The road Roger Cousens had to travel to live out his dream of being a professional bass angler in the United States included a 19-hour flight to Atlanta and a five-hour drive to Burnside, Ky., where today, the 62-year-old International Division qualifier from Zimbabwe took the day-one lead in the Costa FLW Series Championship on Lake Cumberland.
To be fair, Cousens competed in the U.S. a few times in the 1990s, but the Evinrude and Mercury outboard technician has never fished a pro-level event with as much on the line as there is in this one. After catching a 17-pound, 2-ounce limit that included a mix of largemouths and smallmouths, he leads the way over California’s Robert Nakatomi by 3 ounces.
“It feels fantastic right now,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to believe that I’m leading a tournament of this caliber with this number of anglers. It’s pretty amazing.”
Cousens says he’s a big-bass specialist, which he’s proven in his last two FLW events. To qualify for this week’s championship, he weighed in more than 100 pounds in three days of fishing at the FLW Zimbabwe Championship.
Today, despite miserable, rainy, windy weather, he caught a better quality of bass than many of his competitors.
“I fish for big fish back home,” Cousens says. “My game plan is not to go and catch five little fish. I go and throw big baits, and I want to catch five big fish. I fish a lot of tournaments back home, and it’s paid off over the years; just going for big fish.
“A bass is a bass,” he adds. “I brought my style of fishing from home. When I was preparing to come here, I looked at the lake on Google Earth and spent a lot of time studying it. I purposely did not look at any sort of fishing hints. I just wanted to come here with a totally open mind and just do my own thing. My practice was tough, but I caught a couple of nice fish and left the areas immediately. As soon as I’d catch a fish I’d leave. I went back to those areas today, and they panned out.”
Though he caught most of his fish in one area today, Cousens says he does have a pattern that’s working. He was able to get a couple key bites on the way back to the ramp in the afternoon. He’s admittedly uncertain of what to expect from Cumberland tomorrow, when wind and rain will be replaced with sunshine, slick-calm water and temperatures that might dip below freezing in the morning, but he’s still confident in his ability to get big bites.
It’s something he’s been able to do consistently throughout his tournament career. If he can keep it up for a couple more days, his career might get a really big boost in central Kentucky.
2. Robert Nakatomi – Sacramento, Calif. – 16 pounds, 15 ounces
Even though he caught almost 17 pounds today and is just 3 ounces back of the lead, Sacramento’s Robert Nakatomi says the most striking thing about his experience thus far in Kentucky has been how nice the people are here.
Nakatomi, who’s a landscape contractor back home, had been sleeping in his truck to keep his expenses down. But, during his time here he actually befriended a local who offered the young pro a place to stay.
Perhaps getting a good night’s sleep in a warm bed was part of the Western Division pro’s key to his success today targeting Lake Cumberland’s smallmouth bass.
To catch his fish, Nakatomi applied a run-and-gun strategy and rotated through 20 to 30 spots.
“I was on fish way by the dam, but never made it to the dam,” he says. “I just had a little hunch and wanted to stop on a spot where I caught small smallmouth [in practice]. That told me smallmouth live on that kind of bank, and then I just kind of targeted that kind of bank.”
Nakatomi says he’s just about as dialed on how to catch the fish as he is on where.
“It’s the presentation, and a lot of the fish are hitting right at the boat. My two best fish hit right at the trolling motor. I don’t know if they’re stalking it or they’re shooting up from deep water, but for some reason, they’re hitting it at the boat.
“It’s going to be a way different bite [tomorrow]. I think that sun is going to affect them a little bit.”
3. Shawn Kowal – Linn Creek, Mo. – 15 pounds, 7 ounces
A stiff wind really forced Shawn Kowal’s hand today, as he had to abandon the fish he found in practice and instead camp in an area that offered a little more protection.
It worked out, though, obviously, as Kowal brought four largemouths and one smallmouth to the scale for a day-one weight of 15 pounds, 7 ounces.
“I caught some fish in practice, and I didn’t even go to those fish today,” he says. “I just fished the conditions. I turned a lot of water, throwing a spinnerbait, a ChatterBait and a little bit of topwater
“I did really good this morning. As the day went on, it kind of got a little tougher. We went deeper and caught a couple smallmouth deep but they didn’t help me.”
Kowal says he’s not really game-planning for a big largemouth effort. He’s just taking what the lake will give him.
“When it’s this low it’s going to fish really, really tough,” he says. “I’m just trying to get some fish in the boat, to be honest with you. I was hoping to have 10 pounds. It just so happens the bigger fish bit today. I found some smallmouth [in practice], but the wind was blowing so hard today that I didn’t even go fish for them because I didn’t think I could catch them.”
