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That's the kicker

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DEL RIO, Texas — It was another San Francisco morning on the Texas-Mexico border: 45-degree drizzle, low clouds, the mere rumor of sunlight filtering through the seamless grey.

Were it not for a bevy of trophy bass on Day One of the OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border, it would be hard to recognize this fishery as Lake Amistad. As anglers bemoaned the scarcity of mid-sized fish, and a cold front that delayed much of the impending spawn, a handful of them managed to haul in fish in the 7- to 9-pound range, or at least score a couple of healthy anchors.

"That's the only difference between my bag and the 15-, 17-, 18-pound bags, is they caught a couple of 5-pounders," said Cliff Pace, who sits squarely on the bubble for today's cut, 50th place, with 13 pounds, 1 ounce.

Other anglers echoed that sentiment: They're on fish, and maybe even the right fish, but with so few bites during the day, they can do little more than hope those bites are the right ones.

Bradley Hallman, for one, filled a quick, small limit of 10-4 on six keeper bites. Then he went to throwing a football head jig the rest of the day, trying for a kicker, and wound up catching nothing else. "I don't know what it was. It just didn't hit," he said. On Day Two, he said, he'll live or die by swimbaits.

Fred Roumbanis, the angler 1 ounce behind Pace, copped to "chicken fishing" on Day One, staying away from his best stuff while tossing a swimbait all day at 2- and 3-pound fish, never making a move to upgrade.

For Day Two, Roumbanis said, "I adjusted my mental state. I went to bed at 7:30."

Of course, he admitted, he wasn't expecting more than one or two 20-pound sacks to be weighed on Day One. Instead, there were nine: Mike Iaconelli led with 27 pounds, 9 ounces, anchored by a 12-13 mammoth and another 8-pounder. But his lead is tenuous, relying as it did on two big fish. By contrast, the three anglers in closest pursuit — Gary Klein (25-4), Alton Jones (24-0) and Matt Reed (23-2) — secured their limits without whacking any giants.

"I'm around the fish," said Reed, whose big fish was about 6 pounds on Day One. "I just have to keep getting the bites, and hope a big one shows up."

John Murray, Boyd Duckett, Bobby Lane, James Niggemeyer and Kevin Short also topped the 20-pound mark on Day One.

Duckett surveyed the weather before Day Two and worried that his swimbait bite would turn off. After a practice in which he had seen dozens of fish on beds in one flat, and a ditch full of swimming 9-pounders waiting to move up, he was ready for this tournament to be a contest of lunker bedding fish.

"I thought it was going to be a slugfest," Duckett said. Instead, with a cold front slashing across the region, the prespawn fish Duckett found mostly backed down. He spent much of his first day targeting fish in submerged trees just offshore from where he found bedding fish in practice.

"Sometimes it's easiest to chase the fish you've already found," he said. Today, also, will be the day to catch them. With the cold front moving out this weekend, he estimates the bite could suffer lakewide. "Saturday is going to be the worst," he said, "and that's not good."

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