DEL RIO, Tex. – The morning of the first Elimination Round of Jack Link’s Major League Fishing Challenge Cup presented by Busch Beer greeted the field of eight anglers with unseasonably comfortable South Texas weather. While Lake Amistad has a reputation for having steady winds blowing, this first morning found the area with mild temperatures and light winds. Those conditions would remain throughout the competition day.
At 7:00 a.m. central time, the anglers piloted their Nitro and Bass Cat boats powered by Mercury 150 OptiMax Pro XS outboards towards competition zone one to the west of the Diablo East takeoff, under the highway 90 bridge, part way up the Rio Grande River arm.
The field could fish in a 5,900 acre area on the U.S. side of the border. To help the anglers know the boundaries of the zone, each of the Lowrance HDS units on the competition vessels had been programmed with waypoints showing the borders of the day’s fishing area.
As the clock struck 7:15 a.m., the anglers powered their rigs into the fishing zone. They had 15 minutes to scout the area using their Navionics mapping and their Lowrance HDS8 sonar units. Their mission was to scout the area and locate a spot they felt would provide them the quick response from Lake Amistad’s bass population.
Without having advance notice of where they would be fishing, the anglers hurriedly drove through areas looking at bottom features and scouting for signs of baitfish and bass activity. When the clock struck 7:30 a.m., the field could begin fishing. All of the anglers operated under the same time schedule, because the official on each boat carried a networked iPad that served as the official clock, leader board and catch reporting tool.
Each black bass caught with a length of 14 inches or more was weighed on a Boga Grip scale to the closest quarter pound. The weight would be agreed upon by the angler and the official then the official would enter the weight of the bass into the iPad, and, within 13 seconds, the entire field would know who caught a fish and what the standings were.
The anglers in the field on the first morning of competition were 1995 Bassmaster Classic Champion and three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mark Davis, 2006 Forrest Wood Cup Champion and six-time FLW winner Brent Ehrler, three-time B.A.S.S. winner and 2009 Forrest Wood Cup Champion Greg Hackney, Elite Series Champion and two-time FLW winner Bobby Lane, two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 29-time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier, a winner of eight B.A.S.S. events and two FLW Tour events Gary Klein, 2005 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, five-time B.A.S.S winner and FLW Tour Champion Aaron Martens, Bassmaster Champion and five-time Classic Qualifier Jason Quinn, and finally four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion, five-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, 2001 FLW Tour Angler of the Year and 20-time B.A.S.S. winner Kevin VanDam.
Things got off to a quick start when VanDam caught the first keeper bass in Major League Fishing history at 7:33 a.m., a 3.25-pound largemouth that fell for a crankbait. He caught his second fish at 7:45 a.m. then proceeded to put a total of eleven bass for a total of 23 pounds to lead after the first period.
It took Davis nearly a half an hour to register his first keeper on a crankbait, but the Mount Ida, Ark. pro alternated between a crankbait and a shaky head to catch seven keepers for a total of 15 pounds. The total was good enough to land Davis in second place after the first period.
Quinn proved to be a slow starter as well. The South Carolina pro managed to produce his first of five keepers in the boat with a topwater bait at 8:00 a.m. He would alternate between a topwater and an Alabama rig for the rest of the period and wind up in third place with 12.25 pounds.
Weatherford, Texas pro Klein was able to produce four keepers on a lipless crankbait and a diving plug for 9.75 pounds, landing him in fourth place for the period.
Rounding out the rest of the field for the first period were Hackney in fifth place at 9.25 pounds, Martens in sixth place with 8.5 pounds, Ehrler’s 8.25 pounds found him in seventh place while Lane ended the morning in eighth place with 6.5 pounds.
All together, the anglers produced a total of 43 keepers in the first 2.5-hour period.
The day’s second period of fishing produced similar results with anglers catching 42 keepers. However, there proved to be some movement in the standings.
VanDam added eight keepers weighing 13 pounds maintaining his first period lead with a total of 36 pounds. He caught a pair of fish on a worm, but found a jerkbait to be his best producer during the second period.
Quinn picked up where he left off, focusing entirely on tossing an Alabama rig to suspended schools of bass relating to baitfish. His seven fish accounted for 18.5 pounds and moved him into second place with a total of 30.75 pounds.
Klein began to figure things out and produced 12 bass on a crankbait and dropshot rig for 16 pounds. His 25.75-pound total moved him up one place to third.
Finding the second round to be tougher than the first, Davis was only able to catch two keepers for a total of 3.25 pounds on a shaky head and a plastic worm. However, his 18.25 pounds was enough to keep him in fourth positioning him to move on to the semi finals.
The rest of the field shaped up like this with one fishing period remaining: Martens was fifth with 16.5 pounds, Hackney and Ehrler tied for sixth with 15.75 while Lane’s 11.5 found him in eighth place.
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The afternoon session proved to be a dynamic one as anglers battled for one of the four qualifying spots. With only four of the eight anglers moving on to the Sudden Death Round (semifinals), decision making and efficiency became key, and the leader board shuffled around the bubble positions several times.
Quinn continued to ride the Alabama rig, and he posted his best weight of the three periods to overtake VanDam and win the Day 1 Elimination Round. He again boated seven keepers; including a 6-pounder and another weighing 5.75 pounds within 16 minutes of each other around the 2:00 p.m. hour. His 27.5 pounds for the period brought his total to 19 bass for 58.25 pounds.
VanDam cooled in the afternoon period, but his four fish added six more pounds to bring his total to 42 pounds for his 23 keeper bass. His performance earned him a spot in the Sudden Death round with a second place performance.
Klein managed to boat nine more Lake Amistad largemouth on a dropshot rig that added 15.25 pounds, bringing his total to 41 pounds. He finished third for the day and qualified to move on to the Sudden Death Semifinal round.
The real fireworks for the day surrounded the fourth place final qualifying position. Martens and Ehrler both went on flurries that made the afternoon very interesting. Martens who started the third period in fifth place added 18.5 pounds with 10 fish he boated from an underwater point on a dropshot rig bringing his total to 35 pounds for the day.
However, it was Ehrler who was able to produce more quality bites as the period wound down that earned the final qualifying spot. He boated eight keepers for 19.5 pounds for the round, but it was when he turned to casting a jig on offshore structure in the final half hour that he really made his charge. In 19 minutes, Ehrler boated four largemouth for 13.5 pounds putting him over the top with 35.25. His final fish, a 5-pounder, with 10 minutes to go proved to be the death knell as it moved him up three places to fourth.
Though he regained some of his first period form, Davis slipped to sixth with a total of 30 pounds even, with Hackney finishing in seventh with 21.75 pounds and Lane rounded out the day’s leader board with 15.25 pounds.
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|Cutline – Top four anglers advance|