DEL RIO, Texas – Lake Amistad is known for both its quantity and quality of bass. But oftentimes these bass don’t bite unless the wind blows. On day one of the Wal-Mart FLW Series East-West Fish-Off, the wind blew and the bass responded. As the smoke cleared after a busy opening weigh-in, the National Guard Western Division held its own and took a 17-13 advantage.
Leading the way for the West was Jimmy Reese, who caught 26 pounds, 12 ounces and took a whopping 21-pound, 5-ounce lead over bracket mate Tommy Biffle.
Interestingly, Reese was the last angler among the 60 pro qualifiers to weigh in. But his catch was worth the wait. Reese’s 26-12 was the fourth stringer over 26 pounds, all but one coming from the Western Division.
The pro from Witter Springs, Calif., was helped by a major gaffe from Biffle. Early Thursday morning, Biffle was catching several 14- and 15-inch fish – four to be exact. Thinking he would only cull them out throughout the day, Biffle threw them back. He ended up weighing only three fish for 5-7.
“I think I dug myself a grave,” said the Wagoner, Okla., native.
Reese, a two-time Stren Series Western Division Angler of the Year, caught 15 keepers himself, the three biggest weighing roughly 7 pounds apiece.
“I got three big bites today, and in practice I was only getting one good bite per day.”
Reese’s primary pattern is dragging a 5/8-ounce football-head jig over brush in 20 to 40 feet of water. He tips the jig with a Yamamoto twin-tail grub in green-pumpkin color.
“They’re staging, but they’re not in cruising mode. I saw fish cruising the shallows earlier in practice, and I’m ready to make an adjustment if I have to.”
The three-time Stren Series champion had a strange start to the Fish-Off as he inauspiciously forgot his net. After debating whether or not to return to the marina to retrieve it, he finally decided to head back in. At about 7:20 a.m. his co-angler was seen sprinting up the hill in the direction of his truck.
“I’m very thankful we got that net. My goal is to just catch 20 pounds a day. Wherever I end up is where I end up. If I need to, I can readjust Saturday morning.”
Russell doubles Baumgardner with 26-9
Neil Russell caught the second-heaviest limit of the day with 26 pounds, 9 ounces, more than doubling the weight of his opponent, Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner, who caught a limit weighing 13 pounds, 1 ounce.
“Things went like things occasionally do,” said a pleased Russell.
The Nampa, Idaho, resident caught the majority of his weight within the first half-hour following takeoff. The only other fish that he kept in his tournament limit of five bass was a 5-pounder that bit at 10 a.m.
“I had battery problems and could only fish for about 10 minutes at a time. I was fortunate that I caught those fish early.”
Like Reese, Russell is dragging a jig, although he prefers 3/4-ounce. He’s also using a 1-ounce Carolina Rig with a kudzu-colored Zoom Brush Hog. Both baits are being presented in 15 to 30 feet of water. The bottom of the water column where Russell is targeting his bass is covered with 6 inches of hydrilla.
“I was nervous last night at the meeting, but I’m real comfortable with how I’m fishing. I fish like this quite a bit at home. I actually found these fish on Tuesday when it blew 40 mph. I guess it was worth not staying in the hotel room like a lot of guys did.”
Tuck takes third overall, leads Morehead
More than a few of the Western anglers saw the breeze this morning and picked up the swimbait. For most of the pros, it was an unwise decision, but not for Michael Tuck of Antelope, Calif. He is the lone angler at the top of the leaderboard using the plastic fish.
“I’m throwing a swimbait,” said Tuck, who opened up a 13-pound lead on veteran FLW Tour pro Dan Morehead. “All West Coast, all day long. Today was actually a little surprising. I thought it was going to be my worst day.”
Tuck said he only received a quarter of the bites he had yesterday. He still caught 12 keepers, but he was averaging 35 to 50 in practice. He starts his day by throwing a shad-colored swimbait in shallow water. Then he backs off a bit and begins working a 1/2-ounce football-head jig with a Sweet Beaver trailer. Of the five he weighed in, three came on the swimbait and two came on the jig.
“I’m running a pattern that’s working all over the lake. There’s so many fish out here that have never seen a swimbait.”
Tuck wouldn’t get into specifics about his beloved swimbait, especially in terms of size.
“I’m going to hold off on that one, because that’s the real key.”
Rose rolls over Meyer
Coming in with the fourth-heaviest limit overall and the heaviest limit among the BP Eastern contingent was Mark Rose of Marion, Ark. His 26-pound, 4-ounce limit opened up a good lead over Clayton Meyer of Las Vegas, who caught a limit weighing 12-5.
