By BassFan Staff
It's shaping up to be quite a month for professional anglers from the state of Oklahoma.
Last week, Bradley Hallman and Zack Birge finished 1st and 2nd, respectively, in the FLW Tour event at Georgia's Lake Lanier. Now, fellow Sooner State residents Jason Christie and Edwin Evers sit atop the opening-round standings in the 48th Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
Christie, who finished 2nd to traveling partner Evers two years ago at Grand Lake in their home state, caught day 1's lone 20-pound stringer. His 20-14 haul gave him a 1-05 advantage over Evers and a larger edge over a strong initial top 12 that includes defending champion Jordan Lee, along with former Forrest Wood Cup champions Brent Ehrler and Jacob Wheeler.
“It wasn’t like I caught a bunch of those big ones,” said Christie. “It just happened to be five of the right ones and I got all of them in. To win, I’ve just got to keep making good decisions and fishing new water each day.”
Evers, who's finished 11th or better in six of the past nine Classics, boxed 19-09. Lee was next with 18-10, followed by Ehrler with 17-08 and Ott DeFoe with 16-08.
Here's how the day-1 top 12 stacks up, with red numbers in parentheses indicating deficit margins from the leader:
1. Jason Christie: 20-14
2. Edwin Evers: 19-09 (1-05)
3. Jordan Lee: 18-10 (2-04)
4. Brent Ehrler: 17-08 (3-06)
5. Ott DeFoe: 16-08 (4-06)
6. James Elam: 16-07 (4-07)
7. Jacob Wheeler: 16-01 (4-13)
8. Mark Daniels Jr.: 15-14 (5-00)
9. Gerald Swindle: 15-13 (5-01)
10. Jamie Hartman: 15-12 (5-02)
11. (tie) Dustin Connell: 15-05 (5-09)
11. (tie) Jason Williamson: 15-05 (5-09)
The bite was strong as the lake continued to recover from a cold front earlier in the week – all but one of the 52 competitors brought a limit to the stage at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, S.C. The lone exception was Skeet Reese, who continued to struggle in the sport's premier event since his victory in 2009.
Reese's sack wasn't short – it was non-existent. He got five bites but failed to catch a keeper.
"I had 100 percent confidence going into the day," said Reese, who's fared no better than 14th in the seven Classics since his triumph at the Red River. "I was as cool, calm and relaxed as I've been in quite awhile. I thought I was dialed in and I don't have a clue what changed.
"It is what it is and I don't have any regrets. I was fishing how I thought I could win."
Four-time Classic runner-up Aaron Martens was another competitor dealing with a high level of frustration. He incurred a two-pound penalty for making a cast with five fish in his livewell, which occurred after a fish had broken him off and he snagged the severed line with his next cast and hand-retrieved it to the boat. The excitement of the ordeal prompted him to take a short break to collect his thoughts, but he neglected to make the necessary cull before tossing his bait again.
More aggravation was in store for him at the weigh-in when his fish registered 16-02 on the scale – he was certain the four spotted bass on one largemouth would combine to weigh a couple pounds more than that. His penalty-reduced total of 14-02 left him in 17th place – one position behind four-time champion Kevin VanDam.
Christie put all five of his biggest bites in the boat on day 1.
"I usually low-ball my fish all the time and that freaks me out," he said. "They were all solid, fat fish. I've never felt this way before. I could see myself being off by a pound, but I'm distraught about this."
After a bright and sunny day 1, the skies will darken and some rain is a possibility for Saturday's second round. The field will be reduced to the top 25 after the weigh-in, with the winner determined Sunday based on highest three-day weight.
Christie In A Comfort Zone
> Day 1: 5, 20-14
Two years ago, Christie bagged 20-14 and found himself atop the Classic leaderboard at Grand Lake after day 1. He wound up being overtaken on the final day by Evers, who claimed the title. He’s hoping for a different outcome this time around.
When Christie was asked what he has to do to keep Evers in his rearview mirror this weekend, he smiled big.
“Catch more than Edwin,” he said. “I just need to keep making good decisions.”
And continue fishing clean, something that he did rather well on Friday as he landed all five of his biggest bass, including one in the 5-pound range.
