LEESBURG, Fla. Florida's Bryan Hudgins took a big step toward achieving his dream of qualifying for the big leagues of bass fishing by taking the first-round lead in the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Wildcard Thursday on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg.
The 27-year-old Orange Park angler brought in a five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 3 ounces to claim early stake to the top prize. The eventual winner gets paid entry fees ($55,000) for the 2007 Elite Series season and takes home a Triton boat/Mercury outboard package valued at $50,000.
The Wildcard tournament is designed to give pros on both the 2006 Elite Series and CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours a second chance to qualify for the lucrative, high-profile 2007 Elite Series.
The top 10 performers in the three-day tournament will earn a spot in the Elite Series. Second through 10th place finishers win $10,000 applied toward entry fees, while the 11th- and 12th-place performers earn $5,000 in cash. Second and third-place finishers also receive a Triton boat package worth nearly $40,000.
"Making the Elite Series would be a dream come true," said Hudgins, who qualified for the event through a 23rd place finish in the Southern Tour points standings. "This was a good start."
Hudgins, who also had the day's Purolator Big Bass (6-12), said he moved around to several lakes in the chain and landed keepers throughout the day with a Texas-rigged worm and a topwater bait.
"I'm pretty confident I've got plenty of fish for the next couple of days," he said. "They're not going anywhere. It's just a matter of making them bite. These fish are notorious for not wanting to bite after a front comes through like we had today."
Texan Ben Matsubu was second with 15-2, followed by Marty Robinson of South Carolina with 14-3. Ohio's Marty Amedeo (10-12) and Larry Gaines of Florida (10-10) rounded out the top five.
Matsubu, a former CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier, found himself in an unfamiliar position in a Harris Chain tournament.
"I've fished three events here and I haven't done well," he said. "But this is a different time of year. It's fall so I don't have to sight-fish like we do in spring tournaments here."
Matsubu said he was fishing shallow vegetation in Lake Eustis with a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 crankbait and Texas-rigged Yamamoto Cut-Tail worm. A key to his pattern was finding clear water with shallow grass.
"I didn't have any company where I was fishing," Matsubu added. "I don't think they wanted to deal with the wind on that bank. The wind was blowing right into my bank and it was brutal trying to hold your position."
In the co-angler division, Massachusetts' Earl Purcell grabbed the early lead with a 13-9 limit, followed by Sam Moss of Mississippi with 10 pounds. Co-anglers are competing for the top prize of a fully rigged Triton boat package valued at nearly $50,000.
After Friday's round, the field will be reduced to 12 for the final round on Saturday.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's Guy Eaker had his Day 1 catch disqualified due to violation of Rule 8. The applicable part of the rule states, "Posted speed limits must be observed and all boats must be operated in a safe manner."