
After the first day, 2007 WBT champion Judy Wong of Many, La., led with 15 pounds, 5 ounces. That was 2 pounds more than 2006 WBT champ Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., and 5 pounds, 2 ounces ahead of 2007 Toyota Tundra WBT Angler of the Year Sheri Glasgow of Muskogee, Okla.
"After I caught my limit, I felt pretty good about it. But I knew there are some good anglers in this championship, and they might be catching them as well. I was fortunate with the quality of fish I was able to catch," said Wong.
The field of 20 pros and 20 co-anglers are competing for big prizes. The first-place prize package for pros is $5,000 and a Triton/Mercury boat rig valued at $55,000. Second place pays $4,000 and a $39,000 Skeeter/Yamaha boat rig.
Also on the line for pros are points that count toward the 2009 AOY honors and winnings, a Toyota Tundra and a berth in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake out of Birmingham, Ala. The pro who wins it will be only the second woman to compete in a Classic.
The WBT Championship was moved two days before its start to Cypress Black Bayou Lake, a bass-rich reservoir north of Shreveport-Bossier City. The original fishery, the Red River, was rising, roily and not safe for a competition.
That last-minute change plus falling temperatures and brighter skies gave rise to the slogan of the day: adapt or die. Wong not only adapted, but turned the situation to work for her.
"When they moved it to this lake, it really worked to my favor," said Wong, hot off a regular-season win last month in Tennessee. "Everyone went in on an even playing field. I feel I'm able to utilize my instincts and experience, my knowledge from 20-plus years, so it's really worked in my favor."
Coming into the championship, Martin-Wells led the 2009 AOY race. Wong was in fourth place, 55 points behind Martin-Wells.
"I have to stay focused, not worry about what the other competitors are doing, all I know is what I need to do," said Wong.
Martin-Wells is keeping her cool in much the same way.
"The Good Lord smiled on me today. I pulled up and caught four 'overs' in six casts," she said, referring to the lake's slot limit of under 14 inches to over 17 inches, meaning catches above 14 and just under 17 inches had to be released."
"It's a small body of water, tomorrows a different day, and I'll put my head down and go fishing tomorrow. I think the decision to move was correct — safety's first, always. This is an excellent fishery, it has a ton of fish in it.
The anglers had one day of practice on Bayou Black before the three-day tournament began Friday. Then the skies cleared — but not the river — and the air temperatures dropped. Some anglers are expecting Saturday's and Sunday's competition to change even more.
In the co-angler division, Barbara Gaskins of Suffolk, Va., led after one day with 11 pounds, 13 ounces. In second place was Monica Altman of Angier, N.C., who had 9-11. Third was Vicki Henderson of Ashdown, Ark., with 7-9.
Co-anglers are competing for a piece of a $75,000 payout, including a first-place award of a $40,000 Triton/Mercury rig and $3,250. Second place will pay $2,500 and a Skeeter/Yamaha rig worth $35,000.
The public is invited to the 3:30 p.m. CT weigh-ins at Academy Sports + Outdoors, 2801 Beene Blvd., Bossier City. All events are free and open to the public.
Sponsors of the Women's Bassmaster Tour
Title Sponsor: Academy Sports + Outdoors
Official Sponsors: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Marine, Ramada, Triton Boats, LaserLure and Legend Boats.
Local sponsors for the event include Shreveport Regional Sports Authority.