By BassFan Staff
Back in 2013, Brent Ehrler lost a fish that was so big on day 1 of the Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour that he and fellow competitor Brett Hite gave it a name – Ol’ Blue. Ehrler figured it was in the 10-pound range and would’ve accounted for an 8 1/2-pound swing in his overall weight, and given him the victory.
Today, while making the drive to Houston from Lake Conroe, Ehrler spoke on the phone with Hite and they traded stories about how their days went on day 1 of the Bassmaster Classic.
“How’d you do today,” Hite asked.
“Well, I caught Ol’ Blue,” Ehrler replied.
He sure did.
The California pro with five FLW Tour wins to his credit, including the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup, kicked off his second career Classic with a 23-03 stringer that included a 9-12 kicker, er, Ol’ Blue. He leads a field that turned in seven 20-pound stringers on a day that saw half the competitors fill their limit amid extremely windy conditions.
Bradley Roy, who’s fishing his first career Classic, sacked 22-01 and occupies 2nd place while Cliff Crochet bagged 21-08 and sits in 3rd.
Mike Iaconelli, who has a strong track record at Conroe, is off to another good start with 21-02, which has him in 4th. Arizona pro Clifford Pirch caught 20-11 to round out the top 5.
Here's a look at the top 12 entering the second day of competition, with deficit margin from Ehrler indicated by red numbers in parentheses:
1. Brent Ehrler: 23-03
2. Bradley Roy: 22-01 (1-02)
3. Cliff Crochet: 21-08 (1-11)
4. Mike Iaconelli: 21-02 (2-01)
5. Clifford Pirch: 20-11 (2-08)
6. Dave Lefebre: 20-06 (2-13)
7. James Elam: 20-01 (3-02)
8. Alton Jones Sr.: 19-13 (3-06)
9. Wesley Strader: 19-09 (3-10)
10. Matt Herren: 19-07 (3-12)
11. Ish Monroe: 19-04 (3-15)
12. Kevin VanDam: 18-06 (4-12)
There were plenty of surprises on day 1, namely odds-on favorite Keith Combs, a two-time Toyota Texas Bass Classic winner at Conroe, bringing in just three fish for 7-11, a total that has him mired in a tie for 40th. Of the five Texans in the field, only one – Alton Jones, Sr. – is in the top 10. He’s 8th with 19-13.
Four-time Classic winner Kevin VanDam caught 18-06 and is 12th after day 1 while 2016 Classic champ Edwin Evers is 3 ounces back in 13th.
To some, the fishing hasn’t changed all that much since practice started a week ago. To others, it’s changing daily as fish are all over the map in terms of which phase of the spawn they’re in. Fish that were found Wednesday were goners today while some have stayed put in certain parts of the lake.
Because east Texas has had such a mild winter, fish that spawned in January are now off the bank and cruising their post-spawn haunts, but were tricky to target due to the heavy winds on day 1. Other fish have yet to spawn and are continuing to move in while there’s a smaller number in the midst of the spawn. It makes for a challenging set of circumstances under which to make decisions.
According to the Intellicast forecast for Conroe on Saturday, partly cloudy conditions are expected with winds out of the west/northwest at 10 to 15 mph, a welcome change that will allow anglers to move around more freely. The X-factor, however, will be the uptick in recreational and spectator boat traffic that typically accompanies the weekend days of Classic competition.
The field will be reduced to the top 25 after Saturday and the winner Sunday will be determined by highest cumulative weight.
Ehrler Concerned About Traffic
> Day 1: 5, 23-03
If Ehrler were a betting man, he’d have wagered that a stringer in the upper 20s would’ve been leading after day 1, not his 23-03 total. As it is, he’s atop the leaderboard, due in large part to the 9-12 behemoth that he collided with in the morning.
“It was such a big one,” he said. “I hadn’t caught anything big all week. To catch one like that is just crazy. It was a battle royal to get that one in. I feel fortunate to have what I had today, for sure. I would’ve had 16 or 17 pounds (without it).”
