Full of surprises

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Conditions changed on Day One of the 2010 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake. Those who adapted survived, while others found themselves with an impossible hill to climb.

The biggest surprise was the demise of the flipping bite. Anglers good with the big stick like Bobby Lane and Kelly Jordon stuck with a shallow bite, but it never materialized. Catches on the lower end of the lake, where largemouth in the shallow grass dominate, were low.

From the Expo floor in Birmingham, onlookers were amazed that the afternoon bite was nonexistent. Elite Series pro Timmy Horton was one of those. Horton knows in spring, sun is a major trigger to move the bass into the shallow grass.

In practice, cold weather had bass on the edge of a major move. Warm afternoons and sunny skies Friday were expected to move fish shallow, making them easy prey to a Texas rig or a jig. Unfortunately, dropping water trumped warming temperatures and the fish never moved.

Beneficiaries were the anglers who stayed just off the bank like Kevin VanDam, Jeff Kriet and Todd Faircloth. All three (and about 8 others) fished an area near the take-off and didn't leave.

The area was productive in 2007 and many knew it contained a high concentration of fish.

Horton, from Muscle Shoals, Ala., spends a lot of time on Lay Lake. He felt close to the launch could be a winning area. Not only are a lot of fish released there because of tournaments held on the lake, but the mid-lake creek has the right mix of grass and bait to keep fish there.

The problem heading into Day Two will be seeing just how well that area holds up to the pressure. VanDam will be the 50th boat to launch, so the odds he gets to his favorite area are much less than they were on Day One (although it would be surprising if one of these anglers moved in on him).

Add to that another day of high fishing pressure and the chance for a stumble is greater.

Another Day One "surprise" was the heavier-than-expected weights. Sure, the Elite Series pros often sandbag about their practice, but for over 19 pounds to be leading, 13 pounds making the top 12, and 30 limits crossing the scales, the fishing definitely improved. The biggest surprise after Wednesday's practice was anglers comparing this Classic to Pittsburgh.

Horton reiterated that this has been the coldest winter in recent memory. Such cold water temperatures have held bass back, and anglers were talking about a limit going a long way.

Fortunately for the anglers, they underestimated just how good the fishing was going to get with the warming water. Reports from the lake put the water temperatures into the upper 40s, higher than the 42 to 45 degrees they were in practice.

The day's biggest surprises came from Skeet Reese and Boyd Duckett. Defending Classic champion Reese only managed three fish, while Duckett had one keeper after mechanical issues cut his fishing time.

As a professional angler, Horton knows how hard it can be to shake off a tough break like the one Duckett suffered. There is always the chance an angler can recover, but Horton knows mental stress makes decision-making harder and harder.

The weather for Saturday calls for a high in the 60s with mostly sunny skies. History says the flipping bite should be picking up, but if the water level continues to fall or stay low, that could continue to play into the leaders' hands as the fish stay off the bank.

But then again, this is the Classic and you have to be ready to be surprised.