PALATKA, Fla. -- Alton Jones is leading the Power-Pole Citrus Slam with 26 pounds, 9 ounces, and he sweated every ounce.
"It's a grind," he said. "You have to work for every one of those big bites."
Jones meant not only himself, but all the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers. Like Jones, most are trying to get big bass off the spawning beds of the lakes that are part of the St. Johns River system. The bass are proving to be skittish and tough to trick.
Jones led Brent Chapman by 1-5. Behind Chapman's 25-4 was Todd Faircloth with 23-10. In fourth was South Carolina's Jason Williamson with 22-5. Rounding out the top five was Tim Horton of Alabama, who had 22-4.
The 99-angler field is competing over four days for a $100,000 first prize. The winner's take also includes a 2012 Bassmaster Classic qualification. Elite anglers are also after points that count toward qualifying for the coveted 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and 2011 postseason, a winner-take-all, $100,000 contest.
The leaderboard after Day One was tight. No. 10 was just 6 pounds behind Jones. No. 20 was about 10 pounds in back of Jones. In other words, the spread between first and 20th is equivalent to one heavyweight spawner.
With multiple anglers working the same spawning grounds off the main St. Johns River, out-of-the-ordinary tricks were in order, Jones said.
"A lot of it is just patience, but I do have a bait that's really working well," said Jones, the 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion. "It's not like you catch a 5-pounder with it every time you throw it. It's nice to have confidence in a bait."
He weighed in a 9-6 as his biggest bass, but it wasn't enough to take honors for largest of the day. That went to Williamson, who brought in a 10-3.
"That was the second biggest fish I ever caught in my life," Williamson said. "I actually lost one today that was a little bigger than she was, so I look forward to tomorrow. I think I'll have a good chance to catch her."
Chapman, also sight fishing in an area shared by Elite pros, had two anchors in his 25-4 bag. One was a 9-4 and the other was an 8-9.
The 9-4 almost came unbuttoned at the boat, but Chapman lipped it at the last second. The 8-9 hit while he snuck a bite of a sandwich.
"All of a sudden, the rod about got jerked out of my hand," he said. "Those two fish there made a world of difference. They were typical big fish for Florida, and that's what you need here -- a big one and a limit."
Faircloth said he caught his two biggest fish sight-fishing, but the other ones came while he was blind casting while he was waiting for the sun to shine on the grassy flats and improve the view of the beds.
"There's a lot of boats in the area," he said, "but there's a lot of fish also."