DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Douglas Lake gave Jackson Swisher a generous birthday gift with a five-fish limit of 16 pounds, 15 ounces that leads Day 1 of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Southern Open on this French Broad River impoundment.
Turning 19 today, the pro from Lake City, Fla., devoted his day to fishing bluffs close to the Douglas Dam. This pattern delivered a productive day and included a 5-10 that’s in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors.
Swisher targeted the vertical rock walls with a 7-inch white Megabass Magdraft swimbait. He said he dialed in his pattern during practice, but today yielded a favorable twist.
“All week I’ve been catching some big smallmouth, but today the largemouth showed up,” Swisher said. “That 5-10 was my second fish of the morning, so that was a great way to start the day.”
Thanking his father for driving eight hours from Florida to deliver five swimbaits before the tournament started, Swisher said he believes the lake’s falling water level — down about 4 feet since the weekend — pulled the smallmouth off the wall.
“I noticed the water was (significantly lower) because this morning, I was going to fish a laydown I found in practice, and it was out of the water,” Swisher said.
Adjusting to the falling water, Swisher paralleled the bluff and slow rolled his bait through the strike zone.
“I was putting that swimbait right on the bank and running it right down the edge,” he said. “It was 35 feet deep on the edge of the bluff wall and the swimbait was going about 20 feet down. They were just killing it.”
Long casts were essential for covering big sections of the bluff and attracting attention. Knowing the tendency for noncommittal bass to trail swimbaits and lose interest, Swisher said he kept an eye on his Garmin LiveScope.
“Whenever I’d see one chase it, I’d speed up and then kill it,” he said. “That was really the key to (triggering bites).”
Swisher said he had his limit by about 10 o’clock. Admitting his day turned out better than expected, he said he made several upgrades throughout the day, including one that gave him a pure largemouth bag.
“I actually had a 2-pound smallmouth and I culled that one with a 4-pound largemouth,” Swisher said. “I had a really good day; I actually lost two close to 5 pounds at the end of the day, so I could have had 20 to 21 pounds.
“I’m hoping tomorrow I can go out there and execute and catch the fish I lost today and hopefully have an even better day tomorrow.”
Josh Douglas of Isle, Minn., is in second place with 16-9. Weighing a mixed bag of three largemouth and two hefty smallmouth, Douglas said he fished midlake and caught all of his fish on an offshore saddle in about 15 to 20 feet.
“I have largemouth on one side of the spot and smallmouth on the other side,” Douglas said. “They’re both hanging in the same area, but just not together.”
Douglas caught most of his fish on reaction baits in the morning. Although the afternoon was less productive, he remained on his area to guard its potential.
“I stayed there all day to make sure nobody else got it, so I can fish it tomorrow,” Douglas said. “It wasn’t a very big area; I have a 100-foot cast one way and a 100-foot cast the other way.
“When they slowed down later in the day, I had to switch to finesse baits to keep them biting.”
Mike Keyso of North Port, Fla., is in third place with 15-14. Fishing a flat-sided squarebill in 4 feet of water, Keyso targeted a mudline and found his fish sitting behind that transition.
“I was targeting secondary points,” he said. “I could run that and get bit anywhere. I hit probably 25 points, but three of them were most productive. I hit the three good ones three different times and caught fish on them every time.”
Keyso said his day was marked with tragedy and triumph.
“I lost two big ones first thing, but made up some ground later,” he said. “Hopefully, I can catch them again tomorrow.”
Alex Prince of Blue Ridge, Ga., leads the co-angler division with 10-11. Devoting his day to dragging a shaky head with a 5-inch green pumpkin Senko, Prince nabbed an afternoon day-maker.
“I cast behind the boat and caught a 4-12 at 3:30 — about 20 minutes before we had to check in,” Prince said. “I had about a 2-pounder that I got rid of.
“It was about the luckiest thing that could have happened. I had to sit down; I was shaking.”
Prince’s best fish holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers.
David Williams of Newton, N.C., leads the Southern Open points standings with 378. Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., is second with 365, followed by Swisher with 356, Andy Hribar of Lakeville, Minn., with 355 and Blake Smith of Lakeland, Fla., with 353.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET at Dandridge Boat Ramp. The weigh-in will be held at the ramp at 2:45 p.m.
Visit Jefferson County and the Town of Dandridge are hosting the event.