By Todd Ceisner
It took all of one day for the cream to rise to the top at Lake Murray, a challenging venue at perhaps the most challenging time of year. How long it'll stay there is anyone's guess.
Capitalizing on what few opportunities they did have to catch fish on a sunny, breezy day, an impressive mix of former Tour winners, Cup champions and Anglers of the Year (AOY), including four of the Top 5 anglers in the latest BassFan World Rankings, laid the foundation today for what could wind up being a star-studded affair in Columbia, S.C., this week.
David Dudley, the 2003 Cup winner and three-time AOY, would've cracked the 18-pound barrier if not for a dead-fish penalty, but his 17-14 net weight still has him in the lead by more than 3 pounds over Cody Meyer, the runner-up in this year's AOY chase, and Bryan Thrift, a former AOY who has finished 3rd in the last two Cups and notched his third career Tour win this season. Both are tied for 2nd with 14-09.
Cup newcomer Brad Knight is 4th after catching 13-07, 1 ounce better than 2012 Cup champ Scott Martin, who's 5th.
The bottom half of the Top 10 is just as strong with Cup winners Brent Ehrler (6th) and Jacob Wheeler (9th) bracketing Murray resident and former AOY Anthony Gagliardi (7th) and reigning two-time AOY Andy Morgan (8th). Barry Wilson, whose 5-10 kicker was the big fish of the day, is 10th with 11-08.
Here's a look at the Top 10 after the first day of competition, with deficit margin from Dudley indicated by red numbers in parentheses:
1. David Dudley: 17-14
2 (tie). Cody Meyer: 14-09 (3-05)
2 (tie). Bryan Thrift: 14-09 (3-05)
4. Brad Knight: 13-07 (4-07)
5. Scott Martin: 13-06 (4-08)
6. Brent Ehrler: 13-05 (4-09)
7. Anthony Gagliardi: 13-02 (4-12)
8. Andy Morgan: 12-10 (5-04)
9. Jacob Wheeler: 12-05 (5-09)
10. Barry Wilson: 11-08 (6-06)
Casey Ashley, a South Carolina native and one of the favorites this week, opened in 21st after catching a 9-00 limit, one of just 17 full bags weighed in. Defending Cup champ Randall Tharp is 39th after catching one fish for 2-07 today.
Most at or near the top of the standings talked openly how a best-case scenario today was to average about a bite an hour. Some said they moved off areas once they got a limit and opted to bypass other spots that only would've netted a couple more ounces in an effort to conserve waypoints for tomorrow and beyond. The river was flat out a non-factor as only one of the three anglers known to have fished up there is in the Top 20.
The wind blew a bit harder than expected and had some guys kicking themselves for not fishing offshore areas right away. The early-morning top water bite that had been decent during practice seemed to die off quick once the sun got above the tree lines and some mentioned having several fish follow baits but not commit throughout the day.
Another hot, sunny day is in the forecast for Friday with winds expected to be less than 10 mph.
Dudley Mixing Deep and Shallow
> Day 1: 5, 17-14
Dudley knows this tournament is far from over. He knows his productive, deeper spots could dry up in a heartbeat or he might not find any more quality shallow. That's why a strong day 1 was important to the Virginian, who hasn't won since clinching the 2012 AOY title with a victory at Lake Champlain in June of that year.
"In the Forrest Wood Cup, you need to come out strong," he said. "Of course, that's everybody's goal but it just sort of happened. If you look at the past history everyone who's won has had a big day during the tournament."
His keeper ratio was just about one an hour (seven total) and he went through 40 spots to get them. His kicker was a 4-04.
While his deepest fish came out of 30 feet – they're not herring-related – his shallow pattern is scattered.
"These bass aren't really holding on any particular cover," he added. "They're just kind of roaming around so you just hope to collide with one. It may be in between docks or on the dock … you're just going shallow trying to find them."
Coming out of practice, he was hoping to get a small inkling of how the bass were acting, then piece things together during the first 2 days.
"I didn't have a lot of bites in practice and I figured if I had enough bites to get me jump-started today, I'd have to figure it out more as it went along," he said. "I'm going to run some new stuff tomorrow. I'm going to repeat some of the deep stuff but the shallow-water stuff I will have to run new areas."
Cody Meyer cashed in on his opportunities today.
2nd (tie): Meyer Managed Five
> Day 1: 5, 14-09
Meyer had designs on having a strong morning and then building a solid day-1 bag from there. That plan fizzled when he didn't get his first bite until 10:30 and his second not until 1 p.m.
"I'm definitely happy. I got five bites all day," he said. "I thought I could catch two or three early in the morning that would be decent fish, but it was a scramble. I never missed one and capitalized on everything I caught."
