LAKE WALES, Fla. — Butch Tucker had fished 13 BASS events prior to this week's Citrus Slam presented by Longhorn, but he'd never competed on the co-angler side of a Bassmaster Elite Series event until Thursday.
Tucker made the most of his first appearance during Day One of the Citrus Slam on the Kissimmee Chain.
Tucker weighed a limit of five bass for 17 pounds, 4 ounces, taking the lead in the co-angler division with a Day One total that was almost good enough to break the top 10 on the professional side.
"It was just one of those days," said Tucker, 60, a cardiovascular technician from Moultrie, Ga. "It was definitely my day."
Fishing with Elite Series pro Kevin Wirth, Tucker dragged a Carolina-rig over shell beds in current on Lake Cypress. His biggest bass tipped the scale at 5-1.
"It's a good day getting those kinds of bites when you're fishing behind someone like Kevin Wirth," Tucker said.
Wirth caught five keepers that weighed 7-4 for 72nd place on the pro side.
"I'm not going to say [Wirth] liked it," Tucker said, "but he was a gentleman about it."
Tucker has experience in the front of the boat, having fished a handful of Bassmaster Open events as a boater. He finished in the top-50 twice as an Open boater. His best career BASS finish was eighth at the 2005 Southern Open on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
Tucker's first keeper Thursday came about an hour into the day, and five minutes later his 5-pounder was in the boat. About an hour later, another good-sized fish was in Tucker's side of Wirth's livewell. Tucker completed his limit with a 12-inch keeper that he caught on a fluke.
"He had his three biggest fish before I ever had a bite," Wirth said. "It was just one of those deals where everything was going right for him."
Another first-time Elite Series co-angler also made waves in his debut on Thursday. Tom Mahoney of Land O' Lakes, Fla., had five bass that weighed 16 pounds, including a 7-1 kicker that anchored his Day One bag.
"That was a great day on the water," said Mahoney, who fished with Elite Series pro Ray Sedgwick.
Mahoney calls the Kissimmee Chain his home water, but he hadn't planned on fishing the Citrus Slam. He was actually scheduled to work the tournament as a volunteer, running an ESPN camera boat. But last week he received a call from Jim Hooven, president of the Florida BASS Federation Nation, and learned that a handful of co-angler entries hadn't been filled.
"I'm glad it worked out that way," said Mahoney, who runs a marine supply business.
"He knew what Florida baits to throw," Sedgwick said.
His best lure was a Yamamoto Senko, which he fished around an isolated clump of vegetation in a foot of water for the 7-1 bass.
"It was just a tiny tick," Mahoney said. "I barely felt it."
Pete Davitto of Ocala, Fla., is third with 13-7, Brett Myers of Keller, Texas, is fourth with 10-13, and Gary Paul of Cape Coral, Fla., is fifth with 10-9.
Co-angler competition wraps up Saturday, when the field is cut to 50.
The Kissimmee Chain is known for producing the kind of big bites that can shake up the leaderboard, so the co-angler leaders aren't counting their money just yet. Another X factor for co-anglers could be a possible spawning move for some Kissimmee Chain bass. Numerous anglers reported a wave of bass moving up into shallow spawning beds on Thursday, and fishing behind a sightfishing pro often spells disaster for co-anglers.
"It's nice to be leading it," Tucker said. "But I'd like to be leading it on the third day."