Low weights and high hopes

ORANGE, Texas — Despite 13 Elite Series anglers failing to catch a single 14-inch bass and another 27 boating only one, everybody expects he's still got a shot at the Sabine River Challenge $100,000 first-place check.

Sure, Dean Rojas seems like a favorite after Thursday since he managed a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 10 ounces. Mark Davis (13-13) and Cliff Crochet (13-0) are in great shape too.

But no one is confident about repeating anything on this river system.

"I just need catch five [Friday]," said Rojas, who had the day's big bass weighing 5-15. "That big one was a gift. It's hard to say what it's going to take to win this tournament."

Davis knew he'd found some good fish during the three practice days on the Sabine, but he didn't expect 13 pounds on Day One, and he doesn't think it will take that to make the 12-man cut for Sunday's final.

"I think an average of 12 pounds a day is going to be a pretty tall order," Davis said. "It could take less than that."

The story on the Sabine so far this week has been: So many options, so few 14-inch bass, so many short fish and a maze of shallow obstacles in the way.

Dennis Tietje, the local favorite in the 100-angler field, suffered an outboard motor failure about 20 miles into the long run he planned to make Thursday morning. Tietje lost about half his eight-hour fishing time before getting back on the river. He didn't lose the whole day thanks to some heroic efforts by the Elite Series service crews and the local sheriff's department. Tietje salvaged one 2-pound, 14-ounce bass, which put him in 67th place.

"Those guys that caught 13-pound sacks today could zero tomorrow," Tietje said. "I'm still in the game. But I'm not going to lie to you: I could have cried this morning."

There was plenty of other crying Thursday.

"I've fished a lot of tough places in my day, but this one takes the cake," said Mike Iaconelli, who had two keepers weighing 4-3. That total left him in 51st place, amazingly close to the top 50 cut that will occur after Friday's weigh-in.

Skeet Reese, on the other hand, weighed a 5-bass limit totaling 9-1, which put him in 15th place.

"I'm ecstatic about that," he said. "I feel like I just won the lottery."

It's not like the Sabine River doesn't have any bass in it, so there are rays of hope mixed in with the aggravation.

"I must have caught 40 fish today, but only one of them measured," said Andy Montgomery, who is 73rd with 1-14. "It's frustrating, because I know what's going on."

Montgomery was alluding to the fact that not everyone has figured out how to catch a bass here this week, but even some of the guys who have didn't have much to show for it after Day One.

For the winners and the losers Thursday, it's all about tomorrow on the Sabine River. And everyone's still in the game.