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As the sun dawned on the first day of competition for the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup on Florida's Lake Istokpoga, the anglers were full of hope and excitement that their playing grounds would produce mightily.
Lake Istokpoga has a reputation for being one of the premier trophy producing bodies of water in the state, which is saying something when considering that the whole state is known for producing giant bass. For a tournament angler, that's not all Florida represents however. The Sunshine State is known for providing anglers with a feast on one day, and famine on the next. Sudden cold fronts can put Florida's bass into a foul mood and high winds can dirty the normally relatively clear water, making fishing extremely difficult.
However, the old adage amongst tournament competitors is that no matter how bad things get, someone is going to catch them good. When the field consists of 24 of the best bass anglers in the world, that statement is sure to be factual.
As each Major League Fishing event has, the Elimination Rounds consist of eight anglers doing battle over three, two and a half hour periods to decide which of the four anglers would move on to the Sudden Death Rounds.
Day One anglers featured the two native Floridians in the entire roster for the Challenge Cup, Bobby Lane of Lakeland and Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, a 2013 General Tire Summit Cup finalist.
Joining them would be Alabama's Boyd Duckett, Oklahoman Edwin Evers, Louisiana's Greg Hackney, Texan Kelly Jordon, Californian Ish Monroe and South Carolinian Jason Quinn.
As the first period began, everyone on the water expected that it may take some time to sift through the pencil reeds, cattails, lily pads, hyacinth, hydrilla, arrowhead and a variety of other aquatic vegetation to find the bass. The whole thing seemed akin to the proverbial needle in the haystack scenario.
It was no surprise at all that a Floridian was the first to strike. At 7:53 a.m. local time, Lane was the first angler to swing a bass over the gunnel of his boat. The 1-pound, 13-ounce largemouth made him the early leader. It would take another 13 minutes for an angler to post a bass to the leader board, and it would be another Florida native making the statement.
In fact, Grigsby would go on a run that would produce the next three bass at 8:05, 8:24 and 8:33 a.m. to take an early lead. But, it wouldn't take too long for the rest of the field to start making their mark. By 9:28 a.m., each of the anglers had caught a keeper bass, big numbers were hard to come by. The field produced a total of 18 keepers in the morning's first period.
Lane would lead the pack with three bass for 9 pounds, 9 ounces. His catch included a 6-pound, 5-ounce beast that he flipped out of some pencil reeds with matted vegetation. Grigsby would ride the three fish he caught early in the period to a second place standing with 7 pounds, 1 ounce. Evers would hold a slim margin over Monroe with his three bass weighing 5 pounds, 5 ounces, to Monroe's 5 pounds, 2 ounces. In fifth position was Hackney, who survived a battle with a large alligator that he accidentally hooked on a Strike King Red Eye Shad, had two bass for 2 pounds, 1-ounce. In sixth place was Duckett with two bass weighing 1 pound, 15 ounces. Tied with Duckett was Quinn who caught only one solid keeper. Jordon brought up the final spot with a single keeper weighing 14 ounces.
While it is a certainty that at least one of the anglers will figure out the dominant pattern, there is another certainty in bass fishing that says things will change, and change they did in the second period. The overall numbers of bass caught during the period would not change much. The group managed to catch 19 bass in the second period, but the anglers who caught them were different.
While the Floridians were expected to run away with the day, one of them stayed steady while the other struggled in period two. Grigsby managed to produce at a steady pace while Lane failed to catch a keeper in the middle part of the day.
However, the angler who truly made a move in the second period was Monroe. He made a move to the upper, northwest corner of the zone and found a canal where he could pick apart cover and boat docks with his Phat Frog and Punching gear to take the lead at the end of the second period. Monroe caught three fish that would jump his total weight to 14 pounds, 14 ounces, to leap to the catbird's seat heading into the final period.
Holding on to second place, Grigsby posted three more solid keepers to bring his total to 13 pounds, 9 ounces. Evers made a strong move of his own, producing four small keepers that would push him to third place with a total of 11 pounds, 10 ounces. Lane stayed in qualifying position despite the fact he didn't post a keeper in the round. His 9 pounds, 9 ounces, was enough to hold off Jordon, who jumped up to fifth place with 6 pounds, 4 ounces. Following him in sixth place was Duckett with 5 pounds, 13 ounces, Hackey in seventh with 5 pounds, 9 ounces and Quinn in eighth with 5 pounds, 4 ounces.
Again, change would prove to be the only constant theme when it came to this group during the final period of the day. While the first two periods saw the field post results in slow and steady fashion, several of the anglers managed to get on a hot streak, while others who had been steady, found the afternoon bite at Istokpoga less than hospitable.
Lane lived up to the "Florida Hype," posting seven bass in the final period. His impressive afternoon featured twin 5-pound, 11-ounce largemouth that helped push his total weight to 27 pounds, 8 ounces, and give him the win in the first Elimination Round.
Another angler who would get on the escalator to the top floors would be Duckett. He posted six fish to the leader board and finished in second place with a total eight of 19 pounds, 15 ounces. Tied with Duckett was Monroe. Evers made a move late in the period to bring his total to 19 pounds, 9 ounces, to grab the final qualifying spot, ahead of Grigsby. Grigsby struggled in the final period, only producing one fish to bring his total to 15 pounds, 4 ounces.
Jordon finished in sixth with 13 pounds, 11 ounces, Hackney in seventh with 8 pounds, 2 ounces, and Quinn in eighth with 5 pounds, 4 ounces.
The first round of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup on Florida's Lake Istokpoga is now in the books. With two more Elimination Rounds remaining, the four qualifiers could do little but sit and wait for Sudden Death, while the four who didn't qualify pack up to head home until next Major League Fishing event.
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