FLORENCE, Ala. — Blake Sylvester only caught five keeper bass during Wednesday’s first round of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, but he made each bite count.
Sylvester, a 29-year-old resident of Plaquemine, La., weighed a limit of five largemouth that totaled 16 pounds, 10 ounces. That gave him an early lead in this three-day event on Pickwick Lake where $176,800 in cash and prizes is up for grabs, not to mention three precious slots in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts in Texas.
Sylvester, the B.A.S.S. Nation champ from the Bayou State, finished third overall in the Central Regional held last month at Toledo Bend Reservoir, and he kept the hot hand on Pickwick. He was the second boat on the water Wednesday (following only last year’s Nation Championship winner Cody Hollen of Beaverton, Ore.), and Sylvester wasted no time getting quality bass in his livewell.
“I caught my two biggest fish first thing this morning,” Sylvester said. “There was a 4 3/4-pounder and another one that was just shy of 4 pounds. I wanted to get something going this morning. You can’t win a tournament on Day 1, but you definitely can lose a tournament on Day 1.”
Despite the fast start, Sylvester struggled to find a consistent bite. He estimated he only caught 10 bass, and half of those were undersized. He said he pounded two particular areas but didn’t boat his fifth keeper until 1:30 p.m., only minutes before he needed to scramble back to McFarland Park for weigh-in.
“I’m from Louisiana, so you know I’m looking for grass,” Sylvester said. “It wasn’t hard to find it, but I couldn’t find many fish to go with that grass. Nothing was easy today. It was a grind.”
Still, Sylvester has had momentum on his side recently, and it’s showing in his recent results. He said he can stay atop the leaderboard at Pickwick if he has a little luck Thursday.
“A couple more 4-pounders would be nice,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s gonna be tough again. I was the No. 2 boat out today, but the area I’m on isn’t (a time-sensitive bite) and I haven’t seen anybody else fishing it. I’m confident, but I just don’t know what I have left there. I’ve got a couple of other spots I think I can get bit on if I need it.”
Eddie Levin of Westerville, Ohio, is in second place with 16-1. The 27-year-old firefighter caught his best bass before the wind picked up midmorning.
“My first fish was about a 5-pounder or so, but I lost it,” Levin said. “I had all my weight by 9 o’clock, but my area got blown out, and I kind of went pre-fishing. I caught a lot more fish doing that. I really hope the wind lays down tomorrow. If it does, I think you’re going to see a really big bag.”
Josh Ray of Alexander, Ark., is third in the boater division (15-15), followed by Richard Lindgren of Lakeville, Minn., (15-4) and Josh Hubbard of Braidwood, Ill., (15-1).
Utah’s Terry Peterson took the lead in the co-angler division with a five-bass limit that weighed 14-10. He fished with New Mexico’s Christian Gladfelter, who had 14-9 and is in seventh place in the boater division.
“He put me on some good fish,” Peterson said. “That’s all you can ask for. We figured some things out. It was good teamwork and fortunately, the bites we had were good ones.”
Mike Caul of Petersburg, Va., is second among co-anglers with 13-9. Lewis Mendall of Winthrop, Mass., is third (12-13), followed by Aaryn Coroneos of Henderson, Nev., (11-6) and Steve Hinkle of Mount Nebo, W.Va., (9-9).
B.A.S.S. Nation champions from 46 different states are competing, with only North Dakota, Connecticut, Hawaii and Alaska not represented. Hollen, who received an automatic berth as the defending champ, and Paralyzed Veterans of American Angler of the Year Ken Carter bumped the boater division to 48 total competitors.
The Top 10 anglers following Thursday’s weigh-in will survive the cut and fish Friday’s championship round, as will the leading two anglers from each of the five B.A.S.S. Nation regions (Southeast, Northeast, Northern, Western and Central) if they aren’t among the overall Top 10.
The top co-angler, who will win $10,000 in paid entries to 2021 Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens tournaments, will also fish Friday, and so will any co-angler whose two-day total exceeds the 10th-place total in the boater division.
Day 2 of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Championship will begin with a 6 a.m. CT takeoff Thursday from McFarland Park. Weigh-in will be held back at the park at 2 p.m.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Florence.