By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Since the Bassmaster Classic became a late winter/early spring event in 2006, the largest opening-day lead a competitor had enjoyed was 2-13. Jason Christie built that margin in 2016 at Grand Lake in his home state of Oklahoma.

Hank Cherry obliterated that figure as the 50th edition of the event got underway at Lake Guntersville in Alabama. Buoyed by a pair of 7-02 bruisers, the North Carolinian amassed a 29-03 sack tied for the third-heaviest in Classic history that left him 7-11 clear of the field.

Catching 15 to 18 pounds was his goal when he departed the launch ramp. He nearly doubled the low end of that range.

"Just slowing down and being thorough was the biggest thing," he said. "I fished a little bit of grass, a little bit of rock and a little bit of wood with a (rattlebait), a crankbait and a jig.

"I had one 30-minute spurt where I caught three big ones and I caught fish steadily throughout the day."

John Crews, who's competing in the event for the 12th time (more than any other competitor in the field) and former Forrest Wood Cup winner Clent Davis, who's making his Classic debut, were tied for 2nd with 21-08. Brandon Lester was 4th with 20-15 and Todd Auten and Micah Frazier were deadlocked for 5th with 20-00.

The remainder of the top 10 consisted of Skylar Hamilton (19-11), Matt Herren (18-12), David Mullins (18-08) and Hunter Shryock (18-06).

As anticipated, the post-frontal conditions rendered the bite fairly tough overall. A little over half the field (28 of 53 anglers) exceeded 14 pounds and seven anglers caught no more than one keeper as the north/northwest wind howled in the 25-mph range throughout the day.

It'll blow from the same direction on day 2, but is expected to settle down considerably (5 mph). Most expect the fish to be more cooperative over the weekend, but the improvement in the weather could be at least partially offset by increased pressure from local anglers.



B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina
Photo: B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina

John Crews capitalized on some big fish that moved into a grassy area he found in practice.

Cherry, who said he injured his right arm midway through the day (the result of a fall while attempting to grab a fish), was undaunted by the wind.

"It kind of was (a factor), but I just put it to my back and let it roll," he said.

When asked if he had confidence in catching another hefty bag on day 2, he simply nodded his head.

Crews started the day on a pattern that he thought would produce better than it ultimately did, but caught better quality than he'd expected employing a grass-fishing program. His bag was topped by a 5-14 and he had another one that was close to 5.

Those fish came from a grass flat that he estimated as a square mile in size.

"I found it (while) fan-casting in practice when I caught two (fish) on two casts," he said. "It's a needle-in-a-haystack place that's not obvious at all and I never saw anybody else there. I don't know what's special about it, but there's something to it."

Davis, a resident of Montevallo, Ala. who's fished Guntersville frequently throughout his lifetime, compiled the bulk of his bag from an area that he said hasn't produced for him in well over a decade.

"The fish in there were smaller in practice, but I think a lot of females moved in (preparing for the spawn)," he said. "My first bite was a 5-pounder and I went through a lot of keepers to get what I had.

"It's the last place they stop before they go on bed, but it had a lot of local pressure and I'm really worried about tomorrow. If I pull out, (the locals) pull up and fire at it. I don't know what's left there and it's not like I have a million other places to go to."

Lester said he caught all of his fish around the abundant eelgrass that's grown up in place of much of the vegetation that's traditionally inhabited the lake. His heaviest fish, which came early in the day, was just a couple ounces shy of 7 pounds.

B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina
Photo: B.A.S.S./Gary Tramontina

Todd Auten took big-bass honors for day 1 with this 7-09 specimen.

"The eelgrass is different that hydrilla or milfoil," he said. "They actually get in that stuff, but sit around the eelgrass it's kind of patchy and not a big blanket. I had to fan-cast and find the little sweet spots.

"I didn't lose anything. I missed some that hit the bait and I'd have them for just a second before they came off, but that was just part of the day. They were biting funny; the weather made them funky."

Frazier said he boxed his 20 pounds courtesy of a crankbait, but declined to get into specifics about it. He went through about 20 keepers, but biggest of which was a 5-pounder.

"I definitely caught more weight than I thought I would, which isn't a bad thing," he said. "I have a good idea of what the fish are doing and what kind of bait they're wanting right now. It's something different than what a lot of people are doing.

