Nearly one-third of Forrest Wood Cup fishermen bag their limits
If Mike Lange did play by play for professional fishing as well as for Penguins hockey, he might have called Thursday a "Look out, Loretta" kind of day.
The anglers competing in the Forrest Wood Cup — bass fishing's largest, richest tournament — put on an impressive performance. Twenty-five of the 77 pros and even two of the co-anglers weighed in limits of fish at Mellon Arena, and all but five of the pros weighed in at least one legal bass.
Leading the way was Dave Lefebre of Union City in Erie County, who checked in with a five-bass limit weighing 8 pounds, 13 ounces of fish.
The put him just ahead of David Curtis of Trinity, Texas, who was just one ounce back at 8 pounds, 12 ounces. Rounding out the top five were Larry Nixon of Bee Bluff, Ark., at 8 pounds, 4 ounces; Scott Suggs of Brant, Ark., at 7 pounds, 12 ounces; and Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., at 7 pounds, 10 ounces.
To put that cumulative catch in perspective, consider that at the Bassmaster Classic on Pittsburgh's rivers in 2005, just eight five-five limits were caught — total — by 46 anglers over three days.
Lefebre — who caught a 3.5-pounder and said he lost one "gigantic" fish — caught his limit on his first five casts on his way to catching 25 or so legal fish overall.
"It was a lot of fun out there today," he said. "It was a real surprise."
He was widely considered a favorite going into this event, given that he won several tournaments here more than a decade ago as an amateur. But he didn't expect to do so well so quickly, he said, especially since most of his past experience had been on sections of the Monongahela River that are off limits for this event.
"I had to start over, like everyone else," Lefebre said.
Like many of the competitors, he declined to say what river he was fishing and what he was using to catch his fish. But he did say that he caught bass fishing both fast and slow, all in three spots around a couple of rocks spaced about 50 yards apart.
Larry Nixon was equally surprised to do so well. He was the 71st of 77 boats to launch, and was sure he would find someone else on the spot he wanted to fish by the time he got there, he said.
When he found it empty, he went to work.
"I caught my limit real quick," he said. "There was nobody there, and no one ever came around."
He was fishing drop-shot style, he said, around a current break — perhaps some submerged rocks — when he caught his fish.
Scott Suggs found one of his first spots free of other anglers, too, but it presented another problem: "It was solid mud," he said.
"I moved up into the next pool, and I limited out," he said.
He credited his catch, from the Allegheny, to "keying on the little things," but wouldn't elaborate, other than to say he was focusing on areas of current and using heavier, bigger tackle — "old Arkansas River-type stuff," he called it — than most of the other fishermen he saw.
Iaconelli — another favorite to win the event — split his time between the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. He said the greatest challenge he ran into on day one of the event had nothing to do with the fish themselves.
"The hardest part for me was negotiating the locks and managing my time," he said. "The locks never seemed right on schedule all day."
Still, that worked out for him on one occasion. Casting around while waiting for passage through one lock, he caught a 2-pound smallmouth, one of his biggest fish of the day.
Like some of the others, he was surprised to catch fish of the size he did.
"My best day in practice was 5 pounds," he said. "So I'm way over where I expected to be. In practice, all I saw were those 12-inchers. I didn't see any 2-pounders."
Other anglers struggled a bit. David Fritts, a former Forrest Wood Cup winner, fished the Allegheny, along with what he figured were 35 others. He failed to catch a legal bass. He actually caught two fish but they were disqualified because of a rules infraction.
"I think there's really quite a few fish out there," he said. "They're just hard to find, and it changes from day to day. I obviously didn't make the right choices today."
Other big names who find themselves far down the list are reigning Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, who sits 32nd with three fish weighing 3 pounds, 9 ounces; 2004 Cup champion Luke Clausen of Gainesville, Ga., who was 45th with three fish weighing 2 pounds, 10 ounces; and Michael Bennett of Lincoln, Calif., the winner of last year's Cup, who is in 62nd place with one fish weighing 1 pound, 3 ounces.
A lot of other anglers are within striking distance of making the cut, however. Only the top 10 pros after Friday get to fish the tournament's last two days, when the $1 million top prize is on the line.
Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., is in 17th place after day 1 of the tournament, with 5 pounds of fish. That's just 1 pound, 10 ounces out of 10th place but also less than one pound ahead of Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., who is in 26th place.
Morgan, who said he was "junk fishing" all day on the Allegheny, thinks he'll need to reach at least 11 pounds to have a shot at making the cut. That won't necessarily be easy, he said, as he has no set pattern or strategy that's carrying him.
"The fishing is just so tough," Morgan said. "Anything that looked good, I was just throwing a bait at it."
Those anglers most comfortably in the lead will be approaching day two of the tournament differently.
Nixon said he'll fish just as hard Friday as he did Thursday to make sure he's in the top 10. That will mean fishing the same area — largely because that's the only spot he's confident of, he said.
"I'm going to ride it like a horse — keep feeding it and keep riding it," he said. "That's all I can do. I know what to look for. It's just hard to find it anywhere else."
Iaconelli said he'll stick with the Allegheny and the Ohio for now, too.
"If I make it to Saturday, you'll see me in the Mon" then, he said.
As for Lefebre, he said he'll try to catch some more fish Friday — but not too many. He wants to bag just enough to make the finals, but not use up all of his best spots or best fish getting there.
"I'll try to catch what I think I'll need and then quit," Lefebre said. "It's like they say, it's all about managing your fish."
FISH TOTALS BETTER THAN 2005
The 77 pros fishing in the Forrest Wood Cup weighed in 231 bass, most of them smallmouth bass. They weighed a cumulative 262 pounds, 1 ounce.
The co-anglers fishing the event caught a total of 102 fish that weighed 114 pounds, 3 ounces.
That adds up to more than 376 pounds of fish caught in one day.
For comparison's sake, the 46 pros who fished the Bassmaster Classic on Pittsburgh's rivers in 2005 caught 291 bass, total, over three days. They weighed a combined 232 pounds, 12 ounces.
The two Pennsylvania fishermen competing in the Cup as co-anglers, meanwhile, are still in the running.
Jason Ober of Johnstown is in 19th place after catching two bass weighing 2 pounds, 5 ounces. Doug Caldwell of Kane is in 23rd place after weighing in two bass weighing 1 pound, 15 ounces.
Tokmmie Goldston of Garnerville, Nev., leads the co-angler division with a five-fish limit weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces. The man holding 10th place is Scot Keefe of Hinesburg, Vt., with two fish weighing 3 pounds, 1 ounce.
The top 10 co-anglers after day 2 of the tournament Friday get to fish one more day, Saturday. At the end of Saturday, the winning co-angler will pocket a $50,000 top prize.