He said he feels comfortable at Hartwell – he won an FLW Tour there in 2011 – and says the pattern he’s working on feels familiar.
“There’s something going on that happens in Oklahoma, but happens everywhere else, too,” he said. “I don’t want to say too much, but there is something going on. It plays to our strengths. We’re more stubborn than others.”
He thinks he’ll need another strong bag tomorrow to keep himself in the hunt for the win Sunday.
“Tomorrow, I feel like if I could go catch 16 to 17 pounds, to have a chance on Sunday, that’d be awesome,” said Christie. “I’d like to catch 22 pounds, but if I catch 16 or 17 and just stay close (for Sunday), I’ve always said if it’s supposed to be your day, then it’s going to be your day.”
2nd: Evers Needs Another Big Day
> Day 1: 5, 19-09
Evers’ good fortune today was a result of something he discovered this morning.
“Yeah, I did,” he grinned. “It went good. My first spot was a bit of a disappointment, but when I got to the second spot, they were there.”
Edwin Evers put himself in contention for his second Classic title in three years with a strong day-1 showing.
While Evers admitted that the remainder of the day was a mixed bag of ups and downs, he rode the early effort and a couple of solid fish to trail Christie by less than two pounds.
“It’s both (a spot and a pattern), I’ve got two things going,” said Evers. “Who knows if it will hold up (for another couple of days).”
One thing is for certain – Evers likes his chances, not to mention his positioning after day 1.
“The Classic that I won, I was in 13th with four fish after the first day,” he said. “And last year in Houston, I had a rough first day. But I’ll take it (today’s superb performance). I’m very blessed and fortunate to have what I had today. Those two big bites were a gift, and no doubt, without those, I wouldn’t have had what I have.”
Tomorrow will be a key day if Evers is have a chance at a second Classic title.
“I’ve just got to go out there and try and catch everything I possibly can tomorrow,” he said. “I’m not going to lay off of them. I’d love to have another 19-pounds, but that’s going to be hard to do.”
With a weather change coming – with a chance of rain and storms – Evers is expecting a bit of a “moving day” slugfest.
“They’re going to bite better for those other guys, it’s going to be a better day for a lot of us,” he said. “I just need to make the right adjustments with that kind of weather. My mind is kind of racing, I’ve got some stuff I’d like to do with that kind of weather. But it’s not real close to the stuff I was doing today. So, I’ll sleep on it tonight and we’ll see what happens.”
3rd: Lee Exceeded Expectations
> Day 1: 5, 18-10
Lee wasn't anticipating such a hefty sack as he opened defense of the title he gained a year ago at Lake Conroe in Texas.
"I had a tough practice, so I really just fished what I had confidence in today and did what I needed to do," he said. "I wasn't expecting to catch what I caught – I'd have been happy with anything in the teens, even if it was 13.
"I hadn't been catching them good and I really didn't see any good signs this week; in practice I caught two over 4 pounds and that was daylight to dark over four days. But I stayed confident and ran into a good fish and that boosted me even more. When I get on a roll like that, I feed off of it."
His stringer was topped by a 5 1/2-pound largemouth, which he caught at about 11 o'clock after he'd accrued a limit. The rest of it was comprised of sturdy spotted bass.
Jordan Lee started the defense of his Classic crown with an 18-10 stringer.
"It was sunny today and I felt like that helped the dock bite. Tomorrow it's going to be cloudy with maybe a little bit of rain and that's not what I'm wanting – I like it sunny, but I'll take what I'm given and make the best of it.
"It's nice to have a good start because I've struggled in all my other Classics on the first day (he was 37th after the first weigh-in last year). Whatever else I do in this tournament, this feels good."
4th: Ehrler Gaining Confidence
> Day 1: 5, 17-08
Ehrler seems to be in a comfort zone this week. Not only has won and placed 2nd at Hartwell before, he’s discovered a pattern under which the fish he’s located haven’t moved since practice.
“I can duplicate it, too,” he said. “I caught a 3 1/2-pounder off an area I hadn’t fished so if it looks right, I can catch them.”
After the heartbreak of last year’s Classic when he failed to hold the lead after day 2, he said it feels good to be back in contention.