The spot where he caught the fish hadn’t been productive and he’s not sure it’ll produce another bite
“I’d fished through there and hadn’t had a bite where that one bit,” he said. “It was kind of a lone fish. I just caught that one there so I don’t necessarily think I can go back there and catch one. The fish are randomly placed. I don’t have one deep spot where I know if I don’t catch them, I can come back and know they’re going to bite.”
His main concern for Saturday is being able to effectively fish his primary area. He knows he’ll have plenty of on-lookers following him, but he’ll need to be aware and respectful.
“Where I’m fishing, if there’s a bunch of boats in there, they’re not going to bite,” he said. “It could really, really hinder what I’m doing. The fish need to settle and get comfortable and with boats there, they’re not going to settle and get comfortable and they’re not going to bite.”
He thinks with the wind slacking off a bit Saturday that it could open the door for other anglers to improve upon their day-1 totals.
“What I see happening is if slicks off and gets calmer tomorrow, they’ll probably catch them better because they’ll be able to run around the lake more and there will be more fishable water,” he said. “A lot of stuff was taken out of play today because of that wind. Some of these guys might go around and catch bigger bags today since they’ll be able to fish some of their spots and hop around.
“I have a couple areas that I didn’t run to today that might save me. I don’t have a lot of areas, though. I’m just hoping I can put my head down and grind it out and run to some of these areas and get a bite or two on some of them. If I can do that, then my day can move along. I’m going to have to catch them in my primary area to get my day going. If it doesn’t happen, then it’ll be a grind.”
Brandon Roy feels like he's in tune with what the big fish are doing at Conroe
2nd: Roy Thrilled
> Day 1: 5, 22-01
During pre-practice, Roy caught his personal-best largemouth. At media day on Thursday, he said he was solely focused on big fish. Today, the big-fish theme continued and he finds himself in the mix for the lead after day 1.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I don’t know if you could’ve drawn it up any better in my mind. You can’t win the Classic on the first day. We’ve heard that a million times, but you can certainly lose it. I don’t think I lost it today.”
He’s not fishing to catch a lot of keeper-quality fish. He’s solely focused on putting himself around big fish. Today, he tangled with two.
“I like this place. I think I got a good assessment when I was here for pre-practice,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s a place you get a lot of bites. I feel like it’s a place where you fish for quality. It’s hard to fish that way in a points tournament, but it’s easy to fish just big ones in the Classic. If I come in tomorrow and don’t catch many, that’s okay – it’s just the Classic so I’m going out there swinging. I’m just trying to catch five big ones and I think that helps me in the Classic just to be able to fish for five instead of it being a points tournament.”
He has a good feeling about the resilience of the spots he fished today.
“I think my areas will hold up,” Roy added. “The areas I’m fishing are being used by fish in all phases and I’m hoping that means it’ll be stable through the weekend and I should have enough bites to last me through the weekend.”
3rd: Crochet Stocked Up Quickly
> Day 1: 5, 21-08
Crochet handled about eight keepers on the day, the biggest of which was a 5 3/4-pounder. He said he compiled the majority of his weight during a narrow time window.
"I've got two things going and both are power-fishing," he said. "I think both of them are steady, but I really don't know what to expect (on day 2). When you're fishing a lake that's got a bunch of big ones, it's not like you catch a limit and then go hunt for the bigger fish. On a big-fish lake, you almost expect it to be a grind.
"I don't feel any pressure – if you catch enough the next day to stay in the game, then you get to play another day. If you don't, it is what it is. This thing's a long ways from over."
Cliff Crochet is fishing pressure-free this week.
He incurred a 4-ounce penalty for a dead fish and said he lost one that would've aided his cause.
"I don't think the (windy) conditions were really in my favor," he said. "They didn't kill me, but they definitely didn't help me."
4th: Plan A Worked for Ike
> Day 1: 5, 21-02
Iaconelli showed up for practice at Conroe determined to develop patterns in both deep and shallow water. He needed only the former on day 1 and was likely the only angler in the field to catch the majority of his bag on spinning gear.
