GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — In search of his first tournament victory and a spot in the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, angler Russell Colwell of Baltimore, Md., stormed into the lead on Thursday at the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.Boating a limit that weighed 22 pounds, 0 ounces, Colwell finished the day with a comfortable 5-pound-plus lead over Texan Thomas Dickerson. Persevering through a cold day and water temperatures that hovered in the high-40s, Colwell capitalized on just eight bites.If he should hold on, the 48-year-old would win the $100,000 grand prize. Additionally, he would receive guaranteed entry into the Bassmaster Open circuit of choice (Central or Southern). But most important, Colwell would earn entry into the 2007 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 23-25, on Alabama's Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala."It's all about that Classic spot," Colwell said. "The money is certainly nice, but making it to the Classic — that is the dream of everyone who is participating in this tournament."Colwell, who owns a small construction business in Baltimore, rotated his time between four spots he found during what said he was a "terrible" practice period. By 12:30 p.m. Thursday, he had his five-fish limit, mainly by working a Rat-L-Trap in grassy, shallow areas.Dickerson said he also had a disappointing practice period, but was able to put it together during the first competition day. The Orange, Texas, resident mentioned he used the same techniques on Guntersville that he has refined on Sam Rayburn Reservoir near his home.
With 16 pounds, 13 ounces, Dickerson trailed the leader, but it could have been otherwise: He said he missed a lunker that might have weighed as much as 11 pounds. The 42-year-old's goal was to catch 17 pounds each day of the three-day Series Championship, a weight he said he felt would be enough to win.Much like the leader, Dickerson's focus is on the Classic and that one, coveted berth for the 2007 event."A spot in the Bassmaster Classic means more to me than the money," said Dickerson.Ending the first day in third was Jeff Coble, the 2006 ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Champion, with a weight of 16-3. Rounding out the top five were Minnesota's Thomas Borkowski (15-13) and Bradley Leifermann (14-6).Coble took Purolator Big Bass honors with an 8-5 lunker.On the non-boater side leading in the chase for the $50,000 grand prize was Alabama's Richard Shirley with 11 pounds, 15 ounces. He was followed by Georgia's Daniel Jackson (10-2) and Indiana's Rod Yoder (9-11).