BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. – As expected, weights are tight from top to bottom at the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. on Dale Hollow Lake. And as predicted, some large bags hit the scales as we begin what could become a prespawn slugfest.
Day 1 finds Bailey Gay atop the leaderboard with the largest of four 21-plus-pound bags (21-13) and a fifth bag just an ounce shy of that mark rounding out the top five spots. Eight ounces separate the top five, and with continually changing weather conditions, the leaderboard will be prone to shuffling when fish hit the scale on Day 2.
Here’s how the rest of the top pros found their bags on Day 1.
Christian Nash edged his way into second place utilizing forward-facing sonar and a wealth of Dale Hollow knowledge to sack up his first day bag.
“Well, it’s been consistent all winter,” Nash said. “I consider it my home lake now. I’m consistently doing it, you just have your good days and your bad days.”
By “it,” Nash means utilizing forward-facing sonar to locate fish in prespawn staging areas.
“I knew the weather set up right for this day, I don’t know how it will be tomorrow,” Nash said. “With the cold front, I feel like it pushed the fish more into the shad. I was able to see them on the Garmin LiveScope and catch them individually. Some are in 10 to 15 feet of water, and some could be in 25 to 30.”
Even with the consistency of his morning bite, Nash felt today’s bag exceeded expectations.
“I feel like the morning bite is crucial for doing this because they like to feed up early,” Nash said. “I thought I could get 15 to 16 pounds. I thought if I could just get 16 I could have just enough to stay in it. But today everything worked out.”
Like the rest of the field, Austin Swindle targeted prespawn fish with forward-facing sonar on Day 1 to yield his bag that has him tied for third.
Swindle’s first stop of the day became his last as bites throughout the day kept him from moving on to one of his other scheduled visits around Dale Hollow.
“My bite was pretty consistent all day,” Swindle said. “I had seven or eight places I could run to. But I got to my first place, cut the motor off and didn’t crank it back up until about 2 o’clock.”
Even with a steady stream of fish catches, Swindle found his fish moved throughout the course of the day.
“They seem like they’ve gotten a lot shallower since practice but since the day’s gone on, the weather or whatever has pushed them out deep,” Swindle said. “Everything I caught today was deep.”
Swindle expects he can replicate his bite on Day 2, but a variable he has little control over is the amount of people fishing around him. And, that’s not likely to change as the massive field of more than 290 boats will hit Dale Hollow again on Friday.
“As long as I can get where I need to go, I was fishing around a lot of people today,” Swindle said. “I’m probably going to have to (fish other spots) because I’m a later flight and I won’t likely get into where I want to go to.”
Jack Daniel Williams makes up the other half of the tie for third and did so just as consistently. Williams is targeting prespawn fish and covered a lot of water to run into his Day 1 bag.
“All over the lake they were biting,” Williams said. “I culled five or six times, bunch of 3 1/2s. It was pretty incredible fishing really. I probably hit 15 to 20 spots today. I put a lot of miles on that trolling motor.”
Williams also noted that forward-facing sonar indeed is a player in his program, just as it has for the majority of the Top Five. Williams also utilized his sonar to help him locate better bites for his bag.
“I’d been catching a bunch of 3-pounders, 2 1/2s in practice. I knew it was just a matter of getting a big one to get up to 18 or 19 pounds,” he said. “There were more 4-pounders that showed up today than I’ve seen all week.”
Despite what he’s seen, Williams is unsure about tomorrow’s prospects.
“I think it’s going to get tougher,” Williams said. “That’s why I tried to cull as many times as I could today. This weather today had them really feeding heavy. I think it’s going to be a struggle tomorrow, I could be wrong. But I’m going to try.”
“I’m really fortunate to have what I have,” Hall said. “I had one 12 ½-inch smallmouth at about 12 o’clock. I pulled into kind of a random place I ain’t even been to. Caught the big one there by itself. Then went right around corner to the next pocket and ended up catching four more to fill my limit then I had to head in.
The big one he’s referring to was an 8-4 goliath that netted him a $500 payday for the Berkley Big Bass on Day 1. A late day adjustment from deep to shallow water, bucking the forward-facing trend and switching to moving baits was the right call for Hall. But further adjustments will more than likely be necessary if he wishes to stay in the hunt.
“I think it’s going to be tougher,” Hall said. “If we’ve got some wind blowing, that will help some. We will see tomorrow.”