"Plan A is fishing (offshore) for staging fish, which means not getting a lot of bites," he said. "Plan B is shallow, where you can get a lot more bites, but in my mind the problem with that is I can't catch the real giants.
"I can catch 3- to 5-pounders shallow, but as far as the 7- to 9-pounders, that's probably not going to happen."
He weighed two fish in the 6-pound class, a pair of 4s and one "rat." The only company he had in his primary spot was a recreational angler.
"I caught some and he caught some. I felt like asking him if he wanted to fish for 20 bucks and a case of beer."
He said he'll spend at least the first 3 or 4 hours of day 2 running his deeper program.
"I'll reassess things at about 11 o'clock. If it's all gone terribly wrong, I'll go shallow. If I've got two or three big ones, I'm committed."
5th: Pirch Dialed In
> Day 1: 5, 20-11
Cliff Pirch said his 20-pound stringer was the culmination of a solid practice.
"I think I understand a few of the little things that are going on with the fish," he said. "It took the whole practice to gather that info, but I felt good coming into today.
"Today I just chose areas where the wind would allow me to do what I wanted to do. I've got a couple other areas that I didn't fish that I'll probably go to tomorrow since we should have a little different weather."
He culled several times and his bag was topped by a 6-pounder, which bit during the middle part of the day. He's pretty sure he didn't lose any fish that would've helped him.
He's employing an off-beat technique that he opted not to divulge at this point.
"I had to fish around some guys off and on and I had to fish some areas behind some people, and I also had a couple of places I was able to stop and fish all by myself.
"The conditions will be a lot different tomorrow, but I think there's the potential for another good bag."
6th: Lefebre Learned a Lot
> Day 1: 5, 20-06
One of the high points of Dave Lefebre’s career occurred at Lake Conroe back in 2009 when he won the TTBC. He’s hoping to top that this week.
Despite making several errors, he managed to maximize the five keeper bites he got and has a plan for how he’ll fish the rest of the way.
“Today was a struggle, big time,” he said. “After my third fish, I think I was fishless for three hours. Then I caught my fourth and in the last hour I caught my fifth one, so in that regard I’m not real thrilled with going back out there tomorrow.”
He tried to make the shad spawn bite work early this morning, but squandered 45 minutes of what’s been the best fishing time all week.
“Mornings are so important because at 9:30, it’s like there’s not a fish in this lakes so you have to catch them quick,” he said. “I idled all the way back under this bridge and idled all the way back out with zero. Then I got to what I’m supposed to be doing and caught a 6-pounder.”
He added two more keepers, then encountered a lull that prompted him to second-guess his game plan.
“I started thinking maybe I was doing the wrong thing,” he said. “I did this and did that and ran to a deep spot by the dam, but (Clifford) Pirch was sitting on it. I went back to what I was supposed to be doing and got a bite in a half hour and then got another one at the end.
“It was a super valuable today as far as learning. I have 45 rods rigged in my boat and they are packed into my locker. Yesterday, I might’ve told you the bottom rod might be the one I needed, but I didn’t know. Now, I know. I had 25 rods on my deck today, but I can’t get bit doing anything else so I’m putting a jig in my hand and that’s what I’m doing all day (tomorrow).”
7th: Change of Area Aided Elam
> Day 1: 4, 20-01
James Elam had a rough time in practice figuring out the behavior of Conroe’s bass. He’s still not quite sure what’s happening, but he likes where he’s sitting after day 1.
“It just feels good to put on a good showing and not come out there with one fish,” Elam said. “I didn’t have a fish at 10:45 so I ran to a different area of the lake and that happened so heck yeah I’m happy with that.”
He didn’t lose any fish that would’ve given him his limit and added it’s hard right now to put a finger on what the fish are doing right now.
“I figured out what I needed to go do in order to get some bites,” he added. “I had one off shore spot, but those fish left apparently. If they’d have stayed, it would’ve been ugly. It would’ve been a good tournament and I would’ve been on them.”
8th: Elder Jones Content
> Day 1: 5, 19-13
Considering the rough conditions, Jones was entirely satisfied with his day-1 haul.
