Tennessee River hammers Cole Floyd, Jason Lambert, Randy Haynes and Brandon Hunter all caught one or none on day one of the Costa FLW Series Championship on Kentucky Lake. Bryan Thrift showed off the potential of the lake with 27 1/2 pounds for the lead, but, overall, the fall bite has been hard to figure out for most of the pros. And although tons of anglers are tossing topwaters, the shallow bars aren’t dominating the standings like they often do in October.
Overnight wind and rain stirred up the south end of the lake a little, but otherwise the conditions on day one were pretty prime. The wind wasn’t nearly as bad as what the forecast predicted, and the rain held off all day. Some pros took advantage, but many others had a tough go of it, bringing just a few fish to the scale instead of the limitless limits the lake is known for during ledge season.
2. Cameron Gautney – Muscle Shoals, Ala. – 20-7 (5)
Fishing down near New Johnsonville, Tenn., Cameron Gautney led for most of weigh-in before Thrift dropped his mammoth bag on the scale.
“It started off crazy this morning,” says Gautney, who guides on Pickwick and a few other places on the Tennessee River. “I pulled up to my first spot and made it about 100 yards and caught a 4-pounder and then a 3-pounder and then another about the same size on the next cast.”
Tossing topwaters, Gautney is playing the shallow bar game that many projected would be key this week, though he did catch one keeper a bit deeper on a drop-shot.
“In the second two days of practice I had two bites, and then on the final day of practice they started biting,” says Gautney. “And today they definitely bit better. I think the wind helped it a lot. Honestly, believe it or not, a lot of my bites were coming out of the mud line.”
3. Chad Foster – Saint Cloud, Fla. – 19-13 (5)
One of just four pros to crack the 18-pound mark, Chad Foster started out with 19-13 and is just a hair out of second place.
“It’s been a grind. I just found a couple key areas that had a few fish and ran around them,” says Foster. “There has to be bait there. If there’s not bait there aren’t fish. They aren’t in big groups. You have to cover water and catch what’s there.”
Foster says he left his primary area early after catching a quick limit, but still totaled up nine keepers on the day. Though he wasn’t willing to divulge baits, he says he’s exclusively imitating shad.
4. Sheldon Collings – Grove, Okla. – 18-4 (5)
Weighing 18-4 on day one, Oklahoma angler Sheldon Collings broke ranks and went north out of Paris Landing at takeoff.
“I didn’t plan on starting at the first spot, but we were getting beat to death from all the waves, so we pulled up,” says Collings. “I caught a 4-pounder on my third cast and then never got another bite. I ended up going to my key area and went down it with one bait and didn’t get bit and went down it with another and caught the rest of my fish.”
Collings says fishing in the wind is key, and that he’s got a bait they like to eat.
“I didn’t figure out the bait until this morning,” says Collings. “Once I picked it up every fish was choking it.”
Collings believes he’s on a pretty steady pattern and has fish reloading on his areas. Given some wind on day two, he feels pretty good about replicating his success.
5. Bradford Beavers – Ridgeville, S.C. – 15-13 (5)
Throwing a topwater on shallow bars, Bradford Beavers started slow, with only one keeper off each of his first two spots. Then he hit a flurry on his third spot and boxed up the rest of his limit. He was culling in a matter of minutes.
“After that I just ran new water trying to find another spot. I only knew of the spots that were halfway decent,” says Beavers, who qualified for the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup out of last year’s Costa FLW Series Championship. “It took me 35 hours in practice before I caught a keeper, and that was on a shaky head.”
With such a dismal practice to go on, Beavers doesn’t have dozens of places to run. Rather, he’s milking just a handful.
“I’m taking a long time on them,” says Beavers. “I think the fish are there. I feel like if I spend enough time completely fishing them out I’d eventually put the bait in front of them. On my first spot it took me an hour, but I got one and it was one of my better ones.”