Reese holds opening day lead

Skeet Reese is working hard to hold on to his lead at the Southern Challenge.

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Working through more than 200 bass and burning nearly 10,000 calories, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., was looking for a frosty beverage and some empty calories to rejuvenate the senses after a scorching Thursday on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.

And the 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year certainly deserves a mild celebration after toting 29 pounds, 3 ounces, to the scales, at the Synergy Southern Challenge, which put him in the familiar position at the top of the leaderboard.

This week, Reese is bidding for his fifth consecutive top 5 finish in Elite competition, which is unprecedented territory. But he will have to hold off two decorated veterans and fellow AOY winners Gary Klein (second) and Mark Davis (third) to accomplish that feat.

Perhaps the only thing that can steal the headlines from Reese is fish-factory Lake Guntersville. Guntersville is turning on at the opportune time, cranking out 40 limits that weighed more than 20 pounds. And if anyone knows how to take advantage of a primed Guntersville, it's Reese, who scored a second-place finish here in 2009.

"I'm dog-tired right now," said Reese, a five-time Bassmaster winner. "It's an absolute grind. My hands are so shredded right now from catching fish, it's crazy. It's almost every cast. My first cast, literally, I caught a five-plus off the bat."

If not for two lost brutes, Reese said his limit would have weighed more than 30 pounds, but all in all, he was pleased with his execution. He was keying in on schools of bass that he located in practice and was milking them until he felt it became counter-productive.

After practice, Reese — similar to many others in the field — felt that weights would be significantly down from last year's slugfest on Guntersville. The 40-year-old was finding schools in practice but wasn't exploiting the areas, instead saving them for competition. Initially, he thought 18 pounds a day would get an angler into the top-47 cut, but after his first cast, he knew he needed to change his mindset.

Amazingly, Reese is fishing all different areas than the ones he used to post the second-place last year. He still has some back-up water that he hasn't visited but felt that his schools would regenerate and would concentrate on those areas first-thing Friday.

"I've saved some schools but that doesn't mean that I will need them," said Reese, who declined to reveal specifics of his pattern. "It was a fun day but I'm going to need to keep it up to have a shot."

Klein, the 1989 AOY, registered 28 pounds, 4 ounces, and is less than 1 pound behind Reese, a gap that means little on Guntersville. With a late launch position, Klein, who located a number of productive areas in practice, knew he had to nail his decision and pick the right one or risk having to scramble. He picked correctly, finding himself alone and caught his entire total by Noon. He spent the rest of the day defending his spot and didn't see another boat come into the area.

He is fishing a transition area that sets up so the fish come directly to him. He knew he could have totally milked the area and perhaps built a bigger total, but the 52-year-old decided to save the area in hopes of it remaining productive throughout the four-day event.

The Weatherford, Texas, pro is having a stellar season, heading into Guntersville in 16th in the AOY standings, and in good position to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason.

"You can pretty much catch them anyway you want to," said Klein, 52. "I've got a little deal that's working and I just hope it holds up Friday.

Davis, the 1995 AOY, was the first angler to weigh in, coming back to the check-in point 1 hour early. The Mt. Ida, Ark., pro quit fishing at 10 a.m. and essentially practiced the remainder of the day.

"I had the best practice I've ever had in 28 years of tournament fishing," said Davis, who amassed 27 pounds, 12 ounces. "The sheer numbers of fish are so astounding. It's going to be a four-day horserace and it should be exciting."

Behind Davis in fourth was Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., with 27-11. Rounding out the top five was 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., with 26-12.

After Friday, only the top 47 anglers will qualify for Saturday. And of those, only the top 12 will move on to Sunday.

Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., took home the $100,000 first-place prize and the Southern Challenge trophy last year for his fifth career BASS victory. Martens struggled Thursday, posting a 43rd-place finish.