By PAA Communications
Heavy overcast skies, strong winds, and intermittent rain showers at the day one weigh-in for the Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix on the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Oklahoma didn’t put a damper on the spirits of veteran North Carolina pro Guy Eaker, who toted the heaviest limit of the day to the scales weighing 14.39 pounds to edge out Tommy Biffle by .27 pounds.
“I had a good practice and felt like I could catch them really well,” explained Eaker. “To be honest, it was totally different out there today than it has been the last three days. Yesterday in practice, the baitfish were really moving around in big wads and balls. Today, I kept looking for them but I couldn’t really find them.”
Rather than hit the panic button and search for the schools of bigger gizzard shad that the quality largemouth were keying on, Eaker stuck with his original game plan and decided to grind it out. “I decided that I just needed to keep chunking in the areas where I’d been catching them in practice. I caught some fish off of points and then I caught some in water that was so shallow you wouldn’t believe it,” he stated.
A large portion of his success on Thursday was the result his practice on the Arkansas River during the final tournament of the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series season. The tournament was originally slated for the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, but after the final practice day B.A.S.S. officials moved the tournament to nearby Ft. Gibson Lake due to rising water and unsafe boating conditions on the river.
Eaker said that he was disappointed with change in venues at the time because he believed that he had figured something out on the Arkansas River during the official practice. Two years later, the areas that he discovered finally paid off.
“I kept all my maps and notes about every area where I’d found the fish during practice for that Elite Series tournament a few years ago. I went right back to those areas this week and started catching them,” he said with a smile.
Culling through eight or nine keepers over the course of the day, Eaker said that he backed off of his fish in an attempt to save them for the upcoming two competition days. “I hope that I can keep up this pace, but you never know when you’re fishing on a river,” he concluded.
While Eaker was willing to divulge general details about his day on the Arkansas River, Oklahoma’s Tommy Biffle wasn’t quite as talkative after weighing a 14.12 pound limit to land in 2nd place at the conclusion of day one.
“I lost a five pounder that really hurt me, but other than that I had a good day,” he said with a slight grimace. “I caught three or four keepers right off the bat and put a limit in the boat really early. After that, I just pecked around for the rest of the day and made a few culls.”
Biffle estimated that he caught between 12 and 15 keepers on Thursday and had the majority of his weight by 9:30 in the morning, making just a single pass through his primary area.
With the exception of sharing water with one other competitor for a portion of the day, Biffle said that he had a lot of water to himself. “The game plan was to hit one area and catch somewhere around 14 or 15 pounds,” he explained. “I fished one bait for the entire day.”
Trailing Biffle in 3rd place is local Oklahoma angler Chris Jones, who weighed-in a 12.73 pound limit on Thursday. “I ran a lot of water to catch those fish,” he admitted. “I burned through an entire tank of gas and fished a lot of really isolated stuff.”
Jones, who posted a top 10 finish in the 2011 Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River, said that the snap of cool weather that swept across Oklahoma during the past week helped the bite. “The bite was tougher than this a few weeks ago,” he explained. “There are 20 pound sacks weighed-in from this river every spring, but those fish usually disappear during this time of the year.”
Like Biffle, Jones said that he missed a kicker bite that would have boosted his day one limit. “I had the opportunities to have a really good sack today, and it really hurts to lose fish in a tournament like this. I had nine keeper bites and only boated six of them.
“I really think that 13 pounds a day will be the magic number to win this thing,” continued Jones. “One kicker fish makes a huge difference because it can take you from a 12 pound limit to a 15 pound limit. Two of the fish that I weighed-in today were just barely keepers.”
The Humminbird/Minn Kota Big Bass award on Thursday went to Illinois’ Chad Morgenthaler, who crossed the stage with four largemouth that weighed a total of 12.25 pounds. He made up for failing to boat a five bass limit by catching a 5.02 pound largemouth.
“I was really fortunate today to have two big bites,” said Morgenthaler. “The big fish came while I was cranking in an area where I had caught four or five fish during practice. I caught or three bass in that area this morning before the big one hit.” The big bass earned Morgenthaler the Humminbird/Minn Kota $300 Big Bass Of the Day award.
He said that he made a move shortly after boating the kicker. He picked up a flipping stick and promptly scored his second biggest bass of the day. “Those two bites were the biggest fish that I’ve seen the entire week,” he said with a smile.
Current Angler Of the Year leader, Gary Clouse, finished in the middle of the pack on Thursday in a tie for 22nd place with a limit weighing 9.23 pounds. While he left the door open, his closest pursuers, Keith Caka, Mark Menendez, and Gary Yamamoto were unable to make up much ground as all three anglers failed to break the 10 pound mark.
“I really haven’t had much going all week,” said Clouse. “I’m just scrambling around with about 10 rods on the front deck. I had two good largemouth bites today that really helped me out.”
Overall, 31 anglers crossed the stage with a five bass limit and 15 anglers managed at least 10 pounds on Thursday.
On the co-angler side, it was a clean sweep for Shannon Prophet, who crossed the stage with a three bass limit weighing 9.69 pounds that was anchored by a 5.48 pound largemouth which was the Humminbird/Minn Kota Big Bass on the co-angler side.
The entire field will launch again on Friday at 7:00 a.m. out of Three Forks Harbor in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Friday’s weigh-in will begin at 4:15 at Three Forks Harbor, and the field will be cut to the top 10 anglers. The final day weigh-in will be held on Saturday at the Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Dale Hightower’s day one weight of 11.27 pounds was disqualified at the conclusion of the weigh-in after he inadvertently fished in an off-limits area on Thursday morning.