So far, the Tour finale has been a fitting closer to a season memorable for its ups and downs. Rookie Scott Suggs, who stood poised to take home the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, was one of many who stumbled out of the blocks on Thursday and will have to make up significant ground in order to earn the $111,550 season champion's purse.
But, increasing temperatures and a cloudy forecast are just the conditions that could bring in big catches on Friday and anglers predict that the tournament could turn into a serious slugfest before the field cuts to the top 12 after day two.
Brett Hite's current perch atop the leaderboard puts him in a good position to make that cut, and earned him $1,000 for the Busch Heavyweight catch of the day. If his weight stays in the top 10 for the rest of the tournament and the upcoming Bassmaster Elite 50 series, Hite will earn a berth at the $160,000 Busch Shootout tournament in September on a mystery lake.
"I'm just glad I caught them today because they're going to really be catching them tomorrow," said Hite. "It's going to be like 52 tonight and they're going to be moving up all night long and you'll get a lot of fish that are going to bite tomorrow.
"I just fished around in the areas that I thought they would start coming up, where they had some warm water. I ended up scratching one out really early and just kind of blind fishing."
Number two angler Mike McClelland said Thursday's bite was slow and, while the Arkansan didn't want to give up too much information about his 22-5 catch, he admitted that the key to finding fish was the fact that he didn't fish here a year ago.
"I took a year off (last year) to work for Champion Boats as a sales rep and didn't fish here last year, so I wasn't exposed to what happened, which was probably in my best interest," he said. "I came down here knowing that a person was going to have to catch a bunch of big fish and basically I practiced to do that.
"I think the biggest thing about the way I'm catching my fish is that I'm concentrating on pre-spawn fish that are still staging. The weather conditions are finally getting to the point where these fish are really starting to make a move and I just hope that enough of them stay put out there. There is enough stuff in the area that I think I can stay with the fish if they do move, but it could really be time consuming to figure out what they're doing if they do move."
California's Skeet Reese (21-5), North Carolina's Chris Baumgardner (20-0) and Texas' Cody Bird (19-11) round out the top five on the pro side after day one.
Alabama's Gerald Swindle, who was second in the Angler of the Year standings heading into the finale, split the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass prize on the pro side with Mississippi's Paul Elias. Both anglers brought in 8-pound, 3-ounce lunkers to earn the checks, but were both an ounce shy of the 8-pound, 4-ounce bass of Alabama amateur Walter Stringer. The 8-4 will earn Stringer $500 from Purolator. If his fish remains the largest of the tournament for all four days, he will receive an additional $1,000 from Purolator for the Big Bass of the Tournament.
Stringer was also tops in the amateur standings Thursday. His 12-1 total put him firmly in the lead after day one. Stringer was followed by North Carolina's Gary Abernethy and Alabama's Charles Johnson with weights of 9-0 and 8-2, respectively.
The CITGO Bassmaster Tour on Lake Eufaula will continue Friday. Launch will be at the John C. Land III Landing at 6 a.m. Weigh-ins will be at the landing beginning at 2:45 p.m.
Fans can catch the finale of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer on the Santee Cooper Lakes, Saturday, April 3 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
The CITGO Bassmaster Tour events this season feature the highly interactive and family friendly BASS Sponsor Expo area. Sponsors present interactive exhibits and provide a fun family experience for all ages. The Expo will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Sunday at John C. Land III Landing.
The CastingKids program, presented by CITGO will be held in conjunction with the BASS Sponsor Expo Saturday, from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the John C. Land III Landing. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 can participate in the contest with the chance to earn a scholarship.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. This April, BASS introduces the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats and Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning.
Local Sponsors include Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.