By BassFan Staff

After a serious stumble to start the season last week at Lake Seminole, Randy Howell found his mojo again today.

The reigning Bassmaster Classic champion, fresh off a 106th-place finish, caught an eye-popping 27-03 today – all sight-fishing – and holds the day-1 lead at the St. Johns River Elite Series.

While the field this week has countless miles of river and untold acres of fishable water at their disposal, it appears, at least for the time being, the western side of Lake George is going to be the epicenter for this tournament. Some estimated that more than 50 boats were within eyesight of one another in one area of the lake, all vying for a shot at fish either already locked on beds or pre-spawners headed that way.

And there were apparently plenty of fish to go around.

Howell was among the pack in George, as was Davy Hite, who caught 24-01, which has him tied with Marty Robinson for 2nd. Andy Montgomery also fished in the crowd and caught 22-06, good enough for 4th. Takahiro Omori, yet another angler who fished the crowded area of George, is 5th after catching 22-01.

As Howell put it, "The area got hammered on pretty good today, but there are still so many fish there."

Here's a look at the Top 12 after the opening day of competition, with deficit margin from Howell indicated by red numbers in parentheses:

1. Randy Howell: 27-03
2 (tie). Davy Hite: 24-01 (3-02)
2 (tie). Marty Robinson: 24-01 (3-02)
4. Andy Montgomery: 22-06 (4-13)
5. Takahiro Omori: 22-01 (5-02)
6. Steve Kennedy: 21-06 (5-13)
7. Mike Kernan: 20-14 (6-05)
8. John Murray: 20-13 (6-06)
9. Casey Ashley: 20-09 (6-10)
10. James Niggemeyer: 20-05 (6-14)
11. Greg Hackney: 20-02 (7-01)
12. Justin Lucas: 19-12 (7-07)

Aside from the crowded confines in Lake George, today's conditions were tailor-made for sight-fishing. After an hour-long fog delay in the morning, there was the odd passing cloud, but it was the first day all week that the wind didn't blow, which allowed the anglers to finally get a good look at some fish up shallow. It appears tomorrow will be a carbon copy, meaning the emphasis will continue to be on stealthily approaching fish that are on or near beds.

Brett Hite, the winner at Lake Seminole last week, caught 13-13 and is tied for 49th. Kevin VanDam got off to a rough start with 9-08, which has him in 87th, more than 4 pounds out of the Top 50. He wasn't the lone big name to struggle today.

Edwin Evers (75th), Rick Clunn (78th), Jason Christie (93rd), Skeet Reese (95th) and Mike Iaconelli (96th) all have significant ground to make up tomorrow if they hope to scratch out a check.

The field will be trimmed to the Top 50 after tomorrow and the Top 12 after Saturday will continue to fish on Sunday, when the winner will be determined by highest cumulative weight.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Certain areas in Lake George had as many as 50 boats in them today.

Howell Back in his Groove

> Day 1: 5, 27-03

Howell was in his glory today, sight-fishing for spawners just one week after his worst-ever Elite Series finish.

"It was a great day," Howell said. "It totally gets my confidence back up. I definitely had a stumble at Seminole and I'm okay with what I did and the decisions I made there. I just wasn't okay with not catching any fish. I took some chances that didn't pay off.

"I love sight-fishing and it was great to have a fun day of seeing them and catching them like I did."

Howell did some serious damage with two culls late in the day. He caught everything today on a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Flappin' Hawg.

"I moved around later on and found two big ones – a 6-pounder and an 8," he said. "I threw back 2-pounders both times so I didn't waste much today. Those were brand new fish that had just moved up and I was in the right place at the right time. That's what sight-fishing in Florida is all about."

While he was in the midst of all the boats in Lake George he said he had to stay more offshore since he wasn't among the first wave of arrivals.

"I was out a bit deeper and it was so calm that I was able to see them pretty well," he said. "I started on a 6-pounder and caught it and then worked out to some deeper grass later in the day as it got easier to see."

2nd (tie): Hite Thinks It'll Get Better

> Day 1: 5, 24-01

Davy Hite says he used to dread sight-fishing tournaments in the past and would avoid it if he could.

