MONROE, La. – When daylight cracked over the Ouachita River this morning 153 EverStart Championship qualifiers had already lined the banks with their boats, eagerly awaiting takeoff.
Among those sleek fiberglass chariots were a handful of aluminum boats. At least a half-dozen pros had shucked their bigger glass boats for smaller, lighter models that would allow more efficient access to the river’s stump-infested backwaters.
Imagine the surprise of those pros as they entered their coveted backwater only to find the other five or six pros in aluminum rigs also in that very same backwater. Though the backwater plan backfired a bit, at least two from the tin-boat contingent now sit in the top 10.
Others running standard full-size glass boats chose to utilize the whole extent of the Ouachita River with their speed and make long runs to fish the river itself. Of those, several are in the top 10.
And yet another group used their standard glass rigs to access small creeks along the river for their success.
After day one, it looks as if three different gameplans are working at the Ouachita River. No one was able to crack the teens in terms of weight and certainly no one posted a super bag of bass to take a dominating lead. Top weights are bunched up tight from the 9- to 13-pound range. Big bass in each division came in at nearly five pounds, showing that a few bruisers are to be had.
The top mark to beat in the Pro Division was 12 pounds, 13 ounces, which belonged to leader James Stricklin, Jr., of Texarkana, Texas. Stricklin is neither in a backwater, nor on the main river, yet was able to access his water fairly easily in his full-size glass boat.
“I’m in a backwater, but it’s a deeper backwater and I do not have to fight my way in there,” Stricklin said. “I ended up catching four of my better fish in there and then came out into the river and caught the littlest one in my limit.”
He noted that the area does not produce many bites, but when it does they are of better quality. And the best news: he did not see another boat all day.
“I think the area has the potential to produce a really big bag if things got right,” Stricklin added. “I feel good about it. It’s a big area and I’m encouraged that it’s not receiving much pressure. I did fish it hard for the four bites I got today, but I think there are still plenty of fish in there.”
Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., nabbed second place with a limit weighing 12 pounds, 5 ounces.
Kreiger said he did not fool around with any backwaters. He took a long ride and fished the main river and caught 9 or 10 keepers on the day.
“I hopped, skipped and jumped around on the river today,” Kreiger said. “I’m catching my fish off something very specific and when I catch one off it, I have to let it rest and then I can usually come back and catch another one. It’s not necessarily a replenishing deal, but more of a scenario where when I catch one it pulls the fish off what I’m fishing and I have to give them time to set back up.”
“I don’t know what tomorrow holds,” he added. “Today was the best day of fishing I’ve had since I’ve been here. I kept hearing all these tales about guys catching 20 pounds in practice, but as for me, I’ll take 12-pounds a day all week as long as I can get it.”
George Kapiton of Inverness, Fla., sits in third place after day one with a five-bass limit weighing 11 pounds, 4 ounces.
Kapiton is not accessing stumpy backwaters and instead is fishing areas he describes as being related to the main river.
“I have one long stretch that’s maybe a mile long that I feel like is my best stretch,” he said. “But the rest of my places are much shorter, isolated stretches. I caught three of my best ones pretty quick this morning and then added a couple more later. I had what I weighed in by 10 o’clock, which is the earliest I’ve caught a bass all week.”
Larry Jones of Acworth, Ga., holds down the fourth place spot on day one with a limit for 10 pounds, 13 ounces.
Jones stuck to the main river for his catch today, boating 20 to 25 keepers on his primary spot.
“I have a couple of places in the river that have a lot of fish on them,” he said. “A lot of them are small, but if you go through enough of them, you can cull up to a decent weight. I had what I weighed in by about 10 o’ clock this morning and then I got off my best place to save a few for tomorrow.”
Local pro Jim Dillard of West Monroe, La., settled into the fifth spot on day one with a five-bass limit weighing 10 pounds, 11 ounces.
Dillard utilized an aluminum boat to access the backwater that contained the tin-boat party of six other anglers.
“It takes about 25 minutes to work your way in there and once you’re in there, you’re kind of committed,” the Hawaiian Punch pro said. “So yes, there were a lot of boats in there, but it’s a big area and everyone worked well together and we stayed out of each other’s way. There are so many stumps in there it forces you to fish extremely slow. Each time you go to move 5 feet, you’re on another stump and that noise spooks the fish. But everyone in there understood that and took it easy getting around.”
Dillard ended up catching 7 or 8 keepers on the day. At least one other boat in the area is in the top 10, but several others did not fare as well.
“I feel like I’m right on pace to do well,” Dillard added. “I caught every fish that bit; I didn’t lose any fish so I can’t ask for much more than that. Despite the pressure in the area I plan to go back again.”
Michael Williamson of Fort Smith, Ark., caught the big bass in the Pro Division on day one weighing 4 pounds, 12 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the EverStart Series Championship on the Ouachita River after day one:
6th: Bill Chapman of Salt Rock, W.V., five bass, 10-10
6th: Ladd Shannon of Atkin, Ark., five bass, 10-10
8th: Shane Long of Willard, Mo., five bass, 10-2
9th: Cody Bird of Granbury, Texas, five bass, 9-12
10th: Jeromy Francis of Magnolia, Texas, five bass, 9-10
10th: Lamonte Loyd of Gilmer, Texas, five bass, 9-10
Sward leads co-anglers
Justin Sward of Birmingham, Ala., leads the Co-angler Division of the EverStart Championship with a five-bass limit weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces.
Tony Spinks of Springfield, Mo., is in second among the co-anglers with four bass for 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
Co-angler David Kelly of Goose Creek, S.C., is in third place with a limit for 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
Co-angler Gary Reimers of Taylor, Texas, is in fourth place with a limit worth 7 pounds, 5 ounces and Steve Brown of Altamonte Springs, Fla., holds down the fifth place spot with 7 pounds, even.
Dan Wilson of Pilot Point, Texas caught the big bass in the Co-angler Division on day one weighing 4 pounds, 11 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 co-anglers in the EverStart Series Championship on the Ouachita River after day one:
6th: Daniel Leue of Colusa, Calif., five bass, 6-15
7th: David Kayda of Huffman, Texas, five bass, 6-14
8th: Bill Fussell of Thibodaux, La., five bass, 6-12
9th: Audie Brantley of North Augusta, S.C., five bass, 6-10
9th: Vince Denina of Willis, Texas, four bass, 6-10
9th: Robert Russell of Smyrna, Tenn., five bass, 6-10