“I love this lake and a lot of things went right today,” he said. “I’m catching a lot of fish and it’s fun. I caught a bonus 6-pound largemouth this afternoon. The biggest thing I’d caught all week was just under 4.”
He mixed both shallow and deep techniques today and thinks he’ll have to employ the combo approach the rest of the way.
“I think it’s a necessity,” he said. “I don’t have a spot or three spots with schools that I can rotate through. I’m having to run a lot and the fish are very finicky. I think it’s possible to catch 12 or 20.”
As for the forecast for Saturday, Ehrler didn’t sound concerned about the potential for rain.
“I caught ‘em pretty good in the rain (during practice) so bring it on,” he added. “I think the bigger spots bite better in the rain.”
5th: Solid Start for DeFoe
> Day 1: 5, 16-08
Like Lee, DeFoe caught considerably more weight than his practice suggested he might.
"It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be," he said. "I hadn't caught a 3-pounder since I'd bee here. I didn't lose the tournament today and I caught everything that bit, so I'm happy with it."
He went through eight or nine keepers, the biggest of which was a 4 1/2-pounder. His bag consisted entirely of largemouths and he intimated that he spent the entire day in shallow water.
"Today was a good day for what I was doing, but I'll probably have to adjust a bit tomorrow (under the lesser light conditions)," he said. "I'm going to need a bigger bag than that.
"That has to be might little bag for the week unless I catch 22 or 23 pounds. Then I could have 15."
6th: Elam Likes Where He's At
> Day 1: 5, 16-07
Elam liked how today played out, but he know he can’t stumble Saturday if he wants to remain a serious contender.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “I have some ground to make up if I want to make a push for the Super 6 and have a chance to win.”
He had a fabulous start to his morning and was the unofficial leader through much of the day, according to BASSTrakk. He doesn’t expect the fish he’s targeting to move all that much, if all at.
“The first day of practice it was 58 or 59 (degrees) and now it’s 54,” he said. “It’s been going down since we’ve been here and it seems like the fish are staying where they’re at and they’re holding tight and waiting for it. They’re going to bust loose in the next week or two after we’re gone. It’s really weird, just the stage they’re in and the two-week cold front they’ve had here.”
Today’s bag was all largemouth and he hopes to duplicate that tomorrow as he doesn’t expect to change the depth range he’s working in.
“It’s the type of fishing you’re used to doing where I’m from – pre-spawn type stuff,” he said. “I might have to go fish for spots just to save myself, but I doubt it. I’ll probably go all in on that. It’ll probably be the winning deal.”
7th: Familiar Scene for Wheeler
> Day 1: 5, 16-01
Today was about survival and learning for Wheeler, who is competing in his second Classic. Add in a little bit of luck and he finds himself in contention entering the weekend.
“I had about 13 rods on the deck,” he said. “I tried to really fish the conditions and I caught fish out of 2 feet of water and as deep as 35. I was trying to understand what had changed from last week’s practice to today. You can’t cover this whole lake. It’s not possible. I’ll probably run to a lot of new water over the next couple days.”
He was helped early on by a 4 1/2-pounder that came off a spot where he shook off a good fish on Wednesday.
“Stuff like that happened today,” he said. “I caught a big largemouth on a place I would’ve have never guessed it to be. I pulled in there to catch a 2-pounder and set the hook an caught a 3.90.”
He spent the latter portion of the day targeting 5 feet or less after being in 15 to 30 during the morning. As the sun got higher in the sky and the water started to warm, he moved in shallower to “make sure it wasn’t going off.
“Having fished as many FLW events here as I have, it was one of those things where it’s the same sort of thing that we’ve seen multiple times,” he said. “It’s a different water level, but I’ve seen the exact points and docks they get on. You know all that stuff and you’re like, ‘I caught two 5-pounders here in practice one time on a warming trend.’ You get all that in your mind and you feel like you have to check that. I ran a lot of that stuff – odds and ends stuff where you can get a bite.”
To stay in the hunt, he thinks another similar stringer or better.
“No doubt,” he said. “Today was about surviving with 15 or 16 pounds. You’re still in it and have the potential to win the event. I told myself I need to catch 15, 17 and 20 no matter which way I do it, I’ll probably have a chance to win. If I get to 51 pounds, I’ll have a chance to win. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be in the top 3, so some day I need to catch 20 and another 16-pound bag.”
