ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. Conventional wisdom says one big bass per day will give you a good shot at winning a tournament on Lake Martin.
So, when Florida angler Cliff Prince caught a pair of giants on back-to-back casts Thursday, he needed a quick breather to collect himself.
One weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces, the other weighed 6-3, and they propelled Prince to a leading first-day weight of 19-13 in the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Martin presented by Econo Lodge.
“Back-to-back casts — it was unbelievable,” Prince said. “I had to sit down for a minute because I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”
Like many of the competitors in this week’s 110-angler field, Prince has very little experience on Lake Martin — and the three official practice days prior to the tournament weren’t exactly kind to him.
But before 9 a.m. Thursday, he idled past a spot that he recognized as a potential big-fish haven.
“I didn’t fish that spot in practice,” said Prince, who was tightlipped about exactly where and how he caught his fish. “But I knew I had gotten bit on another stretch like that. I figured if I caught a big one, it would be down that stretch — and I caught two.”
Unlike Prince, who has fished just 85 tournaments with B.A.S.S. — and none on Lake Martin — the two anglers just behind him in the standings have extensive experience on the fishery.
Takahiro Omori, a Japanese angler who now resides in Texas, earned checks in Bassmaster Invitationals held on Martin in 2001 and 2002. He also won an FLW Tour event on Martin in 2001, earning a $100,000 first-place prize.
Omori caught 18-2 Thursday to land in second place.
“I never even pre-fished this time, so it’s been at least 15 years since I was here,” Omori said. “I didn’t fish any of the same stuff from back then.”
His Day 1 performance, Omori said, far outpaced his practice results.
“I just had a great day,” he said. “My practice was only like 7 or 8 pounds a day. But today, I had a 5 1/2-pounder and a 4-pounder and caught maybe 10 more keepers. I had bites all day long.”
Kentucky angler Mark Menendez, who is in third with 17-9, has three checks in four previous B.A.S.S. events — and unlike Omori, he said he benefited Thursday from knowledge gained more than 15 years ago.
“I’ve spent my fair share of time here, and nothing’s changed,” Menendez said. “It’s the same old, same old.
“If there’s an area that you think you’re going to catch one in, you’ll go over there and catch one. Now, whether it’ll be a big one or not, that’s a roll of the dice.”
Menendez struck paydirt on the big-fish front twice Thursday.
“I had a 6-pounder and another one that was almost 5 — and on this pond, that really helps,” he said. “Anytime you get those bites here on Lake Martin, you’ve got to get them in the boat. They’re critical.”
Second-year Alabama pro Jesse Wiggins was fourth with 15-5, and California veteran Skeet Reese was fifth with 14-13. But the weights could change drastically throughout the leaderboard with a weather change in the forecast.
While Thursday was cool and mostly clear, warmer weather is scheduled to move into central Alabama with rain and thunderstorms the next three days.
Prince said he has a backup plan — just in case.
“It probably will change things,” he said. “But I’m catching them two different ways.
“I don’t know if I can duplicate what I did today, but I can at least catch some fish.”
The tournament will continue Friday, with the field being trimmed to the Top 51 for Saturday’s semifinal round. Only the Top 12 will advance to Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.
Daily takeoffs will be held at 6:15 a.m. CT from Wind Creek State Park with weigh-ins scheduled back at the park for 2:40 p.m.
The Alexander City Chamber of Commerce is hosting the event.