He's fishing deep-water structure, mainly brush piles, and actually boated two keepers out of the same clump of brush with a dropshot. He caught two on a swimbait and another on a topwater.
"I moved around areas (while I was struggling)," he said. "My big one was in there and it was a rodeo. It went into the brush, came out and jumped and the next cast I caught another one. It was just a lucky day."
2nd (tie): Thrift Caught 'Em Shallow
> Day 1: 5, 14-09
Like Dudley, Thrift felt it was important to set a good tone early on in the event as the presumption is the bite is going to toughen significantly.
"It definitely helps in a championship to catch a good bag on the first day," he said. "Most times it gives you a little wiggle room as far as making the Top 20. I feel like things are going to get a lot tougher on Saturday and Sunday and I feel like if I can make it to Saturday without having to fish one place I'm wanting to save, I'm pretty sure I can make the Sunday cut. My goal tomorrow, based on the weights, I think I'll probably need to catch 10 to 12 pounds to be up there."
He milked one shallow area for seven bites by mid-morning and then ran around to stockpile more waypoints for later use.
The place he caught them today, though, is checked off the list.
"I won't even go into where I caught them today tomorrow. I know better," he said.
He's not sure the fish he caught were holding to any specific cover or were chasing bait.
"I don't know why they're there. It was junk-fishing 100 percent," he said. "I think I just finally got into an area where there were some fish. I think that's the biggest thing. You just have to cover water and hope to get five bites.
"I have some stuff I didn't fish today. After I caught my fifth keeper today, I didn't fish anything I fished in practice. I fished all new water. Tomorrow morning I'll run new places I'd found in practice and hopefully I'll be fortunate to catch five again and then go run some more new water."
4th: Open Mind a Key for Knight
> Day 1: 5, 13-07
There weren't many jitters at the dock this morning for Knight, who's fishing his first Cup. It showed in his performance. He mixed a morning shallow pattern with a deeper, finesse program later in the day to move into the Top 5.
"The way the lake is fishing right now you never know what to expect, but I feel good about it," he said.
He caught three keepers shallow right away, then finished his limit before culling once on a dropshot away from the bank.
"I've not been able to find the exact key to what they're looking for shallow to be able to pull up and make that one stop and get bit," he added. "I'm covering as much water as possible. If it would stay overcast, my shallow bite would probably last longer. Once the sun gets up high that kills that pretty well."
He had a big fish come off today doing something he intends to expand upon Friday.
"I feel comfortable shallow fishing early and then moving out later in the day to upgrade," he said. "I may have figured something out, but everything is changing day to day so I just need to keep an open mind."
5th: Martin Strategized For Later
> Day 1: 5, 13-06
Rather than burn up areas that could help him down the road in this tournament, Martin went into conservation mode this morning after catching a good early limit.
"I was blessed to get a limit by 9 this morning and had a pretty good bag," he said. "I started thinking, 'Do I want to start running new stuff and try to pick up a bonus fish here or there or burn something for the rest of the event?' It was hard to do because I was passing by places where I was like, 'Man, I bet I could go over there and maybe catch one and cull up a little bit.' I know a 2 1/2- or 3-pounder tomorrow is way more important than a half-pound was going to be today."
In practice, he said he was catching a chunky 4- or 5-pounder each day. Today, he fished mostly offshore with "low and slow" baits mixed in with some reaction lures. His big fish was a little over 3 pounds.
"I thought from 9 to check-in I'd get one of those bites and I did – I caught that 3, which helped me by another pound," he said. "That was a new spot. I don't know what I'm going to catch tomorrow, but hopefully those seven or eight places I didn't fish today, I can catch a fish or two off of them and come in with anther decent bag.
"It's such a crazy lake and not that it's a bad lake, it's just that it's difficult to get on a pattern. The weather's changing – it was windy this morning and dead slick this afternoon. Who's to say what will happen tomorrow?"
Bryan Thrift junk-fished his way to a tie for 2nd after day 1.
6th: Morning a Letdown for Ehrler
> Day 1: 5, 13-05
Ehrler figured he could get a read on how the day would go within the first few minutes. It was a 50-50 deal and it wound up going south in a hurry.
"I was curious about how things would go first thing in the morning and it wasn't as good as I thought it would be," he said. "I only had one good day in practice and I only had one or two little areas where I thought I could catch one and I didn't know how much the weather could change it. I knew that in the first 5 minutes this morning I'd know how the day was going to go and in the first 5 minutes I knew it wasn't going to go well. I struggled. I just picked off one here and there."
He did manage to draw seven strikes, more than he'd had on any day in practice, and landed five. After that, he was careful not to lean on any areas too hard.
