TROUT CREEK, Mont. — Chris Felty’s day didn’t go as planned, but he’s OK with that. The Idaho angler found his groove on Montana’s Noxon Reservoir and now leads on Day 1 of the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation Western Divisional.
“This morning, I went to my No. 1 spot from practice,” said Felty of Caldwell, Idaho, “but all the good fish were gone. So I moved into current and just started looking for smallmouth.”
His Plan B paid off, and he brought in a bag of 13 pounds, 11 ounces, nearly a pound heavier than anyone else in the field.
“It was a grind to get my weight,” Felty said, but he managed it with a mixed bag of four smallmouth and one largemouth.
Felty has been a member of Boise Bass, an Idaho B.A.S.S. Nation club, for two years, and this is his first B.A.S.S. Nation divisional.
“I’ve never led a tournament before,” he said. “It’s tough. You can lose on the first day, but you can’t win on the first day.”
Now, Felty has pressure on him.
“I’m just going to go back and chase smallmouth tomorrow,” he said. “The water will get dirtier, so I have to have enough patience to get it going and wait for the bite to happen.”
Although no one is right on his heels, the rest of the anglers in the Top 12 have more than 12 pounds, so they’re not that far back. Half the field caught five-fish limits, and a handful of the anglers weighed in bass on Day 1 that exceeded 3 pounds. His 1-pound lead is healthy but doesn’t give him much wiggle room.
Felty’s overall lead helped his state team to a second-place standing after Day 1. Idaho has a cumulative weight of 106 pounds, 5 ounces, and throughout the weigh-in, it swapped the top spot back and forth with Montana. Montana, the host state, ultimately ended the day in first place with 114 pounds.
“Last time we hosted the divisional, we didn’t do that well,” said Curtis Spindler, Montana B.A.S.S. Nation president. “We had good anglers then, and we have good anglers now. So we’re going to try our best to win this time.”
In the lead for Montana is Tim Johnston of Kalispell, Mont., who won the top spot on Montana’s team last year and went on to compete in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic after winning the West at the national championship. He’s vying for another top spot and potential trip to the Classic.
“I still can’t get over the fact that I was in the Classic,” said Johnston. “I had dreams about it for three weeks afterward. I want to go back.”
If Johnston maintains his lead for Montana, he’ll compete in the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship on Louisiana’s Ouachita River, Nov. 6-8. Currently on deck to join him are Felty for Idaho; Eric Hammer, Arizona; Dwayne Fochler, California; Scott Sheldon, Colorado; Kevin Wiggins, Nevada; Kyle Price, New Mexico; Michael Gibney, Oregon; Don Allphin, Utah; Mitch Ratchford, Washington; and Bill Golightly, Wyoming.
The biggest bass on Day 1 was a 5-4 caught by second-place Mitch Ratchford of Kennewick, Wash. If his bass holds up, he’ll earn Carhartt Big Bass honors for the tournament.
Tune in tomorrow on Bassmaster.com for coverage of Day 2 of the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation Western Divisional. Takeoff is at Lakeside Motel and Resort Boat Launch in Trout Creek, Mont., at 6 a.m. MT. The weigh-in is in the same place at 2 p.m. MT. Competition concludes on Friday, May 23.