Anglers got a shot at near perfect conditions yesterday as competition opened in the BASS Masters Classic -- and by the time weigh-ins were finished, it was clear that the upper Chesapeake Bay can indeed turn out some good stringers of bass.
Whether it can turn out good stringers for three straight days remains a question to be answered.
The top four fishermen on Day 1 caught limits of five bass weighing more than 12 pounds. Zell Rowland of Montgomery, Texas, headed the field with 14 pounds, 15 ounces.
"That 15 pounds is going to be hard to handle," said Charles
Ingram of Columbia, Tenn., who is in 26th place and trails Rowland by 9 pounds. "If he can do that tomorrow, we all might just as well pack up and start home."
Rowland seemed to like his chances of catching a similar stringer today.
"A 20-pound stringer is not possible," Rowland said. "But another 14 or 15 pounds is, and the bigger of those fish will come from a 20- to 30-yard stretch of shoreline."
Rowland, when asked whether he cared to tell where or what lures he was fishing, said, "When I came in here, I just lost my memory."
Rowland did say, however, that his best spot is not an area of grass.
"It is about the deepest water I could find in the area," Rowland said, "and even if the weather gets bad, I think I can catch a limit anyway."
Bo Dowden of Hemphill, Texas, is in second place with 13 pounds, 11 ounces, but said he did not fish well on Day 1.
Part of the reason, Dowden said, is the nature of the area.
"It does not lend itself to people coming in from the outside and magically finding a big school of fish," Dowden said. "What you are looking for are these subtle differences in depth. . . .
"A major drop in this water system is something that drops from 5 feet to 10 feet -- and there ain't but two of them in the whole place."
Rick Clunn of Montgomery, Texas, the defending Classic champion, had a limit by 9 a.m., and said he should have had at least a 14-pound stringer. Instead, he came in third with 12 pounds, 11 ounces.
"I am confident there are better stringers to be had out there," Clunn said. "Today I caught seven fish on the first stop."
A 4 1/2 -pound fish that got away, however, got the best of Clunn, who vented his anger and broke a rod.
Last year, Clunn spent three days developing three creek fronts in the James River and was in 11th place before breaking loose on the final day to win the Classic.
"I feel very strongly that there will be better stringers than Zell's caught out there before this is over," Clunn said.
Overall, however, the total of 18 limits caught and 280 pounds of bass is low for a Classic field.
Several notable fishermen had troubles characteristic of the tidewater.
Guido Hibdon, Angler of the Year, was among those who lost fish when his line parted after pulling across barnacles. Hibdon weighed in three fish for less than 5 pounds.
"For a day, at least, it seems that congratulations are in order for Zell," Hibdon said. "That [14 pounds, 15 ounces] takes care of the myth that has been going around about there being no fish in the Chesapeake."
The weather yesterday was light, and anglers were able to run virtually anywhere they wanted in the tournament waters from the Bay Bridge north to Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna.
And many of the fishermen had to traverse large areas.
Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., caught a small limit of bass, but not until after he had encountered stripers hitting instead of bass at his preferred spot.
"So, we left there," Grigsby said, "and after that we were everywhere you could be."