ESCANABA, Mich. By all rights, Wisconsin's Kevin Fassbind shouldn't be leading the 2009 Federation Nation Northern Divisional out of Lake Michigan's Big and Little Bays de Noc.
"I've fished (these waters) before but done pretty poorly," Fassbind said. "I had some other tournament obligations, so I didn't get a lot of (practice) time on the water."
Despite that history and a decided lack of practice, Fassbind found himself atop the leader board after the first day of competition with a five-bass limit weighing 22 pounds, 10 ounces.
He gave all the credit to his partner, Michigan's Tim Lawrence.
"I wouldn't have caught them without him. He said he was on some fish, and I said, 'Let's go,'" Fassbind explained. "It's not a very romantic story."
Lawrence only put together a little more than 7 pounds, and Fassbind didn't catch many bass but he made the most of the scant opportunities.
"I only caught six keeper bass today," Fassbind said. "They were just all good fish."
Fassbind built most of his sack drop-shotting rock piles in open water, but he anchored his limit with a 5-pound, 14-ounce largemouth by "dunking pads" near the bank.
The question is what will happen tomorrow, with three other anglers nipping at his heels with more than 20 pounds each.
"I have to go fish my fish now, and I hope they're there," Fassbind said. "I've got some spots in a different part of the lake that are similar (to what he fished today), but these fish move up and down so much you can be a hero one day and a zero the next.
"I'm just going to go out and go fish, and try to have fun, and see what happens."
Rounding out the top five in the individual race were Michigan's Brandon Rose with 22-8, South Dakota's Richard Hladky with 21-0, Joe Kippes of South Dakota with 20-11 and Michigan's Kevin Keen with 19-10.
However, anglers also are vying to earn the top position on their state teams, an honor that includes a trip to the BASS Federation Nation Championship slated for October on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes.
Joining Fassbind as team leaders after one day of competition were Illinois' Kevin Rebouche (18-3), Indiana's Denny Cook (18-3), Iowa's Mark Rodenburgh (16-12), Michigan's Rose, Minnesota's Dean Capra (18-7), Ohio's Phillip Rummel (14-0) and South Dakota's Hladky.
In addition, each 12-man state team is battling for a $30,000 Skeeter/Yamaha boat package. The winning team is based on cumulative weight after the three days of competition.
Wisconsin is in position to earn its third divisional title in as many years, weighing in a combined total of 170 pounds, 1 ounce. The nearest competition is Michigan with 157-3, followed by South Dakota with 144-8.
Iowa goes into the second day fourth with 128-9, while Minnesota was in fifth with 122-7. Sixth was Ohio with 112-11, followed by Illinois at 108-13.
Indiana has its work cut out with it, sitting in eighth place with a combined weight of 93-10.