FORT WORTH, Texas — Even though a $250,000-first prize is on the line, the 55 anglers competing in the first CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series major tournament seemed fairly relaxed prior to take off Thursday morning on Eagle Mountain Lake.
That could be because, despite the close confines of this body of water, the pros said they found enough quality bass during practice to give them a jump start to the Bassmaster Memorial title. Fishing conditions are expected to be fairly favorable Thursday with slight cloud cover, decent breezes and temperatures that are predicted to climb into the low 80s.
The action figures to lean toward a post-spawn bite. Huge bags, which were seen in earlier tour stops this year, don't figure to be the norm here, however. Many of the elite anglers said with that in mind, having backup spots will be key to success in this tournament.
"I think it's pretty wide open," said John Murray. "You just have to take what the lake gives you. You have 50 plus really good fishermen on a relatively small waterway. You might have a great spot and know how to catch a few fish, but there might be a couple boats on it by the time you get there. So you have to be able to go to Plan B, Plan C. Timing is going to be everything in this tournament."
With no apparent gimmicks available to land lunkers, Murray said lure presentation is going to be vital to the anglers.
"It's pretty basic here," he said. "Crankbaits, jigs, worms. I don't think anything wild is going to occur."
That doesn't take away from the excitement guys like Murray are expecting over the next few days.
"If someone said you're fishing for $250,000 against these guys with no entry fee, you would have just freaked out," he said. "So, the reality of this is pretty impressive."
Steve Kennedy, who is leading the Toyota rookie of the year race, was plesantly surprised with his draw Thursday morning. He launched fourth.
"I just assumed being a rookie, I'd be the last guy out," Kennedy said. "But they're going by angler of the year standings. I found two areas that have fish, so I'll go to the best one right off."
Greg Hackney, who won the Elite Series tour stop on Texas' Sam Rayburn Reservoir earlier this year, said he was excited about the prospects of a "wide-open" tournament. He said getting off to a good start will be key to victory here.
"This will be hard lake to catch up on," Hackney said. "So you really need to stay in the hunt after today. Today is the day if you're going to show up, to show up; to get some bonus weight."
Hackney said he liked what he saw of Eagle Mountain Lake during his practice rounds.
"I think this lake sets up well for me because it's shallow and it has dirty water in it," he said. "This will be the first fishing tournament we've had all year. It's been one slug-fest after another. This here is going to be a grinding deal. We're back to reality on this one. The kind of weights we've been having, the times of year in the places we've been going, it's been crazy....I like the kind of tournaments where you look at the top five guys and they're doing five different things. Fishing is a lot tougher when it's like that."
Paul Elias agreed with Hackney and likes his chances, as well.
"This is one of those lake where no one is going to run off with (the title)," Elias said. "I feel good. If I can catch five keepers, I'll have the weight to be there."
Elias has a strategy in mind to get him atop the leaderboard.
"I"m going to crank until I can't stand it, then I'm going to crank some more," he said.( Kevin VanDam, who has been known to cast several thousand times during the course of a normal fishing day, expects a variety of techniques to be employed.
"Everyone is going to fish the same stuff, but get their confidence with their own techniques and lures," he said. "It's just focusing on the things that I know work for me. It's going to be a tough event."
Weigh-in is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. CST at Will Rogers Arena.