"I actually didn't go to a few areas today," he said. "Once I caught five, I started pre-fishing. I knew a limit would be good, but I didn't find anything else. I'm going to run the stuff I know tomorrow and hopefully get five again. It's just so hard to catch a keeper right now so there was no reason for me to go cull (for ounces) if I weigh in four tomorrow and burn through all of my stuff."
He's mixing deep and shallow areas and frantically running back and forth throughout the day as conditions change.
7th: Gagliardi Caught 'Em Quick
> Day 1: 5, 13-02
Gagliardi said he'd hoped to leave his first spot today with a couple keepers. He wound up taking a limit by 8:15.
"I lost a couple 4-pounders so I had a chance to better myself a little bit," he said. "I left everything, but I still have a feeling I can get some more bites in there."
He said his long history on Murray isn't a hindrance this week.
"I'm not fishing any memories," he said. "I'm fishing stuff that's been good recently, either from pre-practice or earlier this week. I'm fishing stuff that has or had fish on it. I have a lot of those places. I fished in a lot of different areas of the lake and I skipped over some spots."
After boxing that early limit, he bounced around the lake trying to identify other spots that he could pick over tomorrow.
"I never really came across a place like that where it was happening," he added. "It's probably going to be really key for me to get some quality bites early on."
8th: Another Strong Start For Morgan
> Day 1: 5, 12-10
Morgan is doing what he does best this week – fishing free and loose and going 100 mph along the bank. That approach produced eight keeper bites, including an ice-breaker right away.
"I had a good one within the first 10 minutes," he said. "When you're in a tough tournament, getting a good start is really important and you can get your mind focused and stay with the plan. That fish helped me stay with the plan. Then I'd catch one every hour so. It worked out.
"I'm pretty tickled with it. It could've done a lot worse. That's about what I've been catching every day and I might've had a little more weight today than I had been catching in practice. When I'd get a bite in practice, I'd leave that area so a lot of the water I fished today – I'd say 90 percent – was brand new that I hadn't fished. I looked at it and if it looked good and I felt like I could get a bite there, I didn't fish it. Today, I fished it."
Today he threw a mix of topwaters and flipping baits depending on the type of cover he was coming up on.
9th: Wheeler Backed Off
> Day 1: 5, 12-05
Wheeler was another angler who appeared to switch gears after getting his fifth fish in the boat. Instead of loading the boat with similar sized fish, he opted to re-open his practice to try to locate additional areas he can pick over later in the event.
"I had some areas that had fish in them and after I caught my limit, which was pretty much all 2-pounders, and I didn't want to go in those areas and catch multiple 2-pounders that wouldn't help me," he said. "One keeper fish here is huge so each day it's going to get tougher and tougher and each day you need to be covering new water if you're fishing shallow."
He fished and had success targeting both deep and shallow fish.
"I'm still getting a feel for what's going on," he added. "There were multiple patterns going on in practice, but the key is trying to figure out which one is going to be the best. I was a little late for the herring (topwater) deal so I spent some time shallow this morning trying to capitalize on one of those 5- or 6-pounders, but never did. I had one big bite and that was it. I spent a little more time on that than I should've and I missed out on that key herring deal in the first couple hours."
10th: Wilson Confident He's Around Quality
> Day 1: 5, 11-08
Wilson's 5-10 kicker accounted for nearly half of his weight and he says he had opportunities at other quality specimens.
"This morning I lost one about 4 pounds right off the bat," he said. "I was a nervous wreck. I just flat out missed it. I never hooked it. I had several bites in there Sunday and never set the hook so I know there are some big ones in there still."
The area he referenced produced three bites today and he's hopeful he can get there in short order tomorrow morning despite being in the later flight.
"I'm boat 44 tomorrow, but I figure it'll only be about a 5- to 10-minute difference so it won't be a big deal," he added. "I had another area today, but the problem there was the sun had hit it already and I had 10 keeper bites on Tuesday there with a couple big ones. I'm going to run it again.
"It's a summer pattern and nothing's going to change until we get some cooler weather and I don't see any of that in the future," he said. "I don't have hidden brush piles or places where I can pull up and make a couple casts and try to get a bite. I'm having to move and shake and keep on rolling."
Jason Christie struggled to find a consistent shallow bite today.
25th: Christie's Confidence Shaken
> Day 1: 4, 8-01
Pocket after pocket, laydown after laydown, dock after dock, Jason Christie flipped and flipped and flipped some more Thursday – and all he had to show for it was four fish that has him on the bubble to make it past the first cut.
"I thought I could catch them," he said. "When I fished shallow during the 1 day of practice I had, I got some bites. It's all I did and I didn't run around a lot and I put that bait right where it needed to be and I got four bites all day long. That's crazy to me because I've seen events like this and usually if you're not getting many bites, the ones you do get are good ones. I had one good one and three little ones.
