TYLER, Texas — With the big bass record falling just before they stepped to the stage, Zach Caudle and Joe Landry from LSU-Shreveport needed to follow up with a big bag. They answered in a big way, relying on an all-day whackfest to carry them to the Day One lead at the 2009 College Bass West Super Regional after posting 20.71 pounds of storm-swept Lake Palestine bass.
Caudle and Landry opened up a nearly 2-pound lead going into Sunday's final day over Northwestern State's Zack Hester and Adam McDonald, who weighed in 18.81 pounds. Third place belonged to Cody Fuller and Drew McDonald from Oklahoma State after bringing in 18.65 pounds including the biggest bass ever caught in College Bass competition, a 9.21-pound brute.
Rounding out the top five teams was Louisiana Tech's Aaron Rogillio and Brandon Holmes in fourth place with 16.82 pounds and Austin Hollowell and Brandon Dickenson from North Texas in fifth place with 16.61 pounds.
Boating over 50 fish on the day, Caudle and Landry enjoyed a day of fishing most anglers dream about. They culled at least 12 times and arrived back at the launch at The Villages Marina before 2:00 p.m.
"Culling for pounds instead of ounces was a really good feeling," Caudle said. "Things were going so well that at the end of the day we actually picked up a topwater as a joke to throw another team in the area off the scent and ended up catching a fish that helped us cull to over 20 pounds."
The team actually caught fish early on a topwater, but with Sunday's forecast calling for a sunny, windy day, opportunities for a repeat performance on the surface may remain limited to the early morning hours.
"We are hoping to get on that topwater bite again early tomorrow," Landry said. "Those fish are there and we are not seeing any pressure. We didn't even see another competitor until we got back to the ramp."
Competitors dealt with strong rain showers and intermittent thunder and lightning throughout the first day of the tournament and although the sun came out briefly before the weigh-in at Academy Sports + Outdoors in Tyler, Texas, there was a slight delay as showers moved back through the area in the afternoon.
Even with the late start, college anglers set the mark high early in the weigh-in. Fuller and McDonald took to the stage and pulled out the 9.21-pound largemouth, shattering the existing biggest bass ever caught in College Bass competition, an 8.55-pound fish boated by Penn State during the East Super Regional in March.
"We pulled up to a few isolated trees and I picked up some soft plastics and threw out there," Fuller said. "When I pulled up on the line I felt something. I pulled again and felt one pull back and the fight was on."
The problem the Oklahoma State anglers ran into is that they didn't bring a net with them on the water. That left Fuller's partner to attempt to grab the fish as it was flopping around near the side of the boat.
"Carrying a net is bad luck," Fuller said. "When you have one in the boat, you won't catch anything to net with it."
Even a net wouldn't have helped with another fish Fuller had on that might have changed the complexion of the Day One standings.
"I think I broke one off that was even bigger than the big one we brought in," Fuller said. "I broke her off in a brushpile, but I think she'll bite tomorrow."
After Oklahoma State left the stage, it was Hester and McDonald, fishing their first tournament ever, grabbing the limelight as they jumped to second place with their 18-pound bag, anchored by an 8.3-pound bass.
"This is the first tournament either one of us have ever fished," Hester said. "In fact, we are still breaking in our boat and, because the trolling motor died, we had to come in at noon."
Despite the minor setbacks, Hester and McDonald enjoyed an outstanding start to their first endeavor in collegiate bass competition. That success was due, they insisted, to the harsh weather and crowd of anglers in the vicinity of their first spot.
"We got saved by the lightning and the people," McDonald said. "We were headed farther back into our area, but the lightning and the number of boats already back there convinced us to stop short and we ended up catching all our fish there."
The day's excitement was dampened slightly by two or three fish that got buried in grass and came off. The two anglers estimated the lost fish would have given them well over 20 pounds, but catching the big fish more than made up for it.
"When I hooked that big one, it jumped right away and I could see how big it was," McDonald said. "I hollered at Zack to get the net because it was an 8-pounder, but he just stayed down in the bottom of the boat tying on a lure — he didn't even look up."
Hester's excuse: "I was mainly trying to get my knot tied so I wouldn't have to redo it."
Turns out that not only did they easily land the 8-pounder, but a few minutes later, Hester himself hooked another solid fish, his knot held and the team boated their second-biggest fish of the day.
The full field launches from The Villages Marina on Lake Palestine at 7:45 a.m. ET and the team with the heaviest two-day weight will be crowned West Super Regional champion. The final day weigh-in Sunday will be streamed live on CollegeBass.com from the Academy Sports + Outdoors in Tyler, Texas, at 4:00 p.m. ET.
2009 West Super Regional Standings: