KISSIMMEE, Fla. Not long after it was announced that the 36th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic would be held on Lake Tohopekaliga, the competing anglers began talking about the possibility of record catches on a lake that is famous for them.
Friday, during the first day of the tournament, the anglers' hunches proved true. The three largest bass in Classic history were caught on Friday. And two anglers, Luke Clausen and Preston Clark, each flirted with 30-pound limits. It was a record-setting day in good ways and some not so good ways as Michael Iaconelli would find out after having his catch disqualified from an unofficial-record second Classic.
But the stories of the day belonged to Clausen and Clark. Clausen, the Spokane Valley, Wash., pro who is fishing in his third Classic, caught five fish that totaled 29 pounds, 6 ounces. Clark, who lives in nearby Palatka, Fla., is not far behind with a limit which weighed 29-1. Both totals more than doubled the weight Kevin VanDam posted in Pittsburgh last year to win the 2005 Classic. Edwin Evers (23-10), Kevin Wirth (22-5) and Rick Clunn (20-12) rounded out the top five totals on after Day One.
Clausen fished in both Lake Kissimmee and Lake Tohopekaliga. He said despite windy and overcast conditions, he was confident he could catch fish after several solid practice sessions.
"I just had a good day," Clausen said. "I could go out tomorrow and maybe catch 10 pounds. I'm not sure if I can catch five fish. But I'll got back to the some of the areas that I got bit in today and try to milk them for what they're worth."
The areas Clausen fished were primarily 3- to 5-feet deep. He used a junebug-colored hard-nose bait to land his lunkers.
"I wasn't surprised," he said. "My very first cast in one area got a 7-pounder. I knew right then where I was going to catch them."
Clark, who weighed in 34th out of the 51 competing anglers, held the lead for a short time. An 11-pound, 10-ounce monster anchored his total the largest fish ever landed in Classic history. He also caught a 9-pounder in the same area of Lake Tohopekaliga right at sunrise.
Clark, who grew up fishing the waters of central Florida, said he was able to sight fish something many of the anglers shied away from because of the gloomy weather.
"I've been doing it my whole life," he said. "In Florida, we can go down to Okeechobee in November when they start to spawn and they'll spawn all the way through June on the St. John's River. So I've got six months fishing for spawning fish where these other guys don't have that. Their window is very short."
But Clark still didn't figure he'd land nearly 30 pounds of bass. The overcast sky had him thinking lower.
"I thought that maybe I could go in and catch 15 pounds," Clark said. "And I if got lucky, I could have a 20-pound stringer. There's no way I thought I would have this much."
Evers was tight-lipped about the techniques he used on Day One. But his big fish did all the talking necessary. He said he plans on doing some different things the remainder of the tournament.
"I'm just going to get stubborn and probably fish some new water the second and third days," he said. "I'll just try to develop what I'm doing."
Wirth was pleased with his start and said being consistent is the key to sticking around the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.
"My goal was to get to 50 pounds a 15, a 15 and a 20," Wirth said. "Right now, I've got the 20. But I still feel like if I catch a couple of 15-pound sacks or a little over that, I'll be in good shape."
Clunn, who is fishing in his record 30th Classic, landed a 10-pound, 10-ounce lunker that goes into the record books as the second largest fish in the tournament's history.
Mark Tucker caught a 9-10 fish that also surpassed the old record of 8-9 set by Ricky Green in 1976. The top 10 was rounded out by Davy Hite (20-9), Jeff Kriet (20-3), Larry Nixon (19-8), Ish Monroe (19-2) and Ron Shuffield (18-15).
VanDam, who is looking to become the first angler in tour history to win four consecutive tournaments, has his work cut out for him if he is to continue his streak. He finished 25th after the first day of fishing with a 14-2 total.
"It should have been perfect (weather) for throwing a spinner or a buzzbait, something like that." VanDam said. "But they didn't bite for me."
Aaron Martens, who has three second-place finishes in the Classic (including the past two years), fared better, but not much better. Martens stands in a tie for 21st place with a 15-1 total.
Terry Scroggins, who like Clark is from Palatka, is in 38th place (10-14). Scroggins was considered by many to be the favorite to win this tournament. Former Classic champion Iaconelli, caught five fish for an 11-9 total, but he was disqualified for breaking BASS sportsmanship rules. BASS officials said they made the decision after viewing videotape that showed Iaconelli becoming angry after two of his fish expired and he "destroyed some safety equipment" on his boat.