COLUMBIANA, Ala. — Local angler Jacob Walker said he’s very familiar with Lay Lake, and he needed every bit of that knowledge to catch a limit of 17 pounds, 4 ounces and grab the Day 1 lead of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open.
“The way it is right now, you have to run from one end to the other,” said Walker, who lives in nearby Alabaster, Ala. “You can’t count anything out, that’s for sure.”
Noting that he was on a pure run-and-gun game plan, Walker said he fished between 40 and 50 spots Thursday. He fished efficiently and didn’t sit long on any one place.
“I was catching some out of the grass when the wind blew, and I bounced around to (several) other spots,” Walker said. “I probably had 20 rods on my deck. It was all junk fishing.
“I came into this tournament expecting to do that. It’s been like this the last three months.”
The sharp cold spell that moved into the area early in the week sent temperatures plunging. Overnight lows dipped into the lower 20s and even dropped a little snow on the lake.
Thursday was a little warmer, but Friday’s rainy outlook suggests another cold front on the way.
Meteorological fluctuations typically impact fishing, but Walker said this week’s weather is less than favorable. His biggest bass was a 4-7 largemouth, but he said he wasn’t able to leverage the lake’s potential.
“I think this weather is hurting me more than helping me; it’s hard to catch a big largemouth right now,” he said. “I got fortunate and caught one good one today. I had four spotted bass and one largemouth.
“I’m a largemouth fisherman. That’s what I do, so I’d much rather catch them.”
Walker said he threw a broad array of baits and ended up catching his weight fish on three of them.
“I caught plenty more on other baits, so you gotta keep them honest,” he said. “It was mostly reaction baits for me; I was staying on the move.
“The stuff I’m fishing is pretty fast, so if I sit down and fish (an area) for 30 minutes, I’ll probably make 25 to 30 casts. Sometimes, if I feel like they’re there, I might make 50 casts or more.”
Across the board, wind exposure was the most important factor for each of Walker’s spots. Wind pushes bait into areas, and that gave Walker confidence he would find hungry bass.
“I knew the bait was there,” he said. “It was blown in there by the wind. Some of it is affected by current, but most of it’s the wind.
“As the day goes on, the wind picks up. But we caught ’em all day. My better bites were later in the day and I have a later boat number tomorrow, so that might help me out.”
Keith Carson of DeBary, Fla., is in second place with 16-10. Recognizing a familiar scenario helped him excel in his first Lay Lake appearance.
“I’m just running everything and fishing like I would in Florida,” he said. “When I saw the grass, I knew how to fish it. I caught a lot of fish on a deeper ledge in 11 to 12 feet, but still really close to the grassline.”
Noting that he fished deep and shallow spots, Carson said he caught all of his bass on reaction baits. Covering water to find tight areas of productivity was his strategy.
“There’s a lot of dead water out there,” Carson said. “I caught a 5-11 and then I caught my second-biggest fish on back-to-back casts. They’re all grouped up when you hit them.”
Clint Miller of Jemison, Ala., is in third with 16-3. Despite struggling with the weather conditions, he found two big opportunities and capitalized on one of them.
“I caught them today, but it was tough,” Miller said. “I lucked out and caught a big one (6-0). But without him, I would have had 11 or 12 pounds.”
Miller caught his big fish at 8:30 and lost one around 4 1/2 at 11. Targeting brush, he caught all of his fish on a 1/4-ounce shaky head with a green pumpkin finesse worm.
“I caught them fishing my strength and fishing slow,” Miller said.
Miller is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-0.
Alex Prince of Blue Ridge, Ga., leads the co-angler division with 7-13.
Cody Shry of Pinehurst, Texas, holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4-0.
Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., leads the Eastern Open standings with 729 points, followed by Justin Atkins with 709. Pat Schlapper is third with 706, while Joshua Stracner is fourth with 699 and Bryan New is fifth with 696.
New also leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 1,341 points.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:15 a.m. CT from Beeswax Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 2:15 p.m.
The tournament is being hosted by Discover Shelby, AL.