Tomorrow, Kowal will probably have to change things up because of a different weather pattern, and because his best area from today was covered in boats. He doesn’t think the spot can take the pressure.
“I’m hoping maybe tomorrow I can go there and maybe catch a couple and then go somewhere else and catch the rest.”
4. Mike Casada – Stearns, Ky. – 15 pounds
Mike Casada lives about 20 miles from the takeoff site in Burnside, and he owns a tackle company called Cumberland Pro Lures that’s known for its casting jigs, among other products. So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Casada finished the day in fourth place with a solid 15-pound limit of smallmouth bass that mostly fell for his company’s signature lure.
“I only got to practice about three hours,” Casada says. “Tuesday afternoon I went, and I got on a crankbait bite. I pulled in this morning, and they wouldn’t eat the crankbait very well for me. I laid the crankbait down, picked up a Cumberland Pro Lures Pro Caster Jig, and I never laid it down for about two-and-a-half hours. I got eight keeper bites in about two-and-a-half hours, then had a long lull. This afternoon, about 2:30, I caught my biggest fish.”
That final kicker came on the crankbait, as Casada adjusted his strategy to try to cover more water by hitting some spots that have traditionally been good for him.
Prior to that, Casada spent most of his time in one large area. He plans to start there again tomorrow and try to put together another big bag of brown bass.
5. Andrew Upshaw – Tulsa, Okla. – 14 pounds, 15 ounces
The last time Andrew Upshaw fished a tournament on a smallmouth reservoir in this part of the country, he came away with his first FLW Tour victory. That was at the Tour event on Cherokee Lake back in the spring.
Upshaw won that tournament on finesse plastics. This week, he’s doing more of the same.
“I’m doing my kind of thing; finesse fishing is my thing,” he says. “It’s what I feel comfortable with.
“I like catching smallmouth, I guess,” Upshaw adds. “It was a good day. I caught quite a few. I kind of laid off them about noon, saving some. I caught my first limit, and I had three really good ones. I went down another bank and caught two more good ones. At that point I just said that’s enough.”
Upshaw says he’s fishing a “major pattern.”
“I can go anywhere on the lake and get bit. Those couple banks I hit today just happened to have them roll up on it, and I caught a few. Everywhere you go, the water color kind of changes a little bit. If there’s too much wind on something it doesn’t work as well. You kind of have to adjust based on that. Otherwise, they’re kind of on all the same stuff.”
As for tomorrow, Upshaw seems confident he can stay on the smallmouth bite despite post-frontal conditions.
“I might be able to; I might not. I’ve got a couple things going. I didn’t go to one of the deals today where I can catch them when it’s going to be post-frontal, but overall I think I can catch them doing the same thing, honestly. I don’t see why it’ll change. It might get better.”
Top 10 pros
1. Roger Cousens – Harare, Zw. – 17-2 (5)
2. Robert Nakatomi – Sacramento, Ca. – 16-15 (5)
3. Shawn Kowal – Linn Creek, Mo. – 15-7 (5)
4. Mike Casada – Stearns, Ky. – 15-0 (5)
5. Andrew Upshaw – Tulsa, Okla. – 14-15 (5)
6. Steve Floyd – Leesburg, Ohio – 14-13 (5)
7. Casey Scanlon – Lake Ozark, Mo. – 14-5 (5)
8. Luke Plunkett – Pinson, Ala. – 14-5 (5)
9. Kurt Mitchell – Milford, Del. – 14-2 (5)
10. Michael Wooley – Booneville, Miss. – 14-1 (5)
Roach leads co-anglers
Texan Mason Roach weighed in 13 pounds, 3 ounces on day one at Cumberland to take the lead among co-anglers. Roach, who fished with FLW pro Peter Thliveros, says today was the first day he’s ever fished Cumberland. He caught his fish using a small finesse plastic rigged on a heavy head to garner more of a reaction bite, rather than trying to tempt the fish to bite with something slow.
Top 10 co-anglers
1. Mason Roach – Conroe, Texas – 13-3 (5)
2. Zack Freeman – Russellville, Ark. – 12-12 (5)
3. Joe Tucker – Osceola, Mo. – 9-7 (4)
4. Mike Power – Conroe, Texas – 9-2 (4)
5. Spencer Sato – Warner Robins, Ga. – 8-15 (5)
6. Jim Hippensteel – Rochester, Ind. – 8-13 (3)
7. Zach Barnes – Chickamauga, Ga. – 8-9 (5)
8. William Puduski – Portsmouth, N.H. – 8-8 (5)
9. Chad G Allison – Carl Junction, Mo. – 8-6 (3)
10. Casey Dunn – North Highlands, Calif. – 8-0 (3)