"I've kind of employed the mindset that I need to spend all day fishing for a big bite, and hopefully in the process of that I get a limit of keepers," he said. "Today I got two bites that were over 5 pounds and one that was closer to 6.
"It'll be more of the same tomorrow, but in different places. I've got one place from today that I'll go back to, but after that I'll be running a lot of new stuff."
He used three different techniques on day 1 and wouldn't divulge the depth range he's focused on.
"I don't have a place where I can pull up and wreck them, but that's Texas fishing at this time of year. You try to figure out a pattern that can produce big fish and then run it enough to show it to a couple of them that'll bite.
Mike Iaconelli mixed in a finesse tactics today to catch one of the seven 20-pound stringers.
"Tomorrow we'll have completely different conditions and I'll have to approach things differently. I'll just have to be smart about it."
9th: Strader Exceeded Expectations
> Day 1: 5, 19-09
Strader was pleasantly surprised by his 19 1/2-pound stringer.
"It's better than what I thought I'd get," he said. "Where I caught the big ones today, I caught a big one on my first cast in practice, but I didn't really know the potential of the place. I caught three of my five on my first spot."
His bag was topped by a 7-pounder and he also had a 5 1/2. Four of his weigh-in fish were in the box by 9:30. He lost a bruiser just before he caught his biggest fish.
He's fishing offshore in the 15-foot range.
"I think there's more coming out there," he said. "If I can catch them like that again, I don't care if the wind blows or not. But it ain't fun riding around in it, I'll tell you that."
10th: Herren More Than Satisfied
> Day 2: 5, 19-07
Matt Herren felt like he maximized his opportunities today and is hoping to remain consistent on the weekend.
“Today went exceptionally well except for one dead fish,” he said. “I fished good and thorough and made good decisions and executed on my bites. All in all, it was a pretty good day.”
He targeted shallow, hard cover on the northern half of the lake and feels like he can duplicate his weight on Saturday.
“I knew going in I wasn’t on the mother lode or what I needed to be on,” he said. “I knew I was going to have to work for them every day so I’ll take what it gives me. There’s a lot of fish there. It’s just a matter of getting in front of the right ones.”
His best fish was a 5-10 that finished his limit late in the morning.
“I wound up catching five or six more keepers, but it was so random,” he added. “I almost didn’t go back to this water and fish it, but it was probably the most bites I’ve gotten anywhere on the lake. I just wasn’t seeing the quality and lo and behold today I get two key bites.”
11th: Monroe had Fun
> Day 1: 5, 19-04
Monroe said he had a very enjoyable day despite breaking off a massive bite.
"The lake fished a little bigger than I'd anticipated and almost every bite got into the boat," he said. "The one I didn't get was a 7- or 8-pounder and I didn't know there was a fence post or something down there. When the fish hit it, it broke right off."
He caught fish on a frog, a flipping stick, a spinnerbait and a topwater. He went through about 20 keepers for the day.
He said he had about 15 pounds by 10 o'clock and upgraded a couple of times thereafter. He made his last cull with a 5-pounder a half-hour before he had to head for the ramp.
"The fish I'm catching are either on beds or they're not very fall off them," he said.
12th: No Big Bites for KVD
> Day 1: 5, 18-06
If Kevin VanDam is to win a record fifth Classic title this week, he knows he’ll need to catch some bigger fish than what he caught today.
“I never had any good bites at all,” he said. “My fish were all the same. You have to have that kicker here. It helps. I needed a kicker to up my weight but I feel good about it.”
He spent most of the day slashing a jerkbait along hard cover. He opted for that presentation based on the conditions.
“I’ve got about three different patterns that I’ve been working and with all the wind we had today I just changed things up a little bit,” he said. “I know I’m going to have to do some things different to get some quality bites. I know that being consistent at Conroe, from fishing all the TTBCs, is hard to do day to day. A lot of guys had good days today, but it’s going to be hard to do three days in a row. You might be able to do it two days, but you just don’t catch them on one spot here very often.”
