McClelland Leads on Ross Barnett

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Previous Bassmaster tournaments at Mississippi’s Ross Barnett Reservoir have been on the stingy side. However, none of those events were held in the spring. On the first day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open No. 1 presented by Allstate, Ross Barnett is strutting like a springtime gobbler.

Elite Series pro Mike McClelland won a Mississippi Invitational here in December 1996 with a scant 22-4 pounds. He bested that weight today with a 23-pound, 5-ounce limit to nab the lead.

“My first five bass weighed only 5 pounds,” McClelland said. “The bigger fish bit better later in the day.”

McClelland is known for his ability to catch bass offshore, but he feels right at home in shallow water in springtime.

“Ross Barnett matches up well with the way I like to fish this time of year,” McClelland said.

Given the lake’s perpetually stained water, McClelland says that you have to fish shallow at Ross Barnett in any season.

Arkansas’ Kevin Short, another Elite Series pro, sits in second place with 22 pounds, 6 ounces. His limit included an 8-pound largemouth, making him the Big Bass Leader. He was surprised by the size of the bass he boated.

“I got a lot of bites on practice Wednesday, but I didn’t know how big they were,” Short said. “I was fishing without a hook.”

Short claims he caught fish all day today from the dam end of the lake to 30 miles upriver. He competed in an autumn Bassmaster tournament here once and did “hideously.” One difference this time is that the lake’s copious pads have yet to grow.

“There’s not as many places for them to hide now,” Short said.

Fishing his first Bassmaster Open, 28-year-old Jay Brainard of Enid, Okla., holds third place with 22 pounds, 1 ounce. Brainard studied Ross Barnett online and found one cove that caught his attention.

“I told my wife that if I could figure out what the bass would eat in that cove, I could catch the winning fish there,” Brainard said.

He said that he missed 13 bites in that cove before he made a subtle adjustment in his presentation. After that, the bass “nearly ripped the bait out of my hands.”

A warming trend bodes well for more heavy limits before the final weigh-in on Saturday at Bass Pro Shops in Pearl, Miss. The eventual victor on the pro side will pocket the keys to a Triton 19TrX rigged with a Mercury 200 Pro XS and prop, a Triton tandem axle trailer, a MotorGuide X3 24v trolling motor and a Lowrance Elite 5 graph.

Gary Sullivan of Woodson, Texas, leads the co-angler field with 13 pounds, 5 ounces. His limit included the 7-pound, 3-ounce Big Bass on the co-angler side.

If Sullivan follows through for the victory, he will be the owner of a new Triton 179 TrX with a Mercury 115 Pro XS and prop, a Triton single-axle trailer, a MotorGuide X3 12v trolling motor and a Lowrance Mark 5 graph.