"It hasn't worked out well doing it that way," he said. "I've had the mentality the previous two tournaments here that if I can't beat 'em, I'll join 'em, so I piled in there and sight-fished around all the other guys."

His new mentality paid off in a big way today as he caught the biggest fish of the day – a 10-02 brute – and is right in the mix at the top of the leaderboard. It was one of 10 keepers he caught today.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Davy Hite's stringer was helped out immensely by the 10-02 he caught today.

"This place has been tough on me the previous times we were here so I'm happy to get off to a good start," he said. "I had another opportunity to catch another fish or two that would've helped me, but overall I'm happy and looking forward to the rest of the weekend."

He said without any wind to speak of today, the water that was stained as a result of Monday's rainfall and subsequent winds has started to clear up.

"I think the fishing will get better," he added. "There are a lot of people in this one area, but I'm thinking more fish will be moving up."

2nd (tie): Robinson Tried the River Before George

> Day 1: 5, 24-01

Robinson eventually found his way into the crush of boats on Lake George, but not before stopping at a couple places in the river first thing after the fog delay. It didn't take him long to sense things weren't happening in the river today.

"It was slick and sunny and those river fish weren't doing anything," he said.

Once he settled into his sight-fishing plan, he caught 12 fish, stopping only to focus on big ones he felt were in a biting mood. His bag was highlighted by a 9-09 and another in the 8-pound range.

"It feels good to get off to a good start," he said. "I was one of the fortunate ones to find a couple big ones. There are a lot of fish ganged up in that area. I think it's because that's the only clean water on that end of the lake and all of those fish want that clean water to spawn."

He thinks the weights may drop slightly tomorrow, but the expectation is that more fish are on the move so if conditions are about the same, the weights may hold steady.

"I think a few will move in this evening," he said. "I know I had to leave a good one on bed. She just wouldn't settle down for me."

4th: Late Upgrades Helped Montgomery

> Day 1: 5, 22-06

The area Montgomery said he was fishing is where he fished back in 2011 and 2012. Back then, he said there were only eight or 10 other boats. Today, there were 40-plus.

"It's just a pretty good area," he said. "Other than the crowds, today was as good as it gets in terms of conditions. I feel pretty good about my day. I spread out my catches and had a couple good culls later on."

He caught 15 keepers and said he missed one that cost him probably 2 pounds, but the two upgrades later on took him from the 16- to 17-pound range up to 22.

5th: Omori Caught a Giant

> Day 1: 5, 22-01

On the heels of a Top-5 finish at Seminole, Omori picked up where he left off today. His bag was anchored by a 7-13 kicker.

"This is a fun place to fish," he said. "I was very fortunate to find the right fish. I was mixed in with a lot of other boats, but there are a lot of fish around there so I'm hoping I can do the same thing tomorrow."

He said he was a little concerned about the fog delay since he was in the first flight, but it wound up being a non-issue. He said he swung about 10 keepers into the boat, but knows the key will be executing on the bigger bites.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Takahiro Omori is off to another strong start this week after catching 22-01 today.

"The whole key is big fish here," he added. "A really big one like the one I caught today will go a long way. Every day is different. Last week was last week. Tomorrow is another day. I just try to do the best I can every day. It feels good to get off to a good start."

6th: Kennedy Ready to Get Back Out There

> Day 1: 5, 21-06

Steve Kennedy was among the throng of competitors on the west side of George today and after catching what he caught and missing a few other opportunities, he sees no reason to go anywhere else on the river.

"Lake George is the second-biggest lake in the state and the majority of the fish in the lake are on the one side, most likely because of those springs over there," he said. "That's got them concentrated in that area and they're there. There's no question they're there.

"I can't question my decision to go there. Anywhere else, you can go 2 or 3 days and not see anything or just catch little fish in the canals. It's not often we get to see this type of place."

He caught a limit by 11 and upgraded throughout the day from there.

"I had one break off this morning that hurt my feelings," he said. "It was in a spot where I saw a 6 in practice. I was just fishing around and couldn't see really well and she just pumped it and took my stuff and left.

