BOSSIER CITY, La. — Nearly 15 years after Bryan Kerchal became the first Federation Nation angler to win the Bassmaster Classic, Terry Fitzpatrick of Waukon, Iowa, has given the Federation a new breath of hope with a strong Day One finish on the Red River.
With five fish that weighed in at 18 pounds even, Fitzpatrick found himself in fifth place after Day One, surrounded by Elite anglers like Boyd Duckett, Aaron Martens and Scott Rook.
Competing against the best anglers in the world may have been intimidating at first for Fitzpatrick, but he insists that once he hit the water, he was able to focus on figuring out the fish.
"I'm not thinking about competing against KVD," Fitzpatrick said. "Whenever I fish tournaments, I just love trying to figure those fish out. Today, the key was slowing down. It took a couple of hours for me to figure them out and once I did, those butterflies just went away and I was able to upgrade as the day went on."
With his whole family in Shreveport/Bossier City cheering him on, Fitzpatrick weighed in a big bag that included a 5-pounder. Despite the crowded conditions on the river, Fitzpatrick was able to find himself all alone in an area that was full of solid keepers. He landed 10 keepers on the day and all of them were over 15 inches.
"I was happy I stayed calm," Fitzpatrick said. "When I was younger, I used to get really excited and I ended up losing all the bigger fish that I had on. Now, I'm older and I like to slow down and be more patient. That was key to catching that bigger fish today."
As a member of the top five after Day One, Fitzpatrick headed to a press conference after the weigh-in was complete. Fitzpatrick confessed that the added attention of the media and the excitement of a promising start to his first classic, he will find it hard to sleep tonight.
Reigning Federation Nation champion Bryan Schmidt of Olney, Texas, also found himself in contention after Day One. With 15 pounds, 5 ounces, Schmidt ended the day in 15th place, less than 5 pounds out of the lead.
"I just weighed in 15 pounds in the Bassmaster Classic," Schmidt said. "I'm a happy camper."
Schmidt landed seven keepers on the day with only one fish under weight. Many of the federation anglers spoke of a later afternoon bite. Maybe it was the Classic jitters of the first few hours or maybe it just took a few hours to adjust to the colder water temperatures, but Schmidt was actually able to boat four fish in the first hour-and-a-half of Classic competition.
"As soon as I landed my first fish, in the first 30 minutes, I was able to cast back and land my second and third a few casts later," Schmidt said. "My observer and I were really having fun today. A few key bites, and the week goes on, and I could really have a shot at this. Just like in Kansas when I won the championship, a few key bites was all it took — that's why they call it fishing."
Unlike both Schmidt and Fitzpatrick, Scott Parker of Londonderry, N.H., never managed to get a big bite. He landed 12 keepers, but only was able to cull up ounces at a time, finishing with a final weight of 10 pounds, 7 ounces and 33rd place.
"I don't know where the big fish moved to," Parker said. "I've decided not to run around because it takes too much time, but I think if I stick to the area I'm in, I'll be able to locate those bigger fish eventually. I think you are going to see the weights go up tomorrow, so I'm looking for 17 pounds to make it to Sunday."
Right now, Greg Hackney currently holds the final cut position in 25th place with 12 pounds, 9 ounces, so if weights hold up, it could take close to 25 pounds over two days.
The early bite was tough on Parker, as he didn't have a fish before 10:30 a.m., but he made a move and filled out his limit before returning to his starting spot. The sun had warmed the mats in his area significantly and he flipped a ¾ ounce Lake Fork craw tube to cull up to his final total.
Like Fitzpatrick, Parker had his area all to himself and hopes to keep it that way tomorrow when he tries to make a move up the leaderboard.
Not all Federation Nation anglers had banner days. Ken Baumgardner of Monongahela, Pa., had high hopes for this event, but a stumble on Day One resulted in only four fish in his livewells. His 6-pound, 10-ounce bag put him in 41st place and he has a big hill to overcome if he wants to fish Sunday.
"The water dropped 5 degrees since Wednesday," Baumgardner said. "Then a west wind just didn't help today. There was more boat traffic — not that anyone was doing anything wrong — they just shut down today."
Baumgardner hoped that his experience fishing on the Three Rivers near Pittsburg would help him on the Red River and he had a great practice period, but ultimately, it was waiting too long before adjusting that shot him in the foot.
"I think I should have adjusted sooner," he said. "I should have started throwing a crankbait earlier in the day."
Being that far back, Baumgardner is a long shot to make it to the final day, but he isn't giving up. A true competitor, he has a few more spots that he hasn't visited and thinks that he just needs to change up his approach to recapture the magic of his practice period.
The better odds are on Fitzpatrick. He is around both bigger fish and numbers of fish and he has his water to himself. Being alone on the water should help him settle down quickly on Day Two, after the reality that he has a chance to win the Bassmaster Classic finally sinks in.