November 1, 2006 by Rob Newell
DECATUR, Ala. - Other competitors might think it's a little unfair, but when Sam Bass of Section, Ala., weighs in at FLW Outdoors events, he is allowed to come to the stage with six bass - a five-bass limit plus himself.
Today, when Bass weighed in, he brought up five bass for 19 pounds, 4 ounces to take the day-one lead in the Stren Series Championship on Wheeler Lake.
And if that's just way too much bass for you, there's more: Bass now maintains a 3-pound lead over second place.
While Bass could be considered a local on Wheeler, he contends he does not fish the lake very often.
"I live near Guntersville. Why would I come here?" he joked.
Kidding aside, Bass did say that he caught his leading weight in a way similar to how he fishes on Guntersville.
"The common denominator is grass," he said. "These fish relate to the vegetation on Wheeler in much the same way as they do on Guntersville."
Bass fished the Decatur Flats area with topwaters to catch eight keepers.
"I found these fish on Tuesday with topwaters," he said. "The water has come up since then, but they were not too far from where I found them. They simply moved up into some scattered vegetation on a nearby flat. I fished one little area and never moved the boat all day.
"Even though the water has come up, the fish don't move far from the ditches and deeper edges that they call home. When they start sucking the bottom out of the lake at the dam, the fish want to be able to get right back into a comfort zone."
Looking ahead to tomorrow, Bass is a little worried about his primary area.
"They bit so good in there today because the water had finally cleared up a little bit," he added. "But the wind is supposed to blow tomorrow and that will mess the place up. Once the waves start rolling in there, it gets muddy and the bite turns off."
Also fishing in the shallow slop is Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., who sacked five bass weighing 16 pounds, 4 ounces for second today.
"I should have had a real big bag today," Lane lamented. "I lost so many big ones; it makes me sick to think about it."
Lane fished one ditch in the Decatur Flats area most of the day.
"I started out flipping the matted stuff, like we do back home in Florida," he said. "I caught a few that way, but then I noticed they were pulling water, and as they pulled it, it was clearing up. So I made a bait change, and at about 1 o'clock, they started chewing - it was unreal. At one point my partner and I doubled up on two good fish. But the ones I lost are going to haunt me."
Dave Lefebre of Union City, Pa., parked himself in third place with five bass weighing 15 pounds, 10 ounces.
Lefebre had located a nice bunch of fish in practice along a ditch edge, but when he returned to it this morning, he did not get a bite on his first few key casts.
"The fish had vanished, and I immediately knew something was wrong," Lefebre said. "Then I noticed how much the water came up overnight. It's been rising every day, and just from yesterday, it's probably come up another half a foot. I moved about 30 yards up onto a nearby flat, and I found the fish again. I really believe those fish from the ditch repositioned up there with the rising water."
Shepard tied for fourth
In the fourth-place position is Mark Shepard of Labelle, Fla., with a five-bass limit weighing 14 pounds, 5 ounces.
Like Lane, Shepard relied on his Florida flipping roots to point him in the direction of some grassy bass.
"I'm catching some out of grass close to here (Decatur), but I'm also catching some off wood way upriver," Shepard said. "I caught about 12 keepers today, half down here and half up there. The problem is my two best spots are miles apart, and I spent a lot of time running today."
Scott also tied for fourth
Ricky Scott of Van Buren, Ark., is tied with Shepard for fourth place with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 5 ounces.
Scott noted that three of his biggest fish came from one small 20-yard stretch.
"I'm fishing close to here in Decatur, and I'm fishing pretty shallow," he said. "I could get out of the boat and walk to the bank and not get very wet if I had to. But I need the clouds and wind like we had today to fish the way I am. If it gets sunny and calm, I could be in trouble."
David Cioppa of Hopkinton, Maine, weighed in a 7-pound largemouth to take the day-one big-bass award of $750.
Szwankowski leads co-anglers
Thomas Szwankowski of Hope, Ark., boated five bass for 12 pounds, 7 ounces to take the day-one lead in the Co-angler Division of the Stren Series Championship.
Szwankowski spent the day fishing with pro Justin Kerr of California.
"I caught a few on a Carolina rig out deep, but my best fish came on a Horny Toad around a grass mat," Szwankowski said. "My goal tomorrow is to catch a limit. I feel like I need to catch a limit just to hold me in the top 10."
Bill Gift of Alix, Ark., fished with Lane today to sack five keepers weighing 12 pounds, 1 ounce for second place.
"It was just a great day of fishing," Gift said. "Like Bobby, I missed some key fish today, but I ended up with five good ones, so I can't complain."
Gift reported catching his fish on a mixture of flipping and topwaters.
Knight frogs for third
Monte Knight of Quitman, Miss., fished with pro Jess Caraballo to catch four bass weighing 11 pounds, 2 ounces for third in the Co-angler Division.
"I threw a topwater toad all day," Knight said. "I missed some good bites with it, but that's frog fishing for you - some are going to come off from time to time. It seemed the key was to keep cranking it steady over the grass without stopping it."
Orr, Billmaier round out top five
Sammy Orr of Maryville, Tenn., is in fourth place in the Co-angler Division with five bass for 10 pounds, 13 ounces.
And Jason Billmaier of Las Vegas is in fifth place with five bass for 10 pounds, 12 ounces.
Co-angler big bass
The day-one big-bass award of $375 went to red-hot co-angler Bud Strader of Rockwood, Tenn., for his 5-pound, 5-ounce lunker. The cash just keeps piling up for Strader as he also won the last Wal-Mart FLW Series event at Lake of the Ozarks.