VanDam Runs and Guns Past Smith Lake Sight Fishermen

Jasper, Ala. – Smith Lake is surprising everyone. Anglers who fished the lake in practice figured 10 pounds a day would be a healthy catch, but they were dead wrong. Ten pounds wasn’t even good enough for 25th place today as the sun was shining and the fish were biting on Day One of the season-opening Bassmaster Elite 50 event.

With plenty of bass shallow and preparing to spawn, sight fishing was the presentation of choice for the bluebird conditions the top 50 pros enjoyed today, but three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 2001 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam sits atop the leader board with a limit catch weighing 20 pounds, two ounces. What’s more, the Kalamazoo, Mich., pro used a run and gun approach to take the top spot.

“A lot of guys are sight fishing out here,” VanDam said, “but these fish are really fussy. I had to throw a bunch of different plastics at them.”

VanDam’s limit earned him the Busch Heavyweight Catch of the Day and an additional $1,000 in prize money. If his tally is among the best at the end of the Elite 50 season, he could earn his way to the Busch Shootout.

Following Van Dam are Grand Saline, Texas’ Dean Rojas (17-3), two-time Angler of the Year and 1995 Classic champion Mark Davis (16-12), Minneola, Texas’ Kelly Jordon (15-3) and Ardmore, Oklahoma’s Jeff Kriet (15-2).

Rojas, who used sight-fishing techniques to bag the biggest five-bass limit in BASS history (45-2) in 2001 on Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga, was eyeballing his fish again today, though he offered few details on the methods that have him in second place.

“I’d rather not get too specific with what I’m doing out there,” Rojas said. “I can tell you I’m running and gunning out there and keying on certain stretches in the backs of creeks. I think my areas have enough to keep me in the mix.”

Another angler in the mix is Mark Davis, the perennial standout who had a disappointing CITGO Bassmaster Tour season and is looking to qualify for the Classic through the Elite 50s. Davis won two Elite 50s in 2004 and is in the thick of things again at Smith Lake. Two off-season shoulder surgeries are finally paying off.

“I’ve just had a terrible season so far,” Davis said, “but I’m putting that behind me because I feel 100 percent now.”

Davis was sight fishing on main lake pockets to catch his bass. His limit included a five-pound, eight-ounce largemouth that was good enough for the Purolator Big Bass Award and $1,000. Davis caught the lunker on a floating worm.

Alabama pro Tim Horton came to the scales with a limit of bass weighing 15 pounds, six ounces – good enough for fourth place except for a rules violation. Horton’s first day catch was disqualified by tournament officials because his observer held the boat while Horton was fishing. The practice had been discussed and disallowed by tournament officials at an earlier briefing.

If today’s top anglers are to repeat their Day One success, they’ll need to adjust to changing weather. The forecast is calling for scattered thunderstorms and cooler temperatures tomorrow, which promises to make things tougher for the sight fishermen and may bring on some topwater action.

“You’ll have to change things up as the weather changes,” VanDam said. “Different patterns will develop, and the topwater bite should definitely be good this weekend.”

Each Elite 50 angler will have a payday in the no-entry-fee event. The winner will take home a check for $100,000, and the last place finisher will earn $5,000. The total payout for each of the four Elite 50 events is $400,000.

Part One of the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series event on Smith Lake will be telecast on The CITGO Bassmasters on Saturday, April 30 at 10:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Part Two will air on May 7 at 10:00 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, 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 Bassmaster Elite 50 Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).

Local Sponsors include the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County.

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