Alton Jones and Craig Powers produce day's best head-to-head contest
SHREVEPORT, La. – With the majority of the pro field struggling mightily on the fickle waters of Cross Lake, 10th-ranked Greg Hackney of Oak Ridge, La., appeared to have no trouble at all finding the monster bites. Using an amazing catch of 15 pounds, 13 ounces, Hackney not only trounced his day-one opponent, Kim Stricker of Howell, Mich., by more than 14 pounds, but he also grabbed a 3-pound, 10-ounce lead over Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, the angler with the second largest total of the day.
“It feels really good. I kind of feel like my own hero today,” said Hackney, normally one of the most reserved and soft-spoken members of the FLW Tour. “I'm definitely pumped.”
Although one might think that the Louisiana native had a home-lake advantage given the fact that Cross Lake isn't more than a few hours away from his current residence, Hackney revealed that he was just as unfamiliar with the FLW Championship venue as the rest of the field.
“I've never fished here before in my life,” said Hackney. “And until I looked at this year's schedule, I didn't even know this lake existed.”
So how did he explain his relative success on the water while some of the best pros in the nation failed to even weigh in a single fish?
“Believe it or not, I kind of struggled out there today. I didn't get a lot of bites throughout the day and I didn't even have one bite during the first two hours of competition,” he said. “But when I did get a bite, I was fortunate enough that they were big.”
There appeared to be one other reason for his success.
“I really went for broke today,” he said. “I know there's only going to be one winner here and nobody is going to remember a few months from now whether you came in second place or last. I had to go for it.”
During tomorrow's competition, Hackney said he is going to have to play it by ear as far as strategy goes.
“It's going to be a different tournament every day,” he said. “The fish are moving from one day to the next, so you've got to be able to change things up. This lake is really getting beat up so it's probably going to get harder over the next few days. I think the key is to make sure you get at least two fish over the (17-inch) slot limit. If you do that, I think you'll be able to advance.”
Jones and Powers set for epic battle
Although Craig Powers of Rockwood, Tenn., produced the third-largest stringer of the day – an 11-pound, 7-ounce catch – he had the misfortune of being matched up against Alton Jones in today's head-to-head competition. Jones, the first pro to weigh in, recorded a five-fish limit weighing 12 pounds, 4 ounces.
Clearly, Powers was feeling the pressure.
“It's the most mentally nerve-wracking tournament I've fished in my entire life,” he said. “I'm sitting there throwing back 3-pound fish and being forced to keep a bunch of 12-inchers in my livewell because of the slot limit. It's really tough. It's hard to maintain focus when you're faced with a situation like that.”
The Cross Lake slot limit has already served to tax many of the top pros. According to state DNR regulations, anglers can keep all fish between 12 and 14 inches. They are also allowed to keep up to four fish over 17 inches. However, anglers may keep no fish between 14 and 17 inches. The result? A healthy number of 2- and 3-pound largemouth bass are going to find themselves back in the water as soon as they are hooked.
It's also a fact of life that Powers and the rest of the field are going to have to deal with for the remainder of the tournament.
“Because of the slot limit, you can't really pattern anything,” said Powers. “I've been using a buzzbait and flipping a tube like everyone else. And my catch was kind of lucky today.”
As far as his battle with Jones is concerned, Powers said he is just going to go out there and do his best.
“I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow,” he said. “Alton Jones is one of the best bass fishermen in the world. It's just the luck of the draw.”
However, both Powers and Jones know that because of the head-to-head format, only one angler will survive tomorrow's competition to fish another day.
Coming in with the fourth-largest stringer of the day was Pat Fisher of Stone Mountain, Ga., who recorded a total catch of 11 pounds, 4 ounces. Fisher appears to be in good position to advance to the next round after tomorrow's competition as his opponent, Stanley Mitchell of Fitzgerald, Ga., only managed to turn in a catch of 2 pounds.
Assuming Fisher prevails, he is also set to face the winner of the Jones/Powers matchup in the next round. Consequently, it is becoming apparent that the Fisher, Mitchell, Jones and Powers bracket is toughest portion of the FLW Championship draw by far.
On the strength of a 10-pound, 3-ounce catch, Brent Chapman of Shawnee, Kansas, grabbed fifth place in the tournament's overall standings. Chapman, seeded 34th, currently leads his opponent, 15th-seeded Wesley Strader of Spring City, Tenn., by 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
Bill Chapman of Salt Rock, W. Va., used a 10-pound stringer to turn in the sixth largest stringer of the day. Chapman, the 40th seed, is currently leading his opponent, ninth-ranked Andre Moore of Scottsdale, Ariz., by 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
Bass-fishing legends find going tough
The household names in the world of professional bass fishing didn't fair as well today as many had expected. Although Rick Clunn of Ava., Mo., turned in the seventh-best performance of the day with a 9-pound, 9-ounce catch, many of his famous counterparts turned in sub-par efforts based on their seeds.
In fact, out of the group of Kevin VanDam (4-7), Guido Hibdon (2-11), Larry Nixon (5-14), Jay Yelas (5-10), Dean Rojas (4-3), Paul Elias (2-3), Aaron Martens (5-10), Gary Klein (2-7) and Clark Wendlandt (4-6), none managed to turn in a performance better than 6 pounds. However, with the exception of Paul Elias, who must make up a 7-pound, 6-ounce deficit, all of the aforementioned names were either leading or within striking distance of their opponents.
Cross Lake is unkind to co-anglers
If the pros were having a hard time on Cross Lake, then the co-anglers were finding it nearly impossible to produce quality stringers. In fact, out of the 48 co-anglers who qualified for the championship, only one – Gerald Williams of Scottsville, Ky. - managed to record at least four keeper fish.
However, despite the tough going, Danny Strand of Champaign, Ill., found himself atop the overall leaderboard with a catch of 7 pounds, 3 ounces. In second place was Jim Blake of Lincoln, Neb., with a catch of 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Williams, on the strength of his four-fish catch, found himself in third place.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers were Sam Parker (fourth) of Florence, Ala., with a catch of 4 pounds; and Alex Ormand (fifth) of Bessemer City, N.C., with a catch of 3 pounds, 15 ounces.
The co-anglers who bring in the top 24 combined weights over the first two days of competition will advance to Friday's finals. Unlike the pros, however, co-anglers do not face any head-to-head competition.
Tomorrow's takeoff is scheduled to take place at 6 a.m. at the American Legion, located at 5315 Southlake Shore in Shreveport.