"I know of at least four more big ones in there. There was one and the only other boat I saw on it was Timmy Horton and I know he didn't catch her. There are a lot of big ones left. They're not easy to see or catch, but I like my chances."

51st: Crews Fuming

> Day 1: 5, 13-06

John Crews says catching a limit of fish isn't so much a worry of his right now. It's triggering bites from the bigger fish that he's been struggling with.

"I'm tired of catching them mediocre," he said. "It' be nice if I could get a break or two. If we're sight-fishing, it'd be nice to roll up on a 6 or 7 that's ready to go and catch it."

He said he had several bedding fish located at Lake Seminole last week, all in the 6- to 8-pound range, and couldn't get any of them to bite. It was more of the same today.

"I fished for three of them that were between 5 and 8 pounds and none of them would go," he said. "A couple of them were close and then just left and didn't come back. Those fish are supposed to bite, not leave.

"If I catch one of those fish I'm in the mix. If I catch two of them, I'm in the Top 5. I'm just ready for it to come together. My frustration is my motivation. I'm extremely competitive and I can't stand it when things go this way. I'm not going to stop until I come out on top. I need a break or two. I've been doing it for so long and the last three tournaments, including the Classic, I felt like I could've been there in contention, but I wound up down in the middle of the pack. It's frustrating because I know I'm better than my results."

Notable

> Day 1 stats – 108 anglers, 97 limits, 6 fours, 3 threes, 1 two, 1 one.

Weather Forecast

> Fri., March 21 – Clear - 76°/56°
- Wind: From the NNE at 4 to 8 mph

> Sat., March 22 – Chance of Rain - 78°/59°
- Wind: From the SSE at 4 to 8 mph

> Sun., March 23 – Partly Cloudy - 79°/56°
- Wind: From the WNW at 5 to 10 mph

Day 1 Standings

1. Randy Howell -- Springville, AL -- 5, 27-03 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 27-03

2. Davy Hite -- Ninety Six, SC -- 5, 24-01 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 24-01

2. Marty Robinson -- Lyman, SC -- 5, 24-01 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 24-01

4. Andy Montgomery -- Blacksburg, SC -- 5, 22-06 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 22-06

5. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 5, 22-01 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 22-01

6. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 21-06 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 21-06

7. Mike Kernan -- Wylie, TX -- 5, 20-14 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 20-14

8. John Murray -- Phoenix, AZ -- 5, 20-13 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 20-13

9. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 5, 20-09 -- 92
Day 1: 5, 20-09

10. James Niggemeyer -- Van, TX -- 5, 20-05 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 20-05

11. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 20-02 -- 90
Day 1: 5, 20-02

12. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 19-12 -- 89
Day 1: 5, 19-12

13. Paul Elias -- Laurel, MS -- 5, 19-05 -- 88
Day 1: 5, 19-05

14. Russ Lane -- Prattville, AL -- 5, 18-15 -- 87
Day 1: 5, 18-15

15. Chris Lane -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 18-11 -- 86
Day 1: 5, 18-11

16. Matt Reed -- Madisonville, TX -- 5, 18-09 -- 85
Day 1: 5, 18-09

17. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 5, 18-03 -- 84
Day 1: 5, 18-03

18. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, FL -- 5, 18-02 -- 83
Day 1: 5, 18-02

19. Alton Jones -- Lorena, TX -- 5, 18-01 -- 82
Day 1: 5, 18-01

20. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 5, 17-15 -- 81
Day 1: 5, 17-15

21. Jason Williamson -- Aiken, SC -- 5, 17-14 -- 80
Day 1: 5, 17-14

22. Tim Horton -- Muscle Shoals, AL -- 5, 17-11 -- 79
Day 1: 5, 17-11

23. Jamie Horton -- Centerville, AL -- 5, 17-09 -- 78
Day 1: 5, 17-09

24. Hank Cherry Jr -- Maiden, NC -- 5, 17-02 -- 77
Day 1: 5, 17-02

25. Zell Rowland -- Montgomery, TX -- 5, 17-00 -- 76
Day 1: 5, 17-00

26. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 5, 16-15 -- 75
Day 1: 5, 16-15

27. Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 5, 16-12 -- 74
Day 1: 5, 16-12

28. Scott Rook -- Little Rock, AR -- 5, 16-10 -- 73
Day 1: 5, 16-10

29. Matt Herren -- Trussville, AL -- 5, 16-03 -- 72
Day 1: 5, 16-03

30. Grant Goldbeck -- Boerne, TX -- 5, 16-02 -- 71
Day 1: 5, 16-02

31. Keith Poche -- Pike Road, AL -- 5, 15-12 -- 70
Day 1: 5, 15-12

32. Kenyon Hill -- Norman, OK -- 5, 15-06 -- 69
Day 1: 5, 15-06

33. Glenn Browne -- Ocala, FL -- 5, 15-04 -- 68
Day 1: 5, 15-04

34. Jacob Powroznik -- Port Haywood, VA -- 5, 15-01 -- 67
Day 1: 5, 15-01

35. David Smith -- Del City, OK -- 5, 15-00 -- 66
Day 1: 5, 15-00

36. Bobby Lane -- Lakeland, FL -- 5, 14-13 -- 65
Day 1: 5, 14-13

37. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 5, 14-12 -- 64
Day 1: 5, 14-12

38. Jeff Kriet -- Ardmore, OK -- 5, 14-11 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 14-11

38. Jared Miller -- Norman, OK -- 5, 14-11 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 14-11

38. Derek Remitz -- Grant, AL -- 5, 14-11 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 14-11

41. Casey Scanlon -- Shawnee Mission, KS -- 5, 14-09 -- 60
Day 1: 5, 14-09

42. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 5, 14-07 -- 59
Day 1: 5, 14-07

43. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 5, 14-06 -- 58
Day 1: 5, 14-06

44. Terry Scroggins -- San Mateo, FL -- 5, 14-05 -- 57
Day 1: 5, 14-05

45. Chad Morgenthaler -- Coulterville, IL -- 5, 14-03 -- 56
Day 1: 5, 14-03

46. Mike McClelland -- Bella Vista, AR -- 5, 14-01 -- 55
Day 1: 5, 14-01

47. Scott Ashmore -- Broken Arrow, OK -- 5, 13-14 -- 54
Day 1: 5, 13-14

47. Kevin Short -- Mayflower, AR -- 5, 13-14 -- 54
Day 1: 5, 13-14

49. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 5, 13-13 -- 52
Day 1: 5, 13-13

49. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 5, 13-13 -- 52
Day 1: 5, 13-13

51. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 5, 13-06 -- 50
Day 1: 5, 13-06

52. Michael Simonton -- Fremont, OH -- 4, 13-04 -- 49
Day 1: 4, 13-04

53. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 5, 12-15 -- 48
Day 1: 5, 12-15

54. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 5, 12-12 -- 47
Day 1: 5, 12-12

55. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 5, 12-11 -- 46
Day 1: 5, 12-11

56. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 12-10 -- 45
Day 1: 5, 12-10

56. Shaw Grigsby Jr. Gainesville, FL -- 5, 12-10 -- 45
Day 1: 5, 12-10

58. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 5, 12-08 -- 43
Day 1: 5, 12-08

59. Tracy Adams -- Wilkesboro, NC -- 5, 12-07 -- 42
Day 1: 5, 12-07

60. J Todd Tucker -- Moultrie, GA -- 5, 12-05 -- 41
Day 1: 5, 12-05

61. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 5, 12-04 -- 40
Day 1: 5, 12-04

62. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 5, 12-03 -- 39
Day 1: 5, 12-03

63. Fletcher Shryock -- New Philadelphia, OH -- 5, 11-15 -- 38
Day 1: 5, 11-15

64. Josh Bertrand -- Gilbert, AZ -- 4, 11-15 -- 37
Day 1: 4, 11-15

65. Bernie Schultz -- Gainesville, FL -- 5, 11-14 -- 36
Day 1: 5, 11-14

66. Byron Velvick -- Boenre, TX -- 5, 11-12 -- 35
Day 1: 5, 11-12

67. Nate Wellman -- Newaygo, MI -- 5, 11-11 -- 34
Day 1: 5, 11-11

68. Gerald Swindle -- Warrior, AL -- 5, 11-07 -- 33
Day 1: 5, 11-07

69. Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, OK -- 5, 11-06 -- 32
Day 1: 5, 11-06

