Yesterday, the BASS Masters sailed with sharpened hooks for the first time. Sampling and scouting was over, catching was for real, real money, and the 40 contenders found the Chesapeake and its fish also are for real.
After the world's best bass-chasers in the 21st annual $200,000 BASS Masters Classic weighed in their first-day catches at Baltimore Arena, the upper Chesapeake complex is due an apology. Written off by many as so-so bass'n grounds during pre-practice in early summer and then again in Tuesday's official practice, the bay had the last laugh.
And laughing too was Zell Rowland, 34, of Montgomery, Texas, fishing his fifth classic and going into the second day with a first-place catch of 14 pounds, 15 ounces. He's from the same town as defending champ Rick Clunn, who got 12 pounds, 11 ounces, which was good for third place.
Sandwiched in between is Bo Dowden, another former classic winner, with 13 pounds, 11 ounces. He also picked up the $1,000 daily bonus for the day's top bass -- a 4-pound, 6-ouncer.
Jimmy Houston of Cookson, Okla., had the biggest fish -- a thrill that had him thinking of the $50,000 first-place payoff, but it turned out to be a carp of about 30 pounds. Houston, in his sixth classic, got three keeper bass that totaled 3 pounds, 9 ounces, a quarter-pound more than Roland Martin, whose two legal fish put him in 33rd place.
In fourth place is Randall Romig of Spring City, Pa., who found waters where he fished a bit murky but ended up with five bass totaling 12 1/2 pounds. Rounding out the top five is a rookie on both the BASS circuit and in the classic, Carroll Hagwood of Winter Haven, Fla., with five bass weighing 11 pounds, 15 ounces.
But back to past bad-mouthing of the upper Chesapeake and its bass that were considered by many pros to be small and scattered. Eighteen of the anglers got their limit of five keepers. Clunn had his in a couple hours, then proceeded to toss back the smaller ones and add newly caught bigger ones to the live well.
"I got seven fish on my first stop, and they would take any bait," said Clunn, winner of four previous classics. Part of Clunn's strategy is that he asks the locals where they don't catch fish, then heads there and catches undisturbed bass.
Clunn figures one bass was close to 4 pounds but it threw the hook, and like the rest of us, Clunn slammed his rod against the water, but it caught a part of the boat. Now he has one less rod going into the last two days.
Romig found the fish hit less after the sun got bright. Hagwood found it just the opposite. One surprise for Romig, a veteran of these waters, was that fish struck well on a high tide. He had
predicted the last of the flood and the last of the ebb.
And pardon a bit more bragging for the maligned Chesapeake. Forty fishermen -- most of whom had never fished here before early summer -- checked in 151 bass and culled dozens more. The total weight was 284 pounds, 9 ounces, which is more than 40 pounds above the entire three-day catch of the 1987 classic on the Ohio River.
Fish checked in averaged better than 1 3/4 pounds, better than on the James River last year, where they averaged a bit better than 1 1/2 pounds. And yesterday, only one contender got blanked.
The remainder of the field after Day 1:
Kevin VanDam (Florida) 11 3/4 pounds; Mark Davis (Arizona) and Guy
Eaker (North Carolina) 10 3/4 pounds; Ken Cook (Oklahoma) 9 pounds, 11 ounces; Jim Nolan (Arkansas) 9-9; Bernard Schultz (Florida) 9-5; Harold Allen (Texas) 9-4; Woo Daves (Virginia) 9-2; Shaw Grigsby (Florida) 8-13; Jim Kirkpatrick (Texas) 8-10; Edward Cowan (New York) 8 pounds; Manuel Spencer (Florida) 7-15; Jeff Magee (Mississippi) 7-10; Gary Klein (Texas) 7 1/2 pounds; Mickey Bruce (Georgia) 7 1/4 pounds; Randy Fite (Texas) 7-2; Gary Brown (Ohio) 7 pounds; Jim Bitter (Florida) 6-14.
Joe Thomas (Ohio) 6-11; Denny Stacey (South Carolina) 6 pounds; Charlie Ingram (Tennessee) 5-15; Jerry Wagner (Arkansas) 5-11; Ron Shuffield (Arizona) 5-7; Jay Yelas (Texas) 5-5; Angler of the Year Guido Hibdon (Missouri) 4-13; Jerry Rhyne (North Carolina) 3-10; Jimmy Houston (Oklahoma) 3-9; Roland Martin (Florida) 3-5; Mike Folstad (California) 3-1; Tommy Martin (Texas) 2 3/4 pounds; Larry Nixon (Arkansas) 1-14; Denny Brauer (Missouri) and Tom Biffle (Oklahoma) 1 1/2 pounds; Mickey Trousdale (New Mexico) 13 ounces; Charlie Reed (Oklahoma) 0.