DEL RIO, Texas On the first day of practice for the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border, Britt Myers was running a shallow-water pattern that netted him 25-odd bites in two hours.
On the first day of the actual tournament, a suddenly chilly and blustery Lake Amistad was nowhere near as generous. After weighing in just three fish, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro rued, "All the shallow fish left today."
Myers was one of just eight anglers who didn't weigh in a five-fish limit on Day One. But many of those other 92 had to fight hard for their fish. Leader Michael Iaconelli, for instance, busted 27 pounds, 9 ounces on just seven keeper bites.
With the water 10 degrees cooler than it was just days ago, Myers (93rd, 8-14) said he'd switch to his deep pattern. "Even if I just get three fish," he said, "it'll weigh more than mine did today."
Ken Cook expected 20 bites. He got only seven, but he made the most of them, sacking 17-7, good for 19th place, from water that dropped from 62-64 degrees in practice to 57-58 on Day One.
His strategy? "Try different things until it works," Ken Cook said. "It's the last thing you want to do on Amistad."
But it worked for him, and the old pro found it gratifying.
"It's going to be a make-it-up-as-you-go tournament," Cook said. "That's what makes the sport go round."
Gary Klein got only nine bites to sack 25-4, good for second place though that total didn't count a 15-pound catfish that he was sure was a 10-pound bass.
"The fishing," he said, "has been really, really off."
For Davy Hite (80th, 10-5), there was no easy solution for sluggish fish.
"They're cold-blooded, and we shouldn't forget that," Hite said. "A 6- to-8-degree drop in water temperature really affects them." His hope is that the temperature will stabilize on Day Two.
One exception was Alton Jones, who caught 24 round pounds, good for third place, by finding both quality and quantity.
"Today was a day of adjustments for me," the Waco, Texas, pro said. He made a change at 11 a.m. that yielded a 6-pounder and didn't look back on his way to 25 keepers. "It will be interesting to see if what I had was really the pattern for the big ones or if they just bit late," he said.
It's not just the weather playing havoc with the fish. With the water 10 to 12 feet higher than in years past, angler Jami Fralick said the fish have scattered to cover that used to be, well, uncovered.
Fralick described his day as "a grind," with about a bite an hour on his jerkbait. The highlight was seeing a 6-pounder boil surface and actually landing the thing. In practice, he said, the only fish he saw boiling were carp.
But still, he had only nine keeper bites while expecting 20 or so.
Kevin Short (ninth, 20-4) could cull only four times himself. Whereas Amistad usually offers up a 100 bites a day, he said, "I don't even think you could catch 100 little ones" in current lake conditions. Matt Reed built his 23-2, fourth-place sack on only about a dozen bites, catching fish he said weren't affected by the cold front that pushed launch-time temperatures to about 40 degrees on Day One.
Jeff Kriet's success on Day One came when he simply moved out from the banks where he had located fish in practice.
"Every place where I got a good bite (in practice), I'm just going to back out," said Kriet, who sits in 10th. Whereas he caught fish in about 5 feet of water in practice, he caught his Day One limit in 19 to 28 feet of water, he said.
Asked whether he thought the 19-pounds-a-day pace he was setting would be enough to win the tournament, Kriet replied, "I think you'd scare 'em to death. It's not easy out there."