SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Elite angler Lee Bailey of Boaz, Ala., ascended to the top of the leaderboard on Day 1 of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series’ Empire Chase presented by Mahindra Tractors on Oneida Lake. The 44-year-old brought in a five-bass limit weighing 18 pounds, 6 ounces, and was less than 2 pounds ahead of second-place angler Tommy Biffle of Oklahoma.

Bailey and the rest of the Empire Chase field will be featured on The CITGO Bassmasters Saturday, July 15 at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

Unlike most other anglers, Bailey focused his efforts on catching largemouth bass, by far a minority to the overwhelming number of smallmouth in Oneida Lake.

Getting off to a quick start was key to Bailey’s lead as he reported having 15 pounds of bass within the first 30 minutes of competition. He found the fish shallow around docks and the little wood there is in the water.

“After I practiced, I knew I’d be able to catch 18 pounds on the first day,” said Bailey, who has amassed more than $250,000 in BASS career earnings. “But I also know there’s not too many largemouth left in this lake and I’ll have to go after the smallies later in the week.”

The Connecticut native said Oneida was somewhat of a homecoming for him, as he was schooled on the large, clear waters of the northeast. If Bailey can manage a win here, it would be the first for the two-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier since he took a BASS tournament on Table Rock Lake in Missouri in 1997.

The Empire Chase is the first tournament in this season’s “Northern Swing” and is the first time anglers are fishing primarily for smallmouth bass. The species is so plentiful in Oneida Lake that the athletes – including accomplished pros Gary Klein and Aaron Martens (tied for 12th) and Rick Clunn (21st place)- complained about wasting precious time continuously culling.

With anglers catching so many fish of similar size and weight – only 2 pounds separate fifth place from 15th – anglers predict this Elite Series tournament will be decided by a matter of ounces. “Mark my words,” said Klein. “This will be a tournament of ounces. Just 1 pound here could mean the difference of 40 places in the standings.”

Rounding out the top five were Alton Jones of Texas and Ken Cook of Oklahoma tied for third (16-10); and Yusuke Miyazki of Texas in fifth with 16-9.

Co-anglers also pulled in a majority of smallmouths on Thursday. Empire State angler Larry Lafaver of Watertown led the field with 9-1. The top 25 co-anglers are competing for $115,400 in cash and merchandise. Their three-day competition ends on Saturday, when the winner gets a fully rigged Triton boat valued at $45,000.

Elite Series anglers are vying for $673,150 in cash to the top 50 Elite pros and valuable points towards qualifying in the Bassmaster Majors, CITGO Bassmaster Classic and the race for the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

Local Sponsors: Local sponsors include the Syracuse Convention and Visitors Bureau.

CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series sponsors: Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Advance Auto Parts and Theraseed®.

BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation Nation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

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