8th: Bruiser Boosted Daniels
> Day 1: 5, 15-14
Daniels' stringer was bolstered by a 6-11 largemouth that took big-fish honors for the day.
"That fish had what we call gas," he said. "It came up and jumped about 20 feet away and my heart came out of my chest."
He divided his day being sorting through deep-water spotted bass and pursuing largemouths in the shallows. The big one was the only largemouth he took to the stage.
He said his marshal tallied 17 keepers for him on theday.
"I'm really torn about what to do tomorrow. I might start off deep and try to catch some spots and then expand on it with a big bite, but part of me is thinking I should just run straight to the dirt and try to catch a big bag. It's the Classic and you've got to try to make something happen.
"I really don't know what kind of effect the weather will have. It might make the offshore fish feed a little longer."
10th: Hartman Content So Far
> Day 1: 5, 15-12
Jamie Hartman used the ride to Green Pond Landing this morning to work out any butterflies he might have had prior to his first day of competition in the Bassmaster Classic.
“Then when I started fishing, they were gone,” he said.
Also gone were his worries about struggling on the big stage. He said the day went better than expected and intends to keep splitting time between deep and shallow.
“It’s going to keep changing,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay with them. The stuff that I’m on, I think they’ll still be there, but I’ll transition as it goes.”
He’s pleased that he’s in the mix near the top of the leaderboard, but also glad he has room to improve on Saturday.
“I like where I’m at,” he said. “Sixteen is a good start. I think some guys above me might flop and I can go the other way.”
11th: Fast Start for Connell
> Day 1: 5, 15-05
Dustin Connell got his first Classic started with a big fish on his fourth or fifth cast. He couldn’t remember which – he was too excited to recall.
“I was fired up after that one,” he said. “I had to settle down and catch a limit after that. Once I did, I was good then. The butterflies went away around 10 a.m.”
He likes with where he’s positioned after day 1. He has room climb and plenty more water to check out.
“I’m right where I want to be at,” he said. “I don’t want to be leading. You get too many people following you and too many media.”
Despite his solid stringer, which consisted of four spotted bass and one largemouth, he doesn’t feel any more enlightened as to how to catch a bigger stringer.
“It’s changing every day and today was no different,” he said. “I had one spot where I thought I’d catch 17 pounds, but never had a bite. You just have to keep moving.”
He’s not sure what Saturday’s clouds will bring in the way of changes to how the fish will bite, but he might check on some spots where they had been relating to herring during practice.
“I got hung up on a place too long today because I caught that 4 1/2 early,” he said.
11th: Williamson Pulled it Together
> Day 1: 5, 15-05
Jason Williamson said he got a bit rattled when he farmed two quality bites in the opening hours, but eventually got straightened out and put a sturdy bag on the scale.
"I had a couple come off early that hurt me," he said. "That spun me in the wrong direction for awhile, but I got dialed back in at about 11 or 12 o'clock. The first one that came off was a good 5 pounds and it cost me a pound.
"I didn't get a lot of bites, but they were the right bites."
He said he's at ease competing in his home state on a lake where he has a lot of experience.
"I'm fishing the way I want to fish and I think they're coming to me. I feel pretty good about it."
13th: Powroznik Noticed a Change
> Day 1: 5, 15-04
Jacob Powroznik spent the day targeting fish in 20 to 40 feet of water and doesn’t see himself wavering from that depth range. The fish he is after had moved up off the bottom more today compared to practice.
“They’re on the same stuff,” he said. “They’re just suspended versus being on the bottom. It’s the second day after the cold front so I made the right adjustments.”
He thinks sticking with the deeper pattern – he said the fish are relating to schools of bait – could prove to be more consistent as opposed to devoting more time to shallow-oriented fish.
“I’ve seen this tournament time and again at Hartwell,” he said. “Those shallow fish peter out and the deeper fish are more consistent. There are so many more fish out there. It’s not like they’re moving up. They’re resident fish that live there.”
Powroznik revealed that a wacky-rigged V&M Baits J-Mag Worm was his top producer today.