70. Billy McCaghren -- Mayflower, AR -- 5, 11-02 -- 31
Day 1: 5, 11-02

71. Charlie Hartley -- Grove City, OH -- 5, 11-01 -- 30
Day 1: 5, 11-01

72. Joseph Sancho -- New Windsor, NY -- 5, 11-00 -- 29
Day 1: 5, 11-00

73. Gary Klein -- Weatherford, TX -- 5, 11-00 -- 28
Day 1: 5, 11-00

74. Greg Vinson -- Wetumpka, AL -- 5, 10-15 -- 27
Day 1: 5, 10-15

75. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 5, 10-14 -- 26
Day 1: 5, 10-14

76. Boyd Duckett -- Guntersville, AL -- 3, 10-13 -- 25
Day 1: 3, 10-13

77. Stephen Browning -- Hot Springs, AR -- 5, 10-11 -- 24
Day 1: 5, 10-11

78. Rick Clunn -- Ava, MO -- 5, 10-09 -- 23
Day 1: 5, 10-09

79. Pete Ponds -- Madison, MS -- 5, 10-07 -- 22
Day 1: 5, 10-07

80. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 5, 10-05 -- 21
Day 1: 5, 10-05

81. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 5, 10-04 -- 20
Day 1: 5, 10-04

82. Kevin Hawk -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 10-01 -- 19
Day 1: 5, 10-01

83. Chris Zaldain -- San Jose, CA -- 5, 09-14 -- 18
Day 1: 5, 09-14

84. Boo Woods -- Oneida, KY -- 5, 09-13 -- 17
Day 1: 5, 09-13

85. Fred Roumbanis -- Bixby, OK -- 5, 09-10 -- 16
Day 1: 5, 09-10

85. Jonathon VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 09-10 -- 16
Day 1: 5, 09-10

87. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 09-08 -- 14
Day 1: 5, 09-08

88. Chad Pipkens -- Holt, MI -- 5, 09-07 -- 13
Day 1: 5, 09-07

89. Dennis Tietje -- Roanoke, LA -- 5, 09-05 -- 12
Day 1: 5, 09-05

90. Morizo Shimizu -- Osaka JAPAN -- 5, 09-00 -- 11
Day 1: 5, 09-00

91. Kurt Dove -- Del Rio, TX -- 5, 08-15 -- 10
Day 1: 5, 08-15

92. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 5, 08-12 -- 9
Day 1: 5, 08-12

93. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 4, 08-12 -- 8
Day 1: 4, 08-12

94. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 4, 08-05 -- 7
Day 1: 4, 08-05

95. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 5, 08-02 -- 6
Day 1: 5, 08-02

96. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 5, 08-01 -- 5
Day 1: 5, 08-01

97. Kelly Jordon -- Palestine, TX -- 5, 07-15 -- 4
Day 1: 5, 07-15

98. Yusuke Miyazaki -- Forney, TX -- 5, 07-13 -- 3
Day 1: 5, 07-13

98. Jeremy Starks -- Scott Depot, WV -- 5, 07-13 -- 3
Day 1: 5, 07-13

100. Britt Myers -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 4, 07-12 -- 1
Day 1: 4, 07-12

101. Brandon Card -- Caryville, TN -- 5, 07-04 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 07-04

102. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 5, 07-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 07-01

103. BJ Haseotes -- Centerville, MA -- 4, 06-07 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 06-07

104. Kotaro Kiriyama -- Moody, AL -- 3, 05-15 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 05-15

105. James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 3, 04-07 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 04-07

106. Trevor Romans -- Plano, TX -- 2, 01-14 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 01-14

107. Kelley Jaye -- Dadeville, AL -- 1, 01-12 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 01-12

108. Joel Baker -- Talala, OK -- 5, 01-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 01-08