TULSA, Okla. — On a day when most south Louisiana bass fishermen would stay at home and tend the fireplace, the top bass anglers in the country showed why they’re so darned good at their chosen profession.
Former champion Mike Iaconelli and Mississippi’s highly competitive Cliff Pace forged a tie for Friday’s first-day lead in the Bassmaster Classic with a five-bass limit weighing 21 pounds, 8 ounces. It was the first time in the 43-year Classic history that anglers were tied going into the second round.
And it will be Saturday’s second round that will determine the top 25 anglers to advance from the 53-man field for Sunday’s final round on the 46,500-acre Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees.
Make that a windswept, downright blistering cold, “bluebird” sky and barometric pressures that would have meant that even the best south Louisiana bassin’ man would have been fishing for three bites all day.
The field launched from Wolf Creek in 21-degree temperatures. Snow, sleet and cold rain since Wednesday’s final practice day dropped water temperatures as much as four degrees in the last two days from an already low 44-degree water-surface temperatures.
“I looked at my (temperature) gauge and it was 39 degrees when we launched,” Gonzales angler Greg Hackney said. He’s the lone Louisiana angler in the field.
Hackney said when the bright sunshine warmed the water barely two degrees, then two more, bass in the areas he decided to work turned on.
“Basically I wasted the entire morning,” Hackney said, after bringing in a five-bass limit weighing 14-14, good enough to stand in 18th place.
“With all the changes we has since coming off the water Wednesday, it was like I had to use the first hours for practice,” he said before admitting that he got into a strong bite just before noon Friday.
“I know some guys caught fish early. Nobody in the area of the lake I was in did. Everywhere I went (early) was dead...but I think I’m on to something to get on an earlier bite for Saturday.”
The leaders, along with most all in the top 10, were on “early” fish.
“So much of fishing this lake is timing,” said Iaconelli, who win his Classic title in 2003 in the third of four Classic held in New Orleans.
“You get into a spot you know is holding bass and if you’re there at the right time when they’re biting, you’re going to catch fish,” he said knowing full well that reports had come in that he caught most of his fish before 11 a.m.
Pace said his secret only proved out what most anglers had mentioned during Thursday’s media day, that patterns would mean more to a successful catch than sitting in one spot for hours on end.
“I found out what the fish related to and I could just look at the banks and know the fish would be there. I found places in practice that set up right and then I just left them alone,” Pace said. “There’s no magic spot. I’m having to work hard and most of my bites were loners, one fish here and one there.
“It’s just that the timing had to be right to go into a certain area,” Pace said. “I went into one place three times and didn’t get a strike, and went back a fourth time and caught a five pounder.”
Kevin VanDam, a four-time Classic winner, nodded during those comments in the first-day news conference, but wouldn’t confirm, nor deny, that any of those tactics worked for him, but grinned when someone mentioned that he was in the running for a record-breaking fifth title on his twin sons’ 16th birthday.
Hank Cherry, the first-time Classic qualifier, said he scratched during the first two hours and, “...didn’t catch my first fish until 9 o’clock, but I changed baits after catching that small two-pounder and it paid off. I was fishing a point near Kevin (VanDam).”
Neither he nor VanDam would confirm a report that they were fishing small, crawfish-imitation jigs along point with gravel bottoms, but neither denied it.
Cherry heads into the second round in third place at 20-15, while VanDam is fourth with 19-12.
Fifth-place angler Tracy Adams (19-10) said he ran the same patterns throughout the day and picked up larger fish during the afternoon after relocating several times.
“I ran a lot and will do that again. I caught 16 keepers and know there are fish in the areas where I’m running,” Adams said. “I just had to slow down. I was fishing too fast, and I think most of the other guys were fishing too fast. too.
“But under these conditions, I never thought I could catch that many fish,” the North Carolina angler said. “This place (Grand Lake) can blow your mind. I’ve never fished anywhere where the colder the water gets the better the fish bite.”
Live weigh-in updates are available on the B.A.S.S. website: http://www.bassmaster.com.