By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The goal for most of the 40 anglers who fished on opening day of the Smith Lake MLF Bass Pro Tour in Alabama was to catch 20 scorable bass (1 pound or heavier). Nine accomplished that and the top 4 are all residents of neighboring Tennessee.
Jacob Wheeler hammered shoreline rocks and docks to catch 38 fish (most of them largemouths) that combined to weigh 61-14. His weight was more than 15 pounds better than that of 2nd-place Andy Morgan, the winner of the previous event at Lake Chickamauga who had 46-12 on 29 fish.
Wesley Strader was 3rd with 43-01 (21 fish), followed by Ott DeFoe with 42-12 (24). Angler of the Year points leader Edwin Evers, the highest non-Tennessean in the standings, completed the top 5 with 41-11 (26).
Josh Bertrand handed 25 fish for a 38-13 total to lead the lower half of the top 10. Stephen Browning was 7th with 36-11 (25) and Luke Clause 8th with 32-05 (23). Brothers Matt and Jordan Lee, who grew up on the shores of the lake in Cullman, Ala., were 9th and 10th with 20 fish for 30-07 and 18 fish for 28-13, respectively.
Only four competitors caught fish weighing 4 pounds or more, and all of those were largemouths. Bobby Lane (16th place) caught a 4-12, Strader had a 4-10, Brent Ehrler (21st) caught a 4-06 and Justin Atkins (28th) had a 4-03.
Both Wheeler and Strader caught a preponderance of largemouths, which are less abundant in the lake than spotted bass but weigh a bit more on average. Morgan caught primarily spots and a handful of largemouths and DeFoe's haul was totally comprised of the spotted species.
Group A will be off on Wednesday as the Group B Shotgun Round will be contested. Group A will return to the water on Thursday for its Elimination Round.
Only the top 20 will advance from the Elimination Round to Saturday's Knockout Round.
Wheeler's 38 fish were a Shotgun Round-high for the circuit, which is staging its fifth event of the inaugural season. The previous standard was 36.
The first and last fish he caught both weighed slightly more than 3 pounds. He had eight that registered between 2 and 3 pounds and 28 that went between 1 and 2. Most were enticed by a bladed jig and others bit a swimbait.
Andy Morgan got off to a good start in pursuit of his second straight BPT win.
"I was hoping it was going to be good, but I didn't think I'd catch as many as I did," he said. "It just came down to figuring out the right stuff and getting on it at the right time. I ran around a lot in practice just fishing what was in front of me and trying to get dialed in. A couple of different things clued me in to what was going on."
He caught only two fish in the final period as he used that time to search for new water to utilize in subsequent rounds.
"You always want to do well on the first day because that takes a lot of the stress out of your second day. Once I got close to the threshold where I thought I was safe, I backed off the gas. There was no reason to run anything that I knew had fish."
Morgan, who made a good pile of money at Smith during his long stint on the FLW Tour, also did a lot of his work with a vibrating jig. His biggest specimen was a 3-05 and he had five others that topped 2 pounds.
"It was pretty close to the way I thought it was going to go – there were no big surprises," he said. "This is a lake that has small fish in it and we're going to weigh in a lot of small ones.
"You have to lay in and make sure you get a lot of bites. You can't run off and spend a lot of time looking for big ones because they're not there. I stayed in about three general areas and moved around quite a bit on those."
Strader caught fish on a variety of techniques, including a topwater, a swimbait, a spinnerbait, a crankbait and a finesse worm. He had a trio of 3 1/2-pounders and a couple of 2 1/2s to back up his 4-10.
"I wasted some time this morning trying to catch schooling spots and then I got back on my program about midway through the first period," he said. "The spots were schooling, but I just couldn't catch them – they were on some really small bait and I couldn't get them to bite."
He's fishing areas that are known largemouth hangouts, but he's also catching quite a few spots.
"I think some of the spots are still on the beds and some are feeding back up from the spawn."
DeFoe was strong in both the first and third periods, but said he went close to 2 hours without a fish in the second stanza.
"That was unfortunate, but outside that it was a pretty good day," he said. "I did most of my damage in one fairly small area even though I was just covering water. I've got a lot more water to fish and I didn't see anybody else doing what I was doing."
Like Strader, his bait selection pretty much ran the gamut. He caught a 3 1/2-pounder early in the day and one that went almost 4 in the final period.
"If this was a limit tournament, I would've fished differently and I wouldn't have caught that second big one," he said. "One thing you learn about fishing just to get bites is sometimes you catch good ones that you actually just kind of run into. That's pretty neat."
> Weds., May 1 – Mostly Cloudy - 84°/64°
- Wind: From the S at 10 mph
> Thurs., May 2 – Mostly Cloudy - 84°/64°
- Wind: From the S at 6 mph
> Fri., May 3 – Thunderstorms - 80°/62°
- Wind: From the SW at 2 mph
> Sat., May 4 – Thunderstorms - 75°/60°
- Wind: From the SW at 6 mph
> Sun., May 5 – Partly Cloudy - 79°/56°
- Wind: From the NW at 4 mph
Day 1 Standings (Group A Shotgun Round)
1. Jacob Wheeler -- 38, 61-14
2. Andy Morgan -- 29, 46-12
3. Wesley Strader -- 21, 43-01
4. Ott DeFoe -- 24, 42-12
5. Edwin Evers: 26, 41-11
6. Josh Bertrand -- 25, 38-13
7. Stephen Browning -- 25, 36-11
8. Luke Clausen -- 23, 32-05
9. Matt Lee -- 20, 30-07
10. Jordan Lee -- 18, 28-13
11. Boyd Duckett -- 17, 28-07
12. Brandon Palaniuk -- 16, 27-10
13. Cody Meyer -- 14, 27-01
14. Mark Davis -- 19, 26-11
15. Shaw Grigsby -- 15, 26-08
16. Bobby Lane -- 15, 25-15
17. Gerald Swindle -- 15, 25-11
18. Alton Jones -- 17, 25-05
19. Dustin Connell -- 16, 25-01
20. Gerald Spohrer -- 18, 24-13
21. Brent Ehrler -- 15, 24-06
22. Cliff Crochet -- 12, 24-06
23. Keith Poche -- 17, 23-13
24. Greg Hackney -- 16, 22-13
25. Kevin VanDam -- 14, 21-01
26. James Elam -- 12, 20-13
27. Tommy Biffle -- 12, 20-06
28. Justin Atkins -- 13, 20-00
29. Marty Robinson -- 16, 19-08
30. David Walker -- 13, 19-01
31. Chris Lane -- 10, 16-11
32. Takahiro Omori -- 11, 16-00
33. Jason Lambert -- 8, 14-14
34. Alton Jones Jr. -- 9, 14-10
35. Scott Suggs -- 9, 14-07
36. Terry Scroggins -- 8, 12-15
37. Mike McClelland -- 8, 11-11
38. Jonathon VanDam -- 8, 11-09
39. Kelly Jordon -- 8, 11-05
40. Brandon Coulter -- 5, 9-00