Aaron Martens called it a “picture-perfect day.” Mark Davis said he was “singing hymns all day.” Chris Lane landed inside his “comfort zone.”
And that’s how it was for three of the hottest pros in bass fishing on Thursday, the first day of the April 3-6 A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite on Table Rock Lake.
Martens, the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, took the Day 1 lead at Table Rock with 18 pounds, 11 ounces of largemouth bass. Davis, currently in the lead for the 2014 AOY prize, was second with 18 pounds, 8 ounces. Right behind them with 18-5 was Lane, who won the most recent Elite Series event less than two weeks ago.
The three leaders have lots of company. Weighing 17-4 to tie at fourth place were Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., and Jamie Horton of Centreville, Ala. They were 1 pound, 7 ounces, behind Martens.
Even the pro in 12th place trailed Martens by 3-5. That mark was set at 15-6 by Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark.
Martens, a California native who relocated to Leeds, Ala., several years ago, anchored his 18-11 with an 8-0.
“I had a picture-perfect day,” Martens said. “I caught almost everything that bit, and I didn’t lose very many. I pulled that 8-pounder from between three or four trees on non-heavy line.”
Martens, who has fished Table Rock Lake many times, tried to find new areas during the three-day practice. In the end, he returned to spots on which he had success in the past — “fishing old stuff,” he called it.
A solid pattern helped, he said, but the only two lures he used Thursday were key.
“One bait I’m using is pretty phenomenal, but I bet half the guys are using it too,” he said, declining to name the lures.
Even if the weights were not tight, Martens expects Day 2 of the tournament to see changes in the leaderboard.
“This lake is notorious for having a leader one day, and then that guy blanks,” Martens said.
Davis, who is from Mount Ida, Ark., won a Bassmaster Tour on Table Rock in 2004. His history helped him get to work Thursday. And that work involved a lot of “hunting and pecking,” he said.
“That’s how you have to fish this lake,” he said.
Davis came into the Table Rock event leading the points race after finishing third in both of the first two tournaments of the season.
Lane, a Florida transplant to Guntersville, Ala., skipped over Table Rock’s clear, clear water. Instead, he went back to a favorite comfort zone of his: casting in shallow, stained water up into the backs of creeks.
He targeted big bass, selecting three baits to go after the larger bass. The strategy worked. One of his five largemouth bass was a 5-9 and another weighed 5-4.
Lane was trading size for numbers; he caught just seven fish all day.
That, on a day when many of the pros weeded through scores of bass less than 15 inches — the legal keeper size — to put together a five-bass limit in any combination of largemouth, spotted bass and smallmouth.
The event’s first prize is $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. The Elite pros also are out to earn points that count toward a Classic qualification and the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Martens’ 8-0 was the largest bass of the day. He became the front-runner for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of up to $1,500.