MUSKOGEE, Okla. — As anglers launched at Fort Gibson's Sequoyah Bay for the first day of the AutoZone Sooner Run on Thursday morning, Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leader Skeet Reese was concerned with finding the fish needed to win the tournament.
"I'm not thinking about points right now, I'm thinking about this tournament and doing my best," Reese said. "Everything else will take care of itself."
AutoZone Sooner Run
Reese, who won the TTBAOY title in 2007, holds a slim 62-point lead over Edwin Evers after missing the cut in the last two Elite Series tournaments. And Evers has stayed steady in his rise to catch Reese after taking second at Kentucky Lake two weeks ago.
"I just have got to go catch them, otherwise I won't be effective," Evers said. "It's a deal where you have to go out there and try to figure them out. I didn't catch anything in practice at Kentucky Lake and I did it again here, so maybe it works for me."
Bassmaster officials collaborated on a change of venue Wednesday from the Arkansas River to Fort Gibson Lake, because of safety concerns and allowed anglers only one day of practice.
"I had no problem with it," Reese said. "Really this lake isn't big enough to handle three days of practice. One day is good for what we have here."
As far as finding fish, Reese got a few bites in practice, but nothing steady.
"There was nothing on fire, but I'm looking forward to getting out there and grinding it out to see what I can come up with," he said.
Evers tried fishing in deep water during practice.
"I'll tell you this, I fished deep all day and didn't catch them, so I'm going out there today and I'll try to find them," he said.
Evers has never won the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title before.
Rookies battle it out
Dennis Tietje believes he can improve on his fifth-place standing in the Rookie of the Year race after finding some good fish on Fort Gibson Lake in Wednesday's one-day practice session for the AutoZone Sooner Run.
"It was good for me," Tietje said. "I've been to Fort Gibson before in my first year to fish BASS and never had a bite, but I did really well yesterday and it was a much needed change of pace."
Tietje is hoping for a top finish this weekend, but knows it won't be an easy task.
"It's going to be a tough deal," he said. "I got early bites in practice, but didn't put anything together late in the day during practice, so I'm going to have to get it done real fast first thing this morning."
On the other side of the coin, Byron Haseotes sits in sixth place in the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings and he sees Fort Gibson as another hard challenge.
"I've never been here before, but I was able to get a few bites in practice," Haseotes said. "It's tough. The biggest thing is going to be adaptation, but I'm sort of happy about the change in venue. It gives guys like me more of a chance to do better."
Veterans discuss Fort Gibson
Veteran anglers Pete Ponds and Paul Elias welcomed the change in venue for the AutoZone Sooner Run to Fort Gibson.
"I'm excited about it," Ponds said. "I think it's a new opportunity. I caught a few fish yesterday and I'm jacked up, but we'll see what happens. I think this lake is going to fish really small comparatively to what we were on. I welcome the change."
Elias, known for his unique kneelin' and reelin' style, believes that Fort Gibson was the right move for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
"I didn't have a problem with it," he said. "It's a pretty strong lake and it's going to take some weight to win it. It all depends on how it can hold up for four days. I've heard there are other local tournaments here this weekend, so it could be a nightmare."