Smith sets the pace on Day 1 at Eufaula - Major League Fishing

Smith sets the pace on Day 1 at Eufaula

Image for Smith sets the pace on Day 1 at Eufaula
Tucker Smith caught 'em big on Day 1. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Tucker Smith.
May 10, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

EUFAULA, Ala. – A month ago, today may not have been expected, but after practice for Stop 4 Presented by E3 Sport Apparel on Lake Eufaula wrapped up, many had high hopes for the offshore bite and the fishing overall. On cue, the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals pros delivered. Ten pros caught 20 pounds or better on Day 1, and 17 pounds went all the way to 23rd place, with an offshore bite that is starting to fire responsible for a lot of the damage.

In the lead, former Auburn University star Tucker Smith sacked up 22 pounds, 11 ounces. Behind him, Marshall Hughes bagged 21-13, local favorite Justin Barnes tallied 21-11, and Flint Davis, Cal Lane and Jake Lawrence also crossed the 21-pound mark. It’s safe to say we’re in for a good one.

Smith leans on offshore strengths

Tucker Smith has been hot as a pistol lately. Photo by Jody White

Just 22-years-old, Smith has put college aside to chase a pro fishing career, and early on, it’s looking like a good move. A talented offshore angler who’s very proficient with his electronics, Smith also has spent plenty of time on Eufaula.

“It went really good,” he said of Day 1. “I ended up running around a bunch and landed on some. It was a rough morning. I didn’t catch anything really big this morning. And then, I’d say about 10:30, I pulled up on a place and there was a bunch of fish. I ended up catching around 18 pounds and then started bouncing, just graphing a bunch of places. I ended up catching a bunch of bigger ones that upgraded.”

Smith put most of his eggs in the offshore basket early on.

“I kind of had an idea that I wanted to fish offshore,” he said. “That’s my favorite way to fish – offshore. This time of year is tricky because the fish are just moving off the bed. They’re not super fat – a lot of them are pretty skinny, and they’re kind of finicky right now, so you kind of have to work for them to get them to bite.”

Fishing brush and schools, Smith saved some stuff for tomorrow and has high hopes for the rest of the event. 

“I left some places untouched that I think I can catch them on,” he said. “At the end of the day, I left them biting on a place and caught my last 4-pounder and then ran in with an hour left. I think tomorrow should be fun. Hopefully there is not too much wind, and I can get on some places and catch some more.”

Though perhaps not a local by the typical definition, Smith is definitely on familiar grounds this week.

“I’ve fished here (Eufaula) a bunch – it’s one of my favorite lakes,” he said. “I’ve spent countless hours out here. Going to school at Auburn, this is the only place that I would come to.”

Hughes in the hunt as usual

An expert offshore angler, Marshall Hughes wasn’t phased by a new lake. Photo by Jody White

Hughes has undoubtedly been one of the revelations of the 2024 season. An obvious favorite for the opener at Sam Rayburn, he’s continued to put up great finishes since then, making Day 3 every time and really showing no weaknesses.

Of course, fishing offshore is an obvious strength, and he showed it off today.

“It was schools and hard spots,” he said. “I’m fishing a lot of these hard spots that we fish back home, and I don’t think a lot of guys are fishing those. A lot of guys will see them, but they don’t know what it is and they keep going. It’s something different.”

Idling in practice until he “felt drunk,” Hughes put in a lot of screen time and blasted off feeling good.

“I did see it coming, but I didn’t fish the hard spots a whole lot,” he added. “The schools are obvious because you can see the fish. But these hard spots you can’t see them. So, you have to fish them. I fished 30 of them today, and five of them were good.”

Today, Hughes says he did a lot of his damage on a Yamamoto Ichi Worm. With more hard spots to run, plus the stuff that worked on Day 1, he’s feeling good.

“I’ve never been here before, but I like it so far, especially after today,” he said.

Home pond good again for Barnes

Justin Barnes is fishing on his home turf this week. Photo by Rob Matsuura

The winner of last winter’s Bassmaster Open on Eufaula, Barnes has a very good track record on his home lake, especially recently. After Day 1, he’s looking dangerous.

Barnes started the day fishing fast, and then slowed down as the day went on.

“I’d make 5 to 10 casts on a place, then I’d leave,” he said. “As the day went on, fish got harder and harder to catch. So, I just started going behind guys, dragging, and getting a bite here or there. I’m fishing brush early, and I’m fishing schools late. I’m going to try to start on a school in the morning, though, if they’re there.”

With the offshore school bite developing fast, Barnes was able to get on the program in practice, despite planning on a brush event.

“Before practice, I had a preconceived thought of what the fish would be doing – and I figured it’d be a 90% brush pile deal and you’d have five or six schools offshore,” he said. “That’s how it was in the Toyota Series – same exact weekend last year. But a lot of stuff is advanced this year; for some reason, the fish getting out to the ledges just happened a lot quicker than it did last year. Last year it was about two weeks from now when it happened. I don’t know if it was the warmer weather, clean water, current, I don’t know. But the brush pile bite is dying – it’s going away by the day.”

Knowing what’s happening and being off to a good start puts Barnes in a good position the rest of the way.

“I really just have to take it day by day,” he said. “There are a lot of boats on the water. I know if I can be in the Top 10 going into Sunday I feel really good about it because the lake is going open way up. I’ve got a lot of places to run, and a lot of schools. I hope I catch them good enough tomorrow to give myself a chance, Sunday.”

Top 10 pros

1. Tucker Smith – 22 – 11 (5)       

2. Marshall Hughes – 21 – 13 (5)                

3. Justin Barnes – 21 – 11 (5)      

4. Flint Davis – 21 – 8 (5)             

5. Cal Lane – 21 – 4 (5)                 

6. Jake Lawrence – 21 – 0 (5)   

7. Kyle Hall – 20 – 14 (5)                 

8. Dakota Ebare – 20 – 13 (5)      

9. Paul Marks Jr. – 20 – 10 (5)     

10. Mark Condron – 20 – 0 (5)

Complete results

Fishing Clash AOY

Tackle Warehouse Invitationals anglers are competing for the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year award and its $50,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s been downloaded by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. 

Download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.