Anglers called it a grind on day 1 of the Grand Lake Bassmaster Central Open, but the leaderboard told a different story, with a top 5 within flipping distance of 20 pounds and one over that mark.
Kenta Kimura of Osaka, Japan, grabbed the early lead with five healthy bass, including a set of bookends at about 4 1/2 pounds each, for a total of 20-06.
“I think today was just the right kind of day to do what I was doing, cranking and flipping a worm,” he said. “The wind helped me.”
Kimura said he had enough bites to get the job done and that he covered a lot of different areas. But his bites consistently brought in bigger fish.
With possible thunderstorms overnight and less wind in the forecast for Friday, he expected a tough job ahead.
His story was similar to that of many others. They had just enough bites to get the job done, some just found better size and kept fish on the hook all the way into the boat.
“I don’t know about tomorrow,” Kimura said. “I’m going to have to work hard.”
At stake for anglers at this final Central Open of the season is not only a cash prize and a possible berth in the 2020 Bassmaster Classic, but a final chance to finish in the top 5 of the Angler of The Year points race to qualify for an invitation to the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Second-place angler Randy Pierson of Oakdale, Calif., the 2018 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship winner who is also fishing the Elite Series this season, sacked 18-12.
“My timing was just kind of perfect today and everything went perfect. I caught seven keepers, but the five I weighed came on four different baits,” he said.
Pierson said he only used about half the areas he found in practice to catch his seven keepers, but he used every inch of those areas.
“Tomorrow I’m going to pretty much have five rods on the deck and fish them from shallow to down deep,” he said. “The deepest I caught fish today was 20 to 25 feet and the shallowest was, well, zero.
“I really think it’s just a timing deal. You just have to pull up to the right spot when they’re feeding.”
Pierson’s timing theory may hold, given the experience of Oklahoma’s Curt Warren, who's in 3rd place with 18-06.
“It sounds a lot better than it actually was,” he said. “By 9:30, I was all done. I spent the rest of the day trying to get a bite.”
From the tiny town of Leach, just about 50 miles down the road, he is familiar with Grand Lake in late summer and early fall. Warren said the fish often fire up early, but then another flurry can be expected.
“They usually hit good until about 9 o’clock and then it will stop, but they’ll fire up again about noon,” he said. “Today I just couldn’t get them to fire up again. They’re there, we could see them, they just weren’t biting.”
Here's a look at the initial top 12:
1. Kenta Kimura: 20-06
2. Randy Pierson: 18-12
3. Curt Warren: 18-06
4. Cade Laufenberg: 18-00
5. Casey Scanlon: 17-11
6. Bob Downey: 17-09
7. Billy Billeaud: 17-03
8. Taku Ito: 16-15
9. Logan Latuso: 16-06
10. Masayuki Matsushita: 15-08
11. Caleb Kuphall: 15-08
12. Bradley Hallman: 14-15