Texan's bass hook early lead in Classic

Yelas: 18 pounds, 9 ounces

Marylander Price 32nd

July 26, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Aaron Martens didn't want to be leading after the first day's weigh-in at the BASS Masters Classic, and Jay Yelas was happy to oblige him.

Yelas, from Tyler, Texas, saved the best for next to last of 52 anglers when he brought in a five-fish bag yesterday that weighed 18 pounds, 9 ounces. A 6-pound, 2-ounce largemouth bass was the big bass of the 217 caught.

He easily beat Martens, of Castaic, Calif., who also had the limit of five fish that weighed 14 pounds, 1 ounce.

"I just had a phenomenal day," Yelas said. "It was one of those days when everything fell in perfect."

He landed his two biggest fish on Berkeley Power Bait and cast a deep-diving crankbait for another of his bass.

Marylander Chris Price, one of five amateurs representing the B.A.S.S. Federation, finished in 32nd place with a five-fish total of 6 pounds, 7 ounces.

The day started with overcast skies and some spotty drizzle as the anglers headed out on Lay Lake. But by late morning, the sun had broken through, raising temperatures to the low 90s and humidity to 74 percent.

The conditions resulted in the death of eight fish being held in bass boat live wells. Two of them were caught by third-place finisher and BASS Angler of the Year Davy Hite. The angler from Prosperity, S.C., was assessed an 8-ounce penalty, giving him a total of 13 pounds.

Top-ranked amateur Ken Christ of Kansas City, Mo., had one dead fish and finished fourth with a total of 12 pounds, 14 ounces.

Rounding out the top five was Gary Yamamoto of Mineola, Texas, who had a five-fish total of 11 pounds, 13 ounces.

Martens weighed in early and held the lead until almost the very end, a situation that made him nervous. He said the scrutiny of other anglers and the increased curiosity of spectators made the top spot undesirable.

He complained that some spectators fished behind him, moving into his exact spot and using the same patterns when he vacated it.

"I only have three good spots and they're not very big," Martens said. "[Luckily] I still have my best spot left."

But Yelas said he relished the top position with one day to go before the cut to 27 anglers.

"I'd take a 4-pound lead any day and put up with the boat traffic," he said.

Defending Classic champion Kevin VanDam finished the day in 43rd place with a four-fish total of 3 pounds, 12 ounces. He made no excuses for his showing.

"The spectator boats weren't an issue," he said. "I couldn't get going. I'm shocked, amazed and stunned, but I'm still confident."

The 1996 winner, George Cochran, didn't do much better than VanDam. He landed four fish weighing 6 pounds, putting him in 37th place.

"I caught four fish and I lost four fish, and you can't win that way," he said.

The Classic's oldest competitor continued his hard-luck ways in his 24th Classic without a win. Roland Martin, 62, the nine-time Angler of the Year, brought in four fish for 6 pounds, 1 ounce to tie for 35th place.

But age triumphed over youth in the battle of the Daves family of Virginia. Woo Daves, winner of the 2000 Classic, caught 7 pounds, 12 ounces, good enough for 23rd place, while son Chris finished 6 ounces back in 27th place.

Price, who lives in Church Hill on the Eastern Shore, entered the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center arena to the strains of the 1970s hit "Kung Fu Fighting."

He bantered with ESPN host Fish Fishburne, but like many of the anglers, didn't divulge many of his tactics.

Off camera, he said he was flipping a 7-inch Berkeley Power Worm, pumpkin-seed color, into river grass.

"They stopped biting at about 10 and I spent the afternoon looking for fish," Price said. "I just haven't found them yet."

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