PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The word from the Bassmaster Elite Series pros all week was that winning
the Champion's Choice presented by Toyota Tundra would require "a mix" of both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
If Day One leaders Steve Kennedy, Timmy Horton and Scott Rook are any indication, though, the perfect ratio of large- to smallmouth may in fact be 5-0.
On a crisp, mostly calm, mostly clear summer Thursday between Vermont and New York, those three anglers led the way on Lake Champlain, all with long runs south to coax limits of largemouths out of the hydrilla.
"It was just a beautiful New England day today," said Horton, who took the lead early in the weigh-in with 21 pounds, 2 ounces. He relied on a tube in heavy grass cover and a spook or jig in thinner grass.
Kennedy, returning on one of the later waves from "very, very, very, very, very, very, very far away," rolled up with 21-6, which held up as the top weight of Day One.
"I did not expect to catch a 20-pound bag," he said. "But I saw the potential for a 20-pound bag."
Kennedy assembled a limit from his first four spots, along the way catching 30 or 40 bass (and, at the cost of much of his bait, 20 pikes). Then he ran "way, way, way, way, way, way south" to the spot where he sacked his largest fish, a 5-½ largemouth.
"At that point, it's like, let's get in and weigh what we got," Kennedy said. "But I still stopped on the way and got two that helped."
His key, he said, is a bait of "a little bit different color from what everyone else is throwing."
Third-place Scott Rook (19-6) also stuck to largemouth on a day when he ran until 6:45 a.m. and proceeded to catch a limit by 7:01. He said he also is using an unusual bait — and that he shared it with his roommate Davy Hite. Hite finished Day One tied with Bryan Hudgins for fourth, 20 ounces behind Rook.
The slick calm of Thursday helped Rook make long runs in relatively short time. He worried that even a 10 mph wind on Day Two could double his commute across choppy water.
"If it blows, I'm going anyway," Rook said. "I've got all my eggs in the south basket. I've got to go. I have to."
Another angler relying on the weather is Kevin Wirth, whose commitment to catching only smallmouth got 17-11, good for seventh place on Day One, just behind returning tournament champion Denny Brauer (17-14). Smallmouth bite mostly what they can see, he said, so he relied heavily on the sunshine of Day One to sack his limit.
"I go looking for largemouth, but I don't go to extremes," Wirth said. "I've pretty much got to live or die by smallmouth."
Not that there are many other anglers in the running for what Wirth's working. "I'm around a lot of fish," he said, "and I didn't have any competition around me today."
Edwin Evers, Takahiro Omori, Peter Thliveros, Fred Roumbanis and Steve Daniel rounded out the top dozen. Angler of the Year leader Kevin VanDam (22nd, 16-3) sits 12 ounces out of the 12-angler cut. The 50-angler cut after Day One stands at 14-14.
Editor's note: Check in daily during the tournament for live video of the weigh-ins and a realtime leaderboard at 3 p.m. ET Thursday through Saturday. ESPNOutdoors.com will air Hooked Up, the live Internet shows, on Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET on Sunday. The 45-minute Hooked Up show begins at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, leading into the final live weigh-in and a realtime leaderboard at 3:45 p.m. ET.
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