"I caught them in flurries, but they came throughout the day. I don't think it's going to be easy to go out and catch 20 pounds again, but I definitely see the potential for it and that's all you can ask for. I don't have a hole that's loaded with 4-pounders I've got to move around."

Auten took big-bass honors for the day with a 7-09 brute. He threw a bladed jig, a crankbait and a conventional jig and said he caught only six or seven keepers.

"I didn't have a big bite in practice, but I got it today," he said. "The wind hurt me on one spot, but I think it helped me on the other.

"I fished some grass and I also hit a few docks. It was kind of weird; the first dock I fished I caught a fish off it, then I tried 10 more and never got another bite. I saved a few good docks and I hope the wind's not crashing in on them tomorrow."

Notable

> Day 1 stats 53 anglers, 31 limits, 7 fours, 4 threes, 4 twos, 6 ones, 1 zero.

> Grae Buck managed just two keepers, but sat in 30th place with 13-06. Both were of similar size and both bit a Rapala DT-6 crankbait. "I lost one keeper and I had one short fish," he said. "I'm hoping I can expand on what I did tomorrow and run around and catch some more."

Day 1 Standings

1. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 5, 29-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 29-03

2. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 5, 21-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 21-08

2. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 5, 21-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 21-08

4. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 5, 20-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-15

5. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 5, 20-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-00

5. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 5, 20-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 20-00

7. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 5, 19-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 19-11

8. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 5, 18-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-12

9. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 5, 18-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-08

10. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 5, 18-06 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-06

11. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 5, 18-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-05

12. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 5, 18-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 18-03

13. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 17-11 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 17-11

14. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 5, 16-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-10

15. Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 5, 16-05 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 16-05

16. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 5, 15-06 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-06

17. Drew Benton -- Blakely, GA -- 5, 15-03 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-03

18. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 4, 15-03 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 15-03

19. John Cox -- Debary, FL -- 5, 15-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 15-02

20. Bob Downey -- Hudson, WI -- 5, 14-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-12

21. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 5, 14-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-09

21. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 5, 14-09 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-09

23. Darold Gleason -- Many, LA -- 5, 14-04 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-04

24. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 5, 14-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-02

24. Lee Livesay -- Gladewater, TX -- 5, 14-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-02

24. Whitney Stephens -- Waverly, OH -- 5, 14-02 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-02

27. Caleb Kuphall -- Mukwonago, WI -- 4, 14-01 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 14-01

28. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 5, 14-00 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 14-00

29. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 5, 13-15 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 13-15

30. Grae Buck -- Green Lane, PA -- 2, 13-06 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 13-06

31. Cody Huff -- Ava, MO -- 4, 12-13 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 12-13

32. Jeff Gustafson Keewatin, Ont. -- 5, 12-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 12-12

33. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 4, 12-10 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 12-10

34. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 5, 11-12 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-12

35. Shane LeHew -- Catawba, NC -- 5, 11-10 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 11-10

36. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 3, 11-10 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 11-10

37. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 5, 10-08 -- 0
Day 1: 5, 10-08

38. Chris Johnston Peterborough, Ont. -- 4, 09-14 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 09-14

39. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 3, 09-09 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 09-09

40. Taylor Smith -- Spokane Valley, WA -- 4, 08-12 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 08-12

41. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 4, 08-01 -- 0
Day 1: 4, 08-01

42. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 3, 07-13 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 07-13

43. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 3, 07-12 -- 0
Day 1: 3, 07-12

44. Cody Hollen -- Beaverton, OR -- 2, 05-05 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 05-05

45. Cory Johnston Cavan, Ont. -- 2, 04-10 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 04-10

46. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 2, 04-05 -- 0
Day 1: 2, 04-05

47. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 1, 03-04 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 03-04

47. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 1, 03-04 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 03-04

49. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 1, 02-08 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 02-08

49. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 1, 02-08 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 02-08

51. Josh Busby -- Rogersville, MO -- 1, 02-03 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 02-03

52. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 1, 01-10 -- 0
Day 1: 1, 01-10

53. Cam Sterritt -- Newfields, NH -- 0, 00-00 -- 0
Day 1: 0, 00-00