MONETA, Va. North Carolina's Dave Wolak led the pack of Elite Series anglers out of the gate Thursday, the first day of the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl.
With a screaming fast 250 horsepower motor strapped to the back of his boat, Wolak, who drew the coveted No. 1 boat position, had his choice of bedding bass to start on. Yet he couldn't take advantage of the early start because of one particular fish's stubborness.
"It's been a long time since I've been boat 1," he said. "Last night I was tossing and turning in bed. I had one four and a half pounder locked in that wouldn't leave the bed."
Wolak spent an hour on that fish but never did catch it. In fact, he went a full two hours without putting a fish in the livewell.
In those two hours, any advantage he might have had evaporated.
On the flip side, Arizona's Dean Rojas, who set the BASS all-time one-day record by sight fishing at Florida's Lake Toho in 2001, drew out of the hat in the 93rd position. He had a limit in the boat by 9 a.m., when Wolak was still stuck on the goose egg.
"I caught one of them on my first cast and the other ones took maybe 10 or 15 minutes," Rojas said.
Rojas said that his failure to draw out an early number didn't affect his ability to catch a good limit one bit, largely because he's fishing apart from the competition.
"A lot of the guys are fishing around each other, playing musical chairs," Rojas said. "I'm not fishing around anyone."
The numbers bear him out. He's currently sitting in second place with 18 pounds, 7 ounces. He only caught six keepers Thursday, largely because he stopped casting at anything that wouldn't increase his tally.
Once he had his limit, he did find another fish that culled out his smallest capture by a few ounces. Then he spent the rest of the day essentially scouting. He'll be the seventh boat out on Friday, which will give him a choice of just about any fish on the lake.
He'll watch the weather carefully and then look at the map to determine which spot or which particular bedding fish will give him the best chance to get off to another early limit.
Despite the slow start, Wolak bounced back to weigh in 16-5, which has him in eighth place. He has a history of early morning struggles and afternoon comebacks on Smith Mountain Lake.
In 2003 he won a tournament on another circuit here despite not having a fish in his livewell at 11 a.m. Just like Thursday, he weighed in over 16 pounds that day.
First day leader Kelly Jordon, like Wolak, was in an early flight and accordingly weighed in early. While he was able to catch most of the bed fish he located in no more than 5 or 10 minutes, he said the long day that awaits him tomorrow gives him his best opportunity to maintain the lead.
"I'm going to love having all day to look around," he said. He thinks that a 30-pound limit is not out of the question.
Jeff Reynolds, in sixth, is happy to have gotten his early day out of the way.
"I'd really rather be later," he said. "You can't see them for the first hour or two until the sun gets up."