NEW ORLEANS Kentucky pro Mark Menendez, joined in his boat by a yellow Lab named Barkley, posted a five-bass limit weighing 16 pounds, 10 ounces on Friday to take the first-round lead in the $700,000 CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer.
Menendez, 38, gave Barkley plenty to watch, beginning with the day's largest bass (6 pounds, 2 ounces) that came on the fifth cast of the morning. He went on to enjoy an action-filled day catching 11 legal-size bass and nine short fish.
That was enough to stake Menendez to an opening-round lead of 1 pound, 4 ounces over New Jersey's Michael Iaconelli (15-6). Veteran Texas pro Gary Klein is third with 13-15, followed by Alabama's Tim Horton (12-4) and Harold Allen of Texas (11-10).
"Today exceeded my expectations," said Menendez, who is making his fourth Classic appearance. "I expected to catch 12 or 13 pounds out of my area, so I was happy with what I caught.
"I didn't lose a single fish or miss a fish today. I had a very strong start and where I'm at today is where I'd love to be two days from now. I'm in a groove, and I'm comfortable with the area I'm fishing. I feel like I'll get the bites I need."
Although Menendez did not reveal his fishing location in the massive Louisiana Delta, most of the first-day leaders said they were making the long run to the Venice area where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. The two-hour ride limited their actual fishing time to about three hours, but it was apparently a gamble worth taking.
One of those marathon runners was Iaconelli, a 31-year-old BASS winner competing in his fourth Classic. Fishing a variety of aquatic vegetation with spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits, he boated 30 keepers.
"I was power fishing almost junk fishing because I was alternating so many different baits," Iaconelli said. "I found these fish a month ago, and when I checked them Wednesday during our one practice day I had 12 bites in an hour but didn't stick any of them. So I was really excited. And when I got down there today I had a limit in the first 15 minutes."
Klein, 45, has never won the Classic in an impressive 21 tries.
"I'm fishing junk down in the Venice area," he said. "I didn't have a whole lot in practice, so I just went fishing today. Sometimes good things just happen."
The 33rd Classic concludes on Sunday.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.
Local sponsors include the State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, and Jefferson Parish.