He's a full-time fireman who has caught a lot of big California largemouth bass, but none of them were as important to big Bill Siemantel as the fish he caught Thursday at Clear Lake.

Siemantel, 34, of Castaic, California. and a member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, took the first-day lead at the CITGO Bassmaster Western Open presented by Busch Beer in Clearlake, Calif. with a stringer of five bass totaling 25 pounds. He was penalized four ounces for a dead fish, but his final 24 pounds, 12 ounces still gave him a comfortable lead over second-place finisher Scott Nielsen of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nielsen's five-bass stringer Thursday totaled 20 pounds, 9 ounces.

Fishing against 123 other boaters, Siemantel found a hot spot on California's biggest lake and did what he does best, caught huge bass. His stringer included a 7-pound 10-ouncer was five ounces shy of the big bass of the day, a 7-15 turned in by Nick Grebb of Roseville.

Siemantel has caught bass up to nearly 20 pounds on his hometown Castaic Lake, but he was more than happy with that 7-pounder in his bag.

The tight-lipped firefighter refused to give up any secrets or say what he planned to do on day two. He hasn't fished the big circuit for a while, but he said he owns a win in the BASS Invitational at Lake Powell in 1997.

"Dude, I've got two days ahead of me, so I'm not that excited right now," Siemantel said. "I'm just going to go out tomorrow and do what I did today, look for bites."

It was a tough day of fishing for many of the anglers. The weather changed from hot and sticky to clear and windy. The bass appeared to be well-fed on shad. The boaters said they were catching 40 to 50 fish during pre-fishing trips, but the numbers dropped way down for Thursday, and a good limit of five was a fine day.

Nielsen, in second to Siemantel, said he caught all of his fish from one long bank, and he worked it hard.

"It took me about 45 minutes to work the bank, and when I reached the end, I just went back up and worked it again," said Nielsen, who just won a boat and cash at a team tournament last week on Lake Mead.

Rich Caro, a veteran "bellyboater" from Santa Rosa, led the non-boater division with a five-bass stringer totaling 17 pounds, 4 ounces, with a 6-pounder.

Caro founded the Sonomo County Belly Boaters Bass Club and just finished ninth in the club's big float tube tournament last week at Clear Lake. He said he caught his big bass Thursday on a Fish JC hand-made swim bait that imitated a hitch, a native fish in Clear Lake. He said lure maker Joe Castro calls it a "four- eye bait because it has four eyes on it.

"I'm jacked right now," Caro said. "I called Skeet Reese when he won $100,000 and congratulated him, and he said, 'Rich, you gotta get out of that belly boat and get out here and fish for money.' I listened to him. And now I'm ready to go pro."

The CITGO Bassmaster Western Open continues Friday and Saturday. Launch is daily at 7:15 a.m. and weigh-in is at 3:30 p.m.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. In 2004, BASS will introduce 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, Chevrolet Trucks, Yamaha Outboards, Mercury Marine, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Progressive Insurance, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Diamond Cut Jeans, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, and BankOne.

Associate Sponsors include Bryant Heating and Air Conditioning and G3 Boats.

Local Sponsors include Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit