EUFAULA, Ala. – To say Lake Eufaula is currently in transition is a gross understatement. Bass are spawning, guarding fry, gobbling shad and hanging out on deep structure. The diversity offered is great, but none of the patterns are particularly reliable and strong right now. That’s why pro leader Justin Lucas sampled both shallow and deep water on day one.
Capitalizing on unexpected cloud cover, Lucas started his day close to the bank and caught a solid 17- or 18-pound limit, which included one that was still on a bed.
“I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be this good in the morning,” Lucas said of the early bite. “The clouds rolled in and stayed for a long time. It really helped.”
Within the first hour, Lucas had nearly 16 pounds. The former Californian who now resides in Guntersville, Ala., said he caught a 5-pounder on a frog, he sight-fished the 4 1/2-pound female off her nest and his other shallow fish came from “fishing slow.”
Lucas then paid a visit to his most productive offshore spot, a spot he described as “magic.”
“Right away I double hooked with two 4 1/2-pounders but one came off before I got it in the boat. So I immediately threw back and caught a 3-pounder and that’s when I realized I should probably leave it alone.”
Lucas described his offshore area as a hard spot out in the middle of nowhere in about 5 to 8 feet. To reach bottom, he cranks a Lucky Craft LC 2.5 DD. He tried to Carolina rig as well, but the crankbait was the only producer.
“They’ve got nothing else to go to out there, so it’s a magnet for them. I found some more offshore spots late too. So we’ll see what’s on them the next few days.”
Lucas estimates in total he caught a dozen keepers. After an ordinary practice, he’s happy to be leading – even if it is only day one.
“Getting that limit early just relaxes you and settles your decision making down.”
While Lucas went both shallow and deep, Joe Don Setina knew exactly what he was going to do before he even got to Eufaula. The Texas pro and winner of the 2009 EverStart Series event on Falcon Lake is solely focused on deep water.
“I didn’t fish shallow at all because I don’t believe it can be won shallow,” said the Pittsburg, Texas, native.
Setina had a limit with three big ones by 9:30 this morning, but then the action slowed considerably. He finished the day only culling once, but said the gamble for big fish is worth it. His five best bass weighed 22 pounds, 3 ounces.
“I probably fished eight or 10 spots that are around 17 feet deep. The most you get from each spot is a fish or two. It’s really all about timing. You can go somewhere and not catch a thing, but come back two hours later and catch a 5-pounder.”
Setina said everything he caught came from custom baits painted by fellow Texas pro Lamonte Loyd.
“I just have a lot of confidence in his baits and I’m confident in my ability this time of year.”
Third-place pro Bryan Thrift caught the third 20-pound bag of the day, his weighing 20 pounds, 6 ounces to be exact. Despite the success, the 2010 Angler of the Year termed his performance a “gift day.”
“I did not have a great practice by any means,” said the Chevy pro.
Thrift then decided to do what he does best – run and gun, covering water from the dam to the river.
“I did a lot of two- and three-cast deals today,” Thrift said of his pattern. “The way I feel, if the bass is there, he should bite it in the first cast. In the postspawn, it’s not like you’re going to sit there and make them bite. I fished docks, grass, lily pads, steep banks, flat banks, off the bank, I fished everything.”
Thrift declined to name lures, but did say he caught his two biggest fish on back-to-back casts around 10 a.m.
“Those were fish No. 4 and No. 5 and I was a happy man right then.”
In total, Thrift boated nine keepers, seven of which were largmouths.
“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but I’m just glad to finally get a big bite.”
Like Thrift, Andy Morgan has a pretty solid track record at Eufaula and he knows the lake well after fishing several EverStart Southeast events. And like Thrift, he didn’t let a poor practice affect his performance when the chips were down come tournament time.
Once Morgan saw the cloud cover this morning, he made a move to the shallow grass and caught some bonus fish.
“I really took advantage of that early bite and then I ran around and fished some postspawn stuff,” he said. “In practice, I was catching only like four or five fish a day, but they were quality. So I’m pleased to start with 20 pounds. I figured something out late and I’m kind of surprised I did to be honest with you.”
Morgan, also employing the run-and-gun strategy, sampled 30 places on the day. While the forecast calls for continued hot weather, the Dayton, Tenn., pro doesn’t plan to completely give up on the shallow fish.
“I don’t think the shad will quit spawning so everyday you’ll have a shallow bite. What happens after that, who can catch them after 9 a.m., is the key.”
Morgan’s official weight was 19-15, which places him fourth.
“I had a terrible practice,” said Coulter. “Every fish I caught in three days of practice wouldn’t have weighed 19 pounds. So I went to a different area and went back to basics in terms of lures.”
Coulter wouldn’t pinpoint what those lures were, but he did say he’s targeting shallow fish that are guarding fry.
“By 10:30 I had all that weight and I caught probably 10 or 11 keepers. I just fished whatever looked right and got into a groove. The problem is that I’m catching fry guarders and they don’t replenish unless I find a new batch. But I’m going to keep looking.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros on Lake Eufaula after day one:
7th: Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., five bass, 18-4
8th: JT Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., five bass, 17-13
9th: Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., five bass, 17-12
10th: Randy Haynes of Counce, Tenn., five bass, 17-3
10th: Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, five bass, 17-3
Martin claimed the 3M ScotchBlue Big Bass Award with a 7-pound, 9-ounce largemouth.
Johnson back in front
After leading day two at Beaver Lake, co-angler Jason Johnson has wasted little time returning to the limelight. On day one at Eufaula, the Gainesville, Ga., native caught a 15-pound, 3-ounce stringer to regain the top spot.
“I had probably the worst practice I’ve ever had,” said Johnson. “I just went out there and did what I have confidence in.”
His three biggest fish came on a Gambler Southern Swim Jig tipped with a Gambler EZ Swimmer. Johnson filled out his limit with a drop-shot and 8-pound-test line.
“We weren’t right up on the bank, we were targeting more of the mid-depths,” added Johnson, who was paired with Canadian pro Jeff Gustafson. “I caught my big fish, a 4-14, late in the day and that made all the difference.”
Even though Beaver is still fresh in his mind, Johnson isn’t looking at this as a redemption tournament.
“I’m just fishing with a lot of confidence right now both on Tour and on my home lakes.”
Richard Peek continued his string of success from the back of the boat – catching a limit Thursday worth 14 pounds, 9 ounces. Anchoring that stringer was a 6-pound, 6-ounce brute, the 3M Peltor Big Bass among the co-anglers.
“We fished deep all day and I was thankful we did,” said Peek, an Auburn graduate who frequently fished Eufaula during college. “That big one bit within the first 20 minutes and I caught my fifth keeper with 20 minutes left in the day.”
Peek said he’s fishing slow and three of his five keepers came on Tightlines UV soft plastics. The Centre, Ala., native sits second in the tournament and second in the Co-angler of the Year race.
“Honestly, I’m trying not to think about COY. Practice was so tough I just wanted to make sure I caught a keeper and got some points for the Forrest Wood Cup. Fourteen-nine should be enough for a check either way, so I’m happy.”
New, Moser, Blaylock round out top five
Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., caught a 14-pound, 7-ounce limit for third place among the co-anglers. New mainly threw a 1/8-ounce shaky head with a Charlie’s Worms finesse worm. New caught his big fish, a 5-12 largemouth, on the 10th cast of the morning.
“I only caught five keepers and my last one came at 3:45 on a Brian’s Bee’s B12,” said New. “I weighed all largemouths except that last one, which was a spot.”
Kenny Moser of Alba, Texas, caught a 12-pound, 10-ounce limit for fourth.
Two-time FLW Tour co-angler champion Keeton Blaylock of Benton, Ark., rounds out the top five with 12 pounds, 8 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day one:
6th: Mark Horton of Nicholasville, Ky., five bass, 11-10
7th: Justin Jones of Apex, N.C., five bass, 11-8
8th: Andrew Owens of Dividing Creek, N.J., five bass, 11-6
10th: Randy Clark of Pascagoula, Miss., five bass, 11-1
10th: James Mignanelli of Harmony, Pa., three bass, 11-1
Day two of the FLW Tour on Lake Eufaula will begin Friday at 6:30 a.m. from Lakepoint Resort State Park located at 104 Lakepoint Drive in Eufaula.