Virginia Tech takes big lead

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Virginia Tech’s team of Carson Rejzer and Wyatt Blevins thought they had a good game plan as they were finishing practice for the Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Championship. But when they trolled out of an Arkansas River backwater area into the main river channel, they found a game-changer.

The shallow ridge of brush, rocks, metal and maybe even a shell-bed led them to a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 9 ounces on Thursday’s opening day of the tournament.  It left them one ounce shy of a four-pound lead over Texas A&M’s Wesley Brown and Andy Shafer, who totaled 11-10.

Most importantly, Rejzer and Blevins are in great shape to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. Only the top five teams in this 36-boat field will continue after Friday’s competition on Lake Maumelle.

“We were leaving a backwater area (Wednesday) and we found this ridge right off the main river channel,” Rejzer said. “On the depthfinder it went from 10 feet deep to two feet, then to 15 feet in an area of about five or six feet. It looked like a mountain out there.

“I caught about a 15-incher that had three or four bigger ones chasing it, made a second cast and saw the same thing, then said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ ”

It’s where they started on Day One of the tournament, with instant results.

“On my third cast I caught a three-pounder,” Blevins said. “We got there about 6:15 (a.m.) and we were culling by 6:50. We probably caught about 20 to 25 fish today.”

Most of their bass were caught on Strike King Series 5 crankbaits in either chartreuse-and-white or greenback-and-pearl color patterns. Their big bass weighed 4-8 and hit a jig.

“I think there’s a logjam in there,” Rejzer said. “But there’s rock too, and I know there is some kind of metal in there, the way our lines were getting abraded. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a (mussel) shell-bed in it.

“It’s just one little spot, but it’s got everything the fish need.”

Rejzer and Blevins still have to catch some bass on Lake Maumelle Friday, but they’ve got a comfort zone unavailable to the other teams trying to make the top five. Only two-and-half pounds separates the teams in second through sixth place.

A&M’s Brown and Shafer anchored their second-place bag with the big bass of the day – a five-pounder Brown caught near a wastewater treatment outlet pipe in the Little Rock Pool of the river. It hit a Zoom green-pumpkin shaky-head worm.

“I’ve been fishing here four years,” Shafer said. “And four years ago I saw this guy from Oklahoma fish that area and totally dominate. I’ve fished it ever since.”

They caught three keepers in that spot and fished rock jetties for other two in their limit.

Stephen F. Austin’s Ryan Watkins and Andrew Upshaw locked up to Pool 7 and caught enough bass that they didn’t want to chance any late check-in penalties, so they were back at the Murray Park launch ramp an hour early Thursday. They used Sixth Sense crankbaits and six-inch Robo Worms on a drop shot rig to catch 18 keepers. Their best five weighed 11-2.

Upshaw had one of the best “fish stories” of the day. He was reeling in a 7-inch spotted bass that hit his drop shot rig when two four-pounders followed it in. One of the big fish made a charge at the little spot and had “all but an inch-and-a-half of it in its mouth,” Upshaw said. “I tried to just ease it into the net, but it let go.”

They are confident they can catch fish at Lake Maumelle.

“We’re going to fish deep, really deep,” Upshaw said. “That’s where I’m most comfortable.”

Georgia’s Chase  Simmemon and Randy Tolbert had the most up-and-down day.

“We lost a six-pounder and two-three pounders, and it just seemed like everything was going wrong,” Tolbert said.

Then they spun the hub in their outboard motor and had to settle for idle speed and their trolling motor until a replacement boat could be brought to them. That didn’t keep the Georgia team from catching three bass that weighed 10-7, leaving them in fourth place.

North Carolina State’s Josh Hooks and Chris Wood rounded out the top five with 10-4. They were using crankbaits, shaky head worms and spinnerbaits around rock jetties.

“We probably caught 10 keepers and 20 other fish,” Hooks said.

After Friday’s competition at Maumelle, the top five teams will have their two-day weights zeroed before starting competition Saturday on a “mystery lake” where no one has had a chance to practice. The winning team Saturday will be crowned Mercury College B.A.S.S. National Champion.

Then the two teammates will go one-on-one Sunday at another as yet unnamed body of water to determine a qualifying spot in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.