Ever since Rose won the FLW Series Eastern Division event on Pickwick Lake, he’s been red hot. In fact, he just might be the hottest angler going in the sport of professional bass fishing.
“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “I’m just riding it now. You’ve just got to ride the wave while you can.”
Rose is fishing with a heavy heart this week as his grandfather recently passed away. Because he spent considerable time with his family, he only practiced for one full day.
“I want to dedicate my day to him. Sometimes good things just happen, and you can’t explain it.”
On the day, Rose culled three times, and the two biggest fish in his creel were 8-pounders. His key bait has been a 3/4-ounce Strike King football-head jig in green-pumpkin color.
“I’m fishing 40 feet deep, and I’m catching some real shallow. I intended to fish deep all day, but the wind really affected me.”
Lefebre catches 24-12, leads Salewske
Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., caught the fifth-heaviest limit – 24 pounds, 12 ounces – and topped 2007 Forrest Wood Cup qualifier Rusty Salewske of Alpine, Calif., by almost 8 pounds. Salewske caught five bass for 17 pounds even and lost one good fish that would have put him within striking distance of the Kellogg’s pro.
“I’ll be swinging tomorrow,” said Salewske, who has been averaging one or two big bites a day during practice.
“It was a lot of fun out there today,” said Lefebre. “Sixteen pounds was my best day in practice; I was not on them.
“Today was the first day I caught a swimbait bass in my life. As Iaconelli would say, they were choking on it.”
Divis drags for co-angler lead
FLW Tour champion co-angler Frank Divis Sr. had a remarkable opening day on Lake Amistad. Fishing with Star, Idaho, native Ken Wick, Divis caught a five-bass limit that weighed 23 pounds, 1 ounce.
Divis knew he was going to be successful in this tournament because the bass were biting his favorite bait: a jig. On his first cast Thursday, he caught a 3-pounder. He then broke off a 9-pounder at the boat. After that, the fishing slowed for several hours until he hit a flurry at around noon.
“I’ve won over $200,000 on a football-head jig, and I’m not going to change,” said Divis, who won the 2007 season-opening FLW Tour event on Lake Travis.
In practice, Divis primarily used a 3/4-ounce PJ’s finesse football-head jig. With today’s strong northwest winds, he switched to a 1-ounce jig of the same variety. Both baits were tipped with a green-pumpkin and red-flake crawfish trailer.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m not surprised. This is my type of fishing. This tournament was suited for me just like Travis. I lost 27 jigs today in the trees, but that’s OK.”
The Fayetteville, Ark., native said his bigger fish have been coming from 25 to 40 feet of water.
“Those fish are staging out there in that deep water. Every fish has a roof on their mouth that is red. That tells me they’re eating crawfish, and when they’re eating crawfish, there’s nothing better than a football-head jig.”
Lindner outfishes Amistad Elite Series champion
The biggest upset of the day didn’t even take place in one of the brackets. It took place in Derek Remitz’s boat. The winner of the 2007 BASS Elite Series event on Lake Amistad got humbled by his co-angler partner from day one, Steve Lindner. The Lakewood, Calif., resident caught 21 pounds, 8 ounces while Remitz managed only 10-12.
“Derek is such a nice guy, and we all know he’s an awesome fisherman,” said Lindner. “I was fishing a little deeper than he was, and I think that’s why I got the big bites.”
On the day, Lindner caught 20 bass on big football-head jigs. Ironically, he learned the technique by watching the television coverage of Remitz’s big win last season.
“I watched that video a thousand times, and then I go and draw him. Today was my day.”
Bjorklund, Lucas, Taylor round out top five
Bob Bjorklund, the 2007 Co-angler of the Year in the Eastern Division, is third with a limit of bass weighing 19 pounds, 7 ounces. This is likely the Centennial, Colo., native’s last tournament from the back of the boat, as Bjorklund is fishing both the FLW Tour and the FLW Series Eastern Division as a professional in 2008.
“It was a grind; I didn’t have a limit until 2:30 p.m.” he said. “I had planned on throwing a little shaky head, but the wind wreaked havoc on our plan. I ended up using a 1/2-ounce football-head jig in 30 to 40 feet of water. Brett (Hite, his pro partner) had the graph turned off, but it seemed like a thousand feet to me.”
Justin Lucas, the 2007 Co-angler of the Year in the Western Division and the winner of the FLW Series Western Division events on Clear Lake and the Columbia River, is fourth with 17-13. Rounding out the top five for the co-anglers is Richard Taylor, who sacked 16-2.
Day two of the Fish-Off begins as the 60 boats take off from the East Diablo launch ramp at Lake Amistad Marina in Del Rio at 7 a.m. Central time.