RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — With Lake Dardanelle tightening up and anglers facing weather challenges on the opening day of the Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive, Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan., was able to take advantage by focusing on a few spots and turning a less-than-stellar practice into the Day One lead with 19 pounds, 7 ounces, Thursday at the second event of the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series season.
Chapman opened up a more than 2-pound advantage over Mark Menendez's 17 pounds, 12 ounces. Menendez, of Paducah, Ky., was one of four anglers in the field using an aluminum boat. The 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion, Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, carried a solid performance at the season opener on Texas' Lake Amistad into the second event, coming in third with 17-5. Rounding out the top five were Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., with 17-1, and Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., with 16-12.
A dense fog prevented Chapman and the other 99 Elite Series anglers from launching at the scheduled time of 7:15 a.m. CT. With safer conditions a little more than three hours later, anglers launched after the delay cut significantly into their competition day.
While the delay was a curse for some — just 41 caught limits — Chapman felt it helped him focus on his most productive spots after a lackluster practice.
"That's how fishing is supposed to go," said the two-time BASS event winner. "I had nothing solid in practice and I wasn't feeling that great about my chances. But things changed really quickly and I was able to limit my focus. I just can't wait to get back out there tomorrow."
Chapman started fast Thursday, boating three keepers with a crankbait in the first 15 minutes of competition. But the real windfall came later at his second spot. Throwing a jig to the shallows, Chapman took advantage of aggressive fish that he felt moved up to the area just hours before he arrived.
Surprised that he was alone in the spot, Chapman was able to upgrade his weight. With Dardanelle poised to absorb some serious overnight rain, the 36-year-old was worried that his spot would be muddied and perhaps not as productive, but he said he plans to visit the same area Friday. With a victory, Chapman would push his BASS career earnings to more than $1 million.
Menendez attributed his Day One success to his unique approach of using an aluminum rig with a 90-horsepower engine. His five-fish limit was buoyed by a 6-pounder, the biggest bass in the field, which was caught while he was targeting a 3-pounder.
"It's your turn when things like that happen," said Menendez, 44. "I had such a blast today. It was like getting back to my old roots. The boat proved to be very effective."
Despite his success, Menendez was unsure whether he would use the aluminum boat or his typical Skeeter rig for Day Two. The two-time BASS event winner practiced with both scenarios and found success, but with the impending onslaught of rain and poor conditions set for Friday, he felt that the aluminum rig might not be the best choice.
Just 7 ounces behind Menendez was Jones. Like Chapman, he was aided by the shortened day. He abandoned his original pattern — sight fishing — for a secondary plan he developed in practice.
Early in the day, he totaled a solid weight using the pattern, which he didn't want to detail, and was then able to revisit his sight-fishing bite. In the last hour of competition, he was able to capitalize on an area he had to himself. He located two fish, both more than 3 pounds, and was able to catch them, leaving just enough time to get back to the docks to check in.
With a second-place showing at the Elite season-opener on Lake Amistad, another solid finish would boost Jones in staking an impressive early claim in the points race for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and its accompanying $200,000 top prize.
Notables Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., (Ninth) and Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., (11th) fared well and are within striking distance. Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., who won the 2007 Bassmaster Major on Dardanelle with 55 pounds, 9 ounces, was 33rd.