"I'm confused because of how much good stuff I fished today and didn't get bit. I don't know if I happen to be fishing behind Morgan the whole day because it's possible. We've done it before. I just didn't get many bites. Here's what scares me: Today, I got four bites and for me to catch a big bag I have to do what I like to do which is fish shallow. I almost lost my confidence today. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. I might move up the river and see if they're in the dirtier water in a foot of water."
39th: Tharp Bumming
> Day 1: 1, 2-07
Tharp wasn't catching many short fish in practice and that had him thinking a second straight Cup win was a real possibility. However, the dinks showed up today and the better quality fish didn't feed aggressively, leaving Tharp in a lurch entering day 2.
"I hooked two keepers and lost a 5," he said. "I'm just fishing willows and clumps of grass. I caught a lot of shorts today – that hadn't happened in practice. I saw the 5-pounder eat my bait. I know they're there."
He said he's a bit discouraged now because he sensed today was a missed opportunity on his part.
"I don’t like digging out of a hole," he added. "There is a ton of fish there. I saw 12-inchers schooling and there were shad jumping everywhere."
> Day 1 stats – 45 anglers, 15 limits, 8 fours, 4 threes, 5 twos, 8 ones, 2 zeroes.
> Fri., Aug. 15 – Mostly Sunny - 91°/69°
- Wind: From the NNE at 4 mph
> Sat., Aug. 16 – Partly Cloudy - 93°/71°
- Wind: From the SSW at 6 mph
> Sun., Aug. 17 – Mostly Sunny - 95°/74°
- Wind: From the SW at 9 mph
Day 1 Standings
1. David Dudley -- Lynchburg, Va -- 17-14 (5)
2. Cody Meyer -- Auburn, Ca -- 14-09 (5)
2. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 14-09 (5)
4. Brad Knight -- Wartburg, Tn -- 13-07 (5)
5. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 13-06 (5)
6. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, Ca -- 13-05 (5)
7. Anthony Gagliardi -- Prosperity, SC -- 13-02 (5)
8. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 12-10 (5)
9. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 12-05 (5)
10. Barry Wilson -- Birmingham, Al -- 11-08 (5)
11. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, Ar -- 10-15 (5)
12. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 10-09 (4)
13. Matt Herren -- Ashville, Al -- 10-04 (5)
13. Matthew Stefan -- Junction City, Wi -- 10-04 (5)
15. Scott Canterbury -- Springville, Al -- 10-00 (4)
16. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, Al -- 9-13 (5)
17. Michael Wooley -- Collierville, Tn -- 9-08 (4)
18. Mark Rose -- West Memphis, Ar -- 9-07 (5)
19. Philip Jarabeck -- Lynchburg, Va -- 9-04 (3)
20. Dan Morehead -- Paducah, Ky -- 9-03 (4)
21. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 9-00 (5)
22. Tony Davis -- Williston, Fl -- 8-14 (4)
23. Stephen Johnston -- Hemphill, Tx -- 8-08 (3)
24. Shinichi Fukae -- Palestine, Tx -- 8-03 (4)
25. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, Ok -- 8-01 (4)
26. Ramie Colson Jr -- Cadiz, Ky -- 8-00 (3)
27. Wesley Strader -- Spring City, Tn -- 7-14 (5)
28. Tom Monsoor -- La Crosse, Wi -- 7-09 (4)
29. Austin Felix -- Eden Prairie, Mn -- 7-03 (3)
30. Joseph Wood -- Westport, Ma -- 6-03 (3)
31. James Biggs -- Euless, Tx -- 5-07 (2)
32. Marcus Sykora -- Osage Beach, Mo -- 4-06 (1)
33. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, Az -- 4-03 (1)
34. Robbie Dodson -- Harrison, Ar -- 4-00 (2)
34. Austin Terry -- San Angelo, Tx -- 4-00 (2)
36. Shad Schenck -- Waynetown, In -- 3-14 (2)
37. Randy Haynes -- Counce, Tn -- 3-04 (2)
38. Matt Greenblatt -- Port St Lucie, Fl -- 3-02 (1)
39. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, Fl -- 2-07 (1)
40. Charlie Ingram -- Centerville, Tn -- 2-02 (1)
41. Michael Neal -- Dayton, Tn -- 2-00 (1)
42. Jeff Michels -- Lakehead, Ca -- 1-06 (1)
43. Jason Lambert -- Pickwick Dam, Tn -- 1-03 (1)
44. Richard Peek -- Centre, Al -- 0-00 (0)
44. Spencer Shuffield -- Bismarck, Ar -- 0-00 (0)