LITTLE ROCK, ARK. By just about all accounts, the first day of the Bassmaster Legends presented by Goodyear was a frustrating experience for the 55 anglers competing in the final Major of the 2006 season.
So how difficult was it for the elites?
Consider, only two limits of five fish were brought to the scales Thursday. Seventeen anglers managed to land only one keeper fish and 11 other anglers were shut out completely. The slow bite was contributed to water temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, clear skies and a lack of current on the Arkansas River where this tournament is being staged.
The bad news for the anglers is that similar weather conditions are expected today. But the good news is that even though half the field weighed in less than four pounds of fish Thursday, each of the 55 elites has a reasonable chance to survive the cut to 12 anglers which will take place after Friday's weigh-in at the State House Convention Center.
Leading the way after the first day of fishing is Missouri pro Brian Snowden, who bagged five fish totaling 15 pounds, eight ounces. Little Rock resident Scott Rook caught the other limit on Thursday and is currently in second place with a 12-13 total. Rounding out the top five are Missouri's Rick Clunn (10-15), Alabama's Gerald Swindle (10-13) and Kansas pro Brent Chapman (10-3).
Those five men are the only ones to register double digit weight totals Thursday. Not surprisingly, it is believed that three of them (Snowden, Clunn and Chapman) are fishing in roughly the same backwater area which is a two-hour run southeast from downtown Little Rock.
Snowden said the key to his bite yesterday was finding just the slightest amount of moving water to pull fish into his hole. He described the area as having varying degrees of water depth (from 12 feet to six inches) and had ample cover to which he could throw his Yum black neon tube lure for bites.
Even with a virtual stranglehold on one of the 12 weekend slots, Snowden said he'll head to the same area today and won't pull any punches.
"Someone else can do just what I did yesterday," he said. "So sure, I'm going to try to catch as many as I can. We won't have the numbers on Saturday because everyone will go down to zero."
Texas' Matt Reed (ninth place, 8 pounds, 8 ounces) is believed to be fishing in the same general area as Snowden, Clunn and Chapman. He doesn't mind the long boat ride if the area continues to produce quality fish.
"Yesterday was a lot of boat riding and a little bit of fishing," Reed said. "But I'm targeting bigger fish. I could go catch a whole bunch of little ones. I caught four keepers yesterday. Me and Brent are sharing the same shore. There weren't many to start with there and there are even less now. But you've got to go all out. Brian's probably the only one who doesn't have to catch a fish to make the cut."
North Carolina's Guy Eaker (10th place, 8-2) is also sacrificing the quantity of bites for the quality of bites.
"I've seen some big fish," he said. "I lost a four pounder yesterday. But I'm fishing in the thickest part of the water I can find. It's the only way I can get a bite. I'm in an area where there's a lot of laydown, big trees and logs in there. I just get up in the middle of it."
Alabama's Aaron Martens went with a different technique on Thursday opting instead to fish the main river north of the launch unlike many of his fellow anglers. He caught approximately 25-30 throwback bass, but still was able to put a 7-12 sack on the scales which was good enough for 11th place.
Martens said Thursday's action on the Arkansas River was about as difficult as he's seen in his career.
"On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the hardest, I'd say it was a nine at least," he said. "I wouldn't say it was a 10 because I've seen tougher ones. But you have guys that didn't cach a fish who still have a chance (to make the cut) if they get a 15, 16-pound sack. And there's always that possibility if you get on the right stretch."
John Crews is one angler who didn't need a reminder of how tough the river played Thursday. The Virginia pro didn't land a keeper, but did hook more than two dozen bass that narrowly missed the 15-inch length required to put them in the live well. That, along with the fact that Friday's cut should be low, has Crews thinking he's got a chance to survive into the weekend.
"I was trying to play the numbers game and hoping that I could get a couple keepers," he said. "It just didn't happen. So, I'll go to totally new water today, change it up, fish hard. We'll see what happens."
Like Reed said, anything can.
"This thing is a crapshoot right now," Reed said.
Weigh-in is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. CST at the State House Convention Center in downtown Little Rock.