Day One: Clarks Hill to offer variety

Competitor boats idle in the water as hints of the sun begin to peak through the sky on a mild Thursday morning in Columbia County, Ga. 

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — The favored technique during the first four stops of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series leaned strongly toward sight fishing.

But that could change during the Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance — the fifth stop on this year's Bassmaster circuit.

Many of the 104 anglers competing in this tournament on Clarks Hill Lake say that targeting post-spawn fish is the best way to make an early run to the top of the leaderboard.

The weather here in northeast Georgia is expected to be cooperative to the bite, with partly-cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures that could climb into the low 90s. Temperatures were mild Thursday morning when the elite anglers launched from Wildwood Park at 6:20 a.m.

Michael Iaconelli, who won the last Elite Series stop two weeks ago on Alabama's Lake Guntersville, said post-spawn fish could be the key to victory at Clarks Hill but he's keeping all his options open.

"This is going to sound repetitive, but I think they're in all phases again," Iaconelli said. "When I got here, I tried to identify fish in all stages. I've got a lot of fish that are post spawn, schooling fish. But I've got some that are staging, that are ready to come. And I've got some that are locked. I don't think that people realize what a big wave of spawners are coming onto the beds right now, as we're speaking. So you'll see three different things here, and you have go in with that mindset. That's the way to win tournaments."

Iaconelli said the weather will be key in determining which phase of fish he goes after.

"The more it blows, the more it's conducive to catching pre- and post-spawners," he said. "The more still it is, that bite dies and you have to go in and start looking for them. So you have to play the day. Today, it's not supposed to blow that much. So I'm going to play the morning bite for the pre- and post-spawn fish and take advantage of the low light. But when it comes up to be 10 or 11 o'clock and if those fish stop biting when it's still and calm, I'll make the move."

Mark Tucker said his game plan is to fish exclusively for post-spawn fish.

"You won't even come close looking at them," Tucker said. "There's going to be a couple fish caught off the beds, a few nice ones probably. But the fish that are going to win this tournament are going to be post-spawn."

Tucker said he'll use topwater baits to begin the first day of the tournament, but he's concerned that the weather might not be ideal for doing that.

"I think you can catch them topwater, Carolina rigged," he said. "Just typical post-spawn stuff. If you can get the weather conditions, you can just murder them. You need some wind, some clouds. There's no telling what a guy can catch out there."

So how much weight does Tucker think it's going to take to make a statement on opening day?

"You can catch a 22, 23, 24-pound bag pretty easy," he said. "But the conditions have got to be right. That said, I can run and catch 20 keepers that are 12, 13 inches long, but I can stay in and catch one fish that's as big as that whole limit. So, with the weather today, if I can just get three bites and 12 pounds, that will keep me where I need to be."

Dave Wolak, the 2005 rookie of the year, said post-spawn fish are the key to victory at Clarks Hill. But he thinks the possibility remains that spawners could be the difference makers.

"There are a few fish that are still spawning, but they're hard to come by," Wolak said. "Maybe a new wave will come up with this warm weather that we're having. The mornings at least have been chilly, so that probably shut them down for a few days. But there may be some new ones coming in."

Wolak plans to cover plenty of water in his search for lunkers on Thursday.

"I'm looking for things that are unmolested," he said. "I'm making a long run and kind of ducking my way back into stuff. The water is kind of clear, so I'm trying to catch the fish off guard by making long casts."

Kelly Jordon agreed that post-spawn fish will be the staple at the Pride of Augusta. But he said there are enough spawning fish that could give anglers a boost.

"There are a lot of spawners, but they're really spooky," Jordon said. "I don't understand why. Some guys will catch them, but that's a secondary deal here. There's such a strong early morning bite. It's really awesome topwater."

The weigh-in is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Wildwood Park.