The wind blew harder, the water level rose and its temperature dropped, but Greg Vinson figured out the changing Bull Shoals Lake fishing conditions to lead the Bassmaster Elite Series Ramada Quest. The Alabama angler finished 1 pound over Skeet Reese and less than 2 pounds over 2013 Bassmaster Classic winner Cliff Pace.
Vinson weighed in 16 pounds, 13 ounces Friday, the event’s first day after stormy weather delayed the planned start on Thursday. Reese turned in 15-13, and Pace had 15-2.
The post-frontal northern Arkansas bass stumped several pros — 16 of 100 didn’t weigh in a five-fish limit — but Vinson used the change from the early-week practice period to his advantage.
“I knew conditions were going to change, and things worked in my favor with the water level and weather,” said Vinson, who is from Wetumpka, Ala.
Vinson, protecting his advantage, was cryptic about the pattern he hit on and how the lake’s clear water influenced what he did.
“I hope it’s a pattern that will continue to produce throughout the tournament,” was all he said. “We all are always trying to guess what the fish will do when conditions change.”
Vinson weighed one smallmouth and four largemouth, a mixed bag that was not uncommon on the first day of the Ramada Quest. His first keeper — a 4-7 largemouth he caught in the first 10 minutes — was his largest of the day. His final keeper, which he landed about noon, was his second largest at about 4 pounds, he estimated.
“The first keeper and the last keeper were the keys,” he said. “As well as we caught fish last year, a 4-pounder was like gold. To have two in one day, that’s awesome.”
Vinson was referring to the 2012 Quest on Bull Shoals. Stained water and postspawn bass pushed the catch rate high, but lunkers were rare.
As quick as the 4-7 bit Friday, Vinson said he had to work “a long time” for another keeper (15 inches for largemouth and smallmouth bass, and 12 inches for spotted bass). His nerves were tested.
“Then I caught a spot that measured, and that calmed me down,” he said.
One pound behind Vinson was Reese, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champ and 2007 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. He also adjusted to the changes.
“I felt that with the conditions the way they were this morning — everything I learned in practice was pretty much thrown out the window,” said Reese of Auburn, Calif.
“The water temperature dropped 6, 8 degrees, and probably 10 degrees in some areas, and the water came up a couple feet,” Reese said. “I caught a couple of fish early, and that keyed me into a pattern that paid off. I had a limit by 9 o’clock — the best morning I’ve had all week.”
Reese said he caught 12 to 15 keepers throughout the day.
“There were two patterns I thought would be prevalent, and one of them I didn’t even do,” he said, playing it close to the vest, just like Vinson.
Pace of Petal, Miss., weighed 15-2, putting him in third place and 1 pound, 11 ounces behind the leader. Tied in fourth place at 14-15 were Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., and Randy Howell of Springville, Ala. Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., finished his Day 1 in sixth place with 14-14, 1 ounce behind Christie and Howell.
Those anglers are Top 5 leaders on Day 1 of the competition for a first prize of $100,000 and an instant berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. Pros also are after points to qualify for the 2014 Classic and for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy.
Friday’s leaderboard was tight almost throughout the standings. Midfield hit just shy of 12 pounds. One pro in that group was Kurt Dove of Del Rio, Texas, who weighed 12-0 after a most unusual day: He pulled off what he called a “grand slam.” In the first 20 minutes in one area and on the same lure, Dove hooked into a smallmouth, a largemouth, a spotted bass and a walleye (the latter was not a catch he could weigh-in).
Bradley Roy of Lancaster, Ky., brought in the largest bass of the day, a 5-6 largemouth. The 5-plus-pounder leads the Quest’s Carhartt Big Bass competition for $1,000, plus a $500 bonus if the angler is wearing Carhartt apparel.
The Ramada Quest continues Saturday and extends to Monday — still a full four days after the original starting date of April 18 was delayed due to high winds and a line of severe storms that moved through Arkansas. Now the entire field of 100 pros will compete Saturday. On Sunday, the 50 who made the Day 2 cut will return to Bull Shoals Lake for the third round. On Monday, only the Top 12 will be in contention for the top prize of $100,000.
Fans can follow the action on Bassmaster.com or come to the Bull Shoals White River State Park to watch the pros weigh-in each day starting at 3:15 p.m.