He thinks this Classic will be more wide open entering the final day than any other in recent memory. He just hopes to be in the mix for a historic victory.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said. “In the end, this is going to be one of the most exciting Classics for a fan because there’s a bunch of contenders after day 1, more so than most any other Classic. Usually, a couple guys set themselves apart and they’re able to double that the next day. That may happen here, but I truly believe there will be a bigger group of people that have a chance to win on Sunday than we’ve seen in a long time.”
13th: Solid Start for Evers
> Day 1: 5, 18-03
Evers opened defense of his 2016 Classic title with a stout bag that kept alive his hopes for a second straight victory in the event.
"Yep, we're still in it," he said. "The conditions shut a lot of the lake down and you couldn't fish a lot of it. Tomorrow a lot more of it should be opened up and you'll be able to get around easier."
He boated eight keepers, several of which were in the 4-pound class.
"It'll be the same game plan for tomorrow. I'll try to get a 7-, 8- or 9-pounder – that's what I was lacking today."
He said he's not thinking about trying to become only the third competitor to win the event twice in a row.
"I just want to win this Classic," he said. "I'd give anything to do it, but we're a long ways from that."
> Day 1 stats – 52 anglers, 26 limits, 7 fours, 8 threes, 8 twos, 2 ones, 1 zero.
> Sat., March 25 – Partly Cloudy - 81°/54°
- Wind: From the WNW at 10 to 15 mph
> Sun., March 26 – Partly Cloudy - 86°/66°
- Wind: From the SSE at 10 to 20 mph
Day 1 Standings
1. Brent Ehrler -- Newport Beach, CA -- 5, 23-03
2. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 5, 22-01
3. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 5, 21-08
4. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 5, 21-02
5. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 5, 20-
6. Dave Lefebre -- Erie, PA -- 5, 20-06
7. James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 4, 20-01
8. Alton Jones -- Lorena, TX -- 5, 19-13
9. Wesley Strader -- Spring City, TN -- 5, 19-09
10, Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 5, 19-07
11. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 5, 19-04
12. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 18-06
13. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 5, 18-03
14. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 17-12
15. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 17-07
16. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 4, 17-01
17. Ryan Lavigne -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 16-10
18. Bobby Lane Jr. -- Lakeland, FL -- 5, 16-08
19. Randall Tharp -- Port St. Joe, FL -- 5, 16-00
20. Chris Zaldain -- Laughlin, NV -- 5, 15-15
21. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 5, 15-13
22. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 5, 15-03
23. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 5, 14-10
24. Jacob Powroznik -- North Prince George, VA -- 5, 14-09
25. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 13-13
26. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 13-06
27. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 5, 13-00
28. Boyd Duckett -- Guntersville, AL -- 3, 12-14
29. Alton Jones Jr. -- Lorena, TX -- 4, 12-13
30. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 4, 12-03
31. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 5, 11-00
32. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 4, 10-10
33. Jesse Wiggins -- Cullman, AL -- 4, 10-08
34. Timothy Klinger -- Boulder City, NV -- 4, 10-06
35. Darrell Ocamica -- New Plymouth, ID -- 3, 9-03
36. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 3, 8-11
37. Jordan Lee -- Grant, AL -- 3, 8-06
38. Andy Montgomery -- Blacksburg, SC -- 2, 8-03
39. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 3, 7-15
40. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 3, 7-11
40. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 3, 7-11
42. John Garrett -- Union City, TN -- 3, 7-08
43. Charlie Hartley -- Grove City, OH -- 2, 7-01
44. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 2, 6-03
45. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 2, 5-02
46. Shaw Grigsby Jr. -- Gainesville, FL -- 2, 5-01
47. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 2, 4-10
47. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 2, 4-10
49. Randy Howell -- Guntersville, AL -- 2, 4-08
50. Wil Hardy -- Harlem, GA -- 1, 2-08
50. Gerald Swindle -- Guntersville, AL -- 1, 2-08
52. Scott Clift -- Aldrich, MO -- 0, 0-00