“I switched up around 1:50 and caught a couple better ones,” he added. “If I can do that all day Saturday, I have a chance to catch 16 or 17 (pounds).”
14th: Ashley Has Work To Do
> Day 1: 5, 15-00
After serving his 38-minute penalty Friday morning, Casey Ashley said the fishing was tougher than he expected and he knows a big bag Saturday will be needed to stay in the hunt.
“Obviously some guys caught them, but I thought it’d be better all the way around,” he said. “The fish were finicky and I don’t why. We had sun and wind and on this lake that’s good, plus it was getting warmer.”
He admitted to being a little confused as to what the fish are doing, which makes his situation entering day 2 a little more challenging.
“In 2015, I knew the deal was a matter of timing and getting luck with the weather swing,” he said. “This deal, Saturday’s going to be cloudy and I’m not licking chops. I think lot of fish are in between right now. I need to catch them tomorrow. I think I’ll need 18-plus to be where I can manage it if the stars align.”
> Day 1 stats – 52 anglers, 51 limits, 1 zero.
> Sat., March 17 - Isolated Thunderstorms - 70°/51°
- Wind: From the SW at 13 mph
> Sun., March 18 - Mostly Sunny - 72°/52°
- Wind: From the ENE at 6 mph
Day 1 Standings
1. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 5, 20-14 – 0 -- $2,500
Day 1: 5, 20-14
2. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 5, 19-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 19-09
3. Jordan Lee -- Grant, AL -- 5, 18-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-10
4. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, CA -- 5, 17-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-08
5. Ott DeFoe -- Blaine, TN -- 5, 16-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-08
6. James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 5, 16-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-07
7. Jacob Wheeler -- Harrison, TN -- 5, 16-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-01
8. Mark Daniels Jr. Tuskegee, AL -- 5, 15-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-14
9. Gerald Swindle -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 15-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-13
10. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 5, 15-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-12
11. Dustin Connell -- Clanton, AL -- 5, 15-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-05
11. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 5, 15-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-05
13. Jacob Powroznik -- North Prince George, VA -- 5, 15-04 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-04
14. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 5, 15-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-00
15. Alton Jones -- Lorena, TX -- 5, 14-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-09
16. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 5, 14-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-07
17. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 5, 14-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-02
18. Matt Lee -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 14-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-01
19. Ryan Butler -- Blue Eye, MO -- 5, 14-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-00
19. Luke Clausen -- Otis Orchards, WA -- 5, 14-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-00
21. Cliff Pace -- Petal, MS -- 5, 13-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-13
22. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 5, 13-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-12
23. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 5, 13-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-11
24. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 5, 13-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-10
25. Josh Bertrand -- San Tan Valley, AZ -- 5, 13-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-09
26. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 5, 13-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-07
27. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 5, 13-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-00
28. Mike McClelland -- Bentonville, AR -- 5, 12-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-15
29. Seth Feider -- Bloomington, MN -- 5, 12-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-14
30. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 5, 12-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-11
31. Jesse Wiggins -- Cullman, AL -- 5, 12-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-10
32. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 5, 12-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-08
33. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 5, 12-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-03
34. John Cox -- Debary, FL -- 5, 12-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-02
34. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 5, 12-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-02
36. Stanley Sypeck Jr -- Sugarloaf, PA -- 5, 12-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-01
36. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 5, 12-01 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-01
38. Jacob Foutz -- Charleston, TN -- 5, 11-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-15
39. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 5, 11-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-08
40. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 11-07 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-07
41. Russ Lane -- Prattville, AL -- 5, 11-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-05
42. Randy Howell -- Guntersville, AL -- 5, 11-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-02
43. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 11-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-00
44. Brandon Coulter -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 10-14 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-14
45. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 5, 10-13 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-13
46. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 5, 10-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-09
47. Luke Gritter -- Otsego, MI -- 5, 10-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-05
48. Bobby Lane Jr. Lakeland, FL -- 5, 10-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-02
49. Marty Giddens -- Cropwell, AL -- 5, 09-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 09-08
50. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 5, 08-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 08-02
51. Carl Svebek III -- Siloam Springs, AR -- 5, 08-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 08-00
52. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 0, 00-00 -- 0
Day 1: 0, 00-00