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Tight race at Norman

Before the Bassmaster Lake Norman Open got underway, local Elite Series pro Hank Cherry predicted that it would take four spotted bass and one kicker largemouth a day to be in contention. Cherry must be clairvoyant.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Before the Bassmaster Lake Norman Open got under way, local Elite Series pro Hank Cherry predicted that it would take four spotted bass and one kicker largemouth a day to be in contention. Cherry must be clairvoyant.

All of the top three anglers fishing on the pro side of the event weighed in four spotted bass and one largemouth. North Carolinian David Williams nabbed the lead with 14 pounds, 1 ounce.

Williams claims he caught even better quality bass during practice. The fog this morning helped many of the anglers that were in the early flights. Williams was in flight 1.

“The bass were active the first hour,” he said. “I had my limit by 8 a.m. It got tougher after the sun came out, but I did cull four times.”

Williams leads Richard Howes of Oviedo, Fla., by only 6 ounces. Howes’ kicker largemouth weighed 4 pounds, 5 ounces and was the Big Bass of the day.

Although Howes found the bite slow during practice, he did figure out a pattern that was producing better quality bass. While other pros today were catching 20 bass or more and coming in with light limits, Howes caught only 10 bass, but they were the right ones.

Elite Series pro Chad Morgenthaler of Coultetville, Ill., is in third place, only 3 ounces behind Howes. Morgenthaler was catching 30 bass a day during practice and figured he could sack 10 to 11 pounds Day 1. He got fewer bites, but landed bigger bass.

“Several of the guys in the top 12 are fishing in the same area I am,” Morgenthaler said. “That could make it tougher for all of us tomorrow.”

Leading the co-angler division is North Carolina’s Trey Brown. He boated a three-bass limit early in the day that weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces. Then he spent the rest of the day experimenting with other techniques that might help him Friday.

The morning fog wasn’t thick enough to delay the start of the tournament. It hung around until about 10:30 and gave way to bright sunshine, high pressure and a listless breeze. Anglers who were targeting docks welcomed the sun. Those who preferred more aggressive power fishing methods lamented it.

The leaderboard could change drastically Day 2. The forecast is for clouds, a falling barometer, a nice breeze and a high potential for rain in the afternoon. That should change what the bass are doing and what the anglers need to do to catch them.

Those who adjust to the changing conditions will be the ones that make the top 12 cut on Saturday. The weigh-in that day will happen at the BASS Pro Shops in Concord, N.C., at 4 pm. The winner on the pro side will pocket $5,980 and receive a Skeeter ZX200 rigged with a Yamaha VF200LA outboard and prop, a Skeeter Single Axle Trailer, a Minn Kota Max 80F 42” 24v Trolling Motor and an in-dash Humminbird 788. If the winner fished the two previous Southern Opens this year, he or she will also qualify to fish the 2015 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell.

The winning co-angler will receive the keys to a Triton 17 Pro rigged with a Mercury 115 Pro XS and prop, a Triton single axle trailer, a MotorGuide FW46 42” 12v trolling motor, Lowrance Mark 5 graphs on the dash and bow and a boat cover.

Since this is the final Southern Open of 2014, it will determine which anglers qualify to compete against the world’s best bass fishermen next year on the Bassmaster Elite Series. The invitation goes to the top five anglers in the point standings. Matt Lee’s brother Jordan has already qualified for the Elite Series via the Bassmaster Central Opens. Matt, who sits in seventh place after the first day of the Norman Open, is poised to join his brother on the Elite Series.