MONETA, Va. — Boyd Duckett's advantage in the Blue Ridge Brawl looks commanding on the surface. But looks can be deceiving, and so can Smith Mountain Lake.
"This lake is on and off," said Duckett, the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion. "You catch them one day, and the next day you don't. These kinds of lakes are hard."
Duckett made it look easy on Day One, surprising the field with an impressive limit of five bass that weighed 19 pounds, 5 ounces, far better than most anglers predicted.
But Duckett isn't counting his money just yet. He acknowledged that the lake may be as stingy today as it was generous on Day One.
"I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of bites I got," Duckett said. "I expected 14 to 15 pounds. But it could go back to normal today and get a little tougher, closer to what I was expecting."
Duckett's nearly 3-pound lead puts him in a comfortable position on Day Two, but anglers agreed that the sixth stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series is a long way from being over. Duckett separated himself from the field — and other anglers atop the leaderboard put distance between themselves and other challengers — but there's less separation among the next tier of contenders. Only about 2 ½ pounds separates 50th place from 10th place.
"It's definitely wide open," said Louisiana pro Greg Hackney, who is in a six-way tie for 40th with 11-11, yet less than 2 pounds out of the top 10. And the Blue Ridge Brawl is wide open for other reasons, namely the wide variety of patterns and techniques that anglers employed on the opening day.
"There are more patterns going on here than most places we go," Duckett said.
Anglers caught fish in depths of water ranging from inches to more than 30 feet. Duckett's success came primarily from finesse tactics in 25 feet of water, but numerous pros shared tales of sightfishing for bass on spawning beds.
"The comfort zone for the fish is huge," Hackney said. "They're everywhere from shallow to deep and in between. You can see them everywhere out here."
Rookie pro Bryan Hudgins, Duckett's closest challenger at 16-6, said he caught prespawn bass on Day One.
"It sounds crazy," he said, "but it's not."
Thursday's conditions didn't appear to be the type that would produce the big bags caught by the tournament leaders. Bright sunshine and an absence of wind that prevailed on Day One typically make for difficult fishing.
"It was the worst weather we'd had for catching fish all week," Hackney said. "I wasn't surprised by the weights, but I was surprised by the number of 12- to 13-pound bags."
Conditions for Friday's launch were similar, but more wind greeted the anglers as they blasted off shortly before 6 a.m. Weather forecasters are calling for temperatures to soar near record highs today.
Duckett would like to see his weight soar, too, but he's approaching Day Two from a standpoint of cautious optimism.
"I didn't get that many bites in practice, and I got about the same number of bites [Thursday]," Duckett said. "I doubt I can weigh 19 pounds again, but I think I can weigh 15. I know the weights will probably fall off, but I'd like to get one more big bag. I have eight good spots, and I used four of them the first day. So we'll just go out there and see what happens at the four I have left."
Editor's note: This week, ESPNOutdoors.com invited the Virginia Tech bass fishing team to join coverage of the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts. The collegiate anglers will post a regular blog on this site and appear on Hooked Up, the live Internet shows that air at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.on Sunday in advance of the live weigh-in. Please feel free to post comments to this blog via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news page on this site.