Tough as nails

BURLINGTON, N.J. — The first day of the 2011 B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Mid-Atlantic Divisional presented by Yamaha and Skeeter was about as tough as fishing gets. Unusually high water levels scattered the fish and turned relatively clear water into something that looked like chili. Add to that wind and rain.

In those conditions a total of 66 bass were caught — all released alive — that weighed 125 pounds, 2 ounces. No angler caught more than three fish and 31 competitors blanked.

The host team, New Jersey, captured the lead with 35 pounds, 9 ounces — some 15 pounds, 9 ounces over second-place West Virginia. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia round out the field, in that order.

The New Jersey anglers were predictably closed-mouthed about what they were doing but several of them admitted that there was a home field advantage because of the difficult conditions.

One member of the team said their success had little to do with them being better bass fisherman, or even that they knew what baits to throw. It was simply that they knew more spots and were able to set up milk runs closer to the launch. “We ran less so we fished more,” was his summation of the day.

He continues on to point out that 11 of their 12 anglers caught bass and that half their team had at least two keeper bass. That compares to West Virginia’s six anglers who caught keepers, with only two of them catching more than one. And, one West Virginia angler is currently leading the individual competition. But for that the gap would be even wider.

That angler is Hobart Butcher, a member of the Appalachian Bassmasters, who brought three bass to the scales that weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces. He caught two largemouth, one pitching and one on a crankbait, along with one smallmouth on a Senko.

That puts him 2 pounds, 4 ounces in front of second-place challenger Paul Gietka, fishing for Maryland. Chris Price, fishing for Delaware, is holding down third place, one ounce behind Gietka.

Under normal circumstances Butcher would be in pretty good shape going into another tough day. Unfortunately, however, he severely aggravated a pre-existing back injury when he fell while stepping over a seat in the boat early this morning and is obviously hurting.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fish or not,” he says, trying to work through the pain. “I’m going to see if I can find a chiropractor and maybe he’ll get me to the point where I can go. I’ll guarantee you one thing. If there’s anyway I can drag myself into that boat I’ll be there.”

Conditions are not expected to improve for tomorrow’s competition.