Dean Rojas didn’t initially have the first stop of the 2012 Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix inked on his 2012 schedule, but as the tournament drew closer, he was unable to resist the allure of Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake.
“It’s only a couple of hours from Douglas Lake where the last Elite Series tournament was held, so I decided to fish this event. I’ve always enjoyed fishing here, and I’ve done well on Old Hickory in the past,” said Rojas, referring to his 4th place finish on Old Hickory Lake during the 2008 Elite Series season.
On Thursday, the Arizona pro was the first angler to cross the PAA Tournament Series weigh-in stage, and his name remained at the top of the leader board after the last bass of the day hit the scales. With a limit weighing 17.43, he edged out Steve Kennedy by .16 pounds for the Day One lead.
“The quality was just there today,” said Rojas. “I fished a bunch of different areas, and my goal going into the day was to put myself in a position to win the tournament. Past history played a little bit of a role, but I think that I found some stuff that will help me out for the rest of the week.”
Rojas said that he shared water with fellow competitors throughout the day. “There were other boats everywhere that I went, so that’s just something that I’ll have to deal with as the tournament progresses.” His big bite, a 3.99 pound largemouth, came late in the day. “It was totally unexpected,” said Rojas. “I laid off of my best water around noon and caught the big one while I was searching.”
While Rojas boxed a solid limit early, Steve Kennedy, who brought a limit of largemouth weighing 17.27 pounds to the scales to finish in 2nd place, didn’t connect with his quality fish until the waning hours of tournament competition.
Opting to start on an offshore area that he believed held bigger largemouth, the Alabama pro struggled early. “I really thought that I had located some deep fish that I could catch,” he explained. “I caught one three pounder out there, but I had to go through a lot of white bass.”
Ditching the offshore bite, Kennedy relied on past history to bolster his weight. Revisiting several areas that he found a decade ago when he finished in 31st place in an FLW Tour event on Old Hickory in 2002, he boated three more keepers and then went looking for his limit fish.
“I’m not kidding you, I probably lost or missed my fifth keeper at least four times in a row,” he said. “It was a real struggle.” Towards the end of the day, Kennedy said that he “just went fishing,” and that’s when his afternoon started to get interesting.
After filling out a limit, Kennedy boated his biggest bass of the day, a 4.88 pound bruiser, which held a surprise. “The fish had a baby duck down in its throat,” Kennedy explained. “It wasn’t one of those little fuzzy ducklings, because this one had actual feathers.” Kennedy estimated that the duck added another six ounces to his overall weigh.
Expecting to top out around 14 pounds on Thursday, Kennedy said that he was surprised to reach the 17 pound mark. “My timing was really messed up today. I’ve already decided that I’m done with the deep stuff, and I’m just going to go fishing and cover water tomorrow because that’s what I do best.”
Hendersonville, Tennessee’s Tim Messer finished the day in 3rd place with a limit weighing 13.81 pounds, and Texan James Niggemeyer finished in 4th place after bringing 13.72 pounds to the scales. Rounding out the top five was veteran pro Gary Yamamoto, who weighed a limit for 13.54.
In all, 25 out of the 68 anglers on the pro side broke the 10 pound mark, and 48 anglers weighed-in a five bass limit.
Thursday’s Big Bass honors were shared between Jason Cordiale and Harold Allen, who both brought in kickers weighing 5.60 pounds.
For Cordiale, who only managed to catch two keepers on Thursday, the big bite salvaged his day. “I actually lost one that was between 8 and 9 pounds today,” he stated. “It was thrashing around at the side of the boat and I just couldn’t get it in. The 5.60 pounder that I caught hit my bait right at the boat, and I watched the whole thing happen.”
With a limit weighing 11.82, Harold Allen’s big bass vaulted him into the top 15 in the standings. “Sometimes Lady Luck just jumps up and grabs you,” said the veteran Texas angler. “I have one area that is just big fish water, and that’s where the fish came from. Honestly, I thought that I knew how to catch a big one, but I was just fortunate that I was able to get one to bite.”
On the co-angler side, Jason Hill took the lead on Thursday with a three bass limit weighing 8.88 pounds. Competing in the first tournament of his life, Hill said that it was a smooth day on the water with his pro partner, Oklahoma’s Fred Roumbanis.
“I probably caught around eight keepers today,” he said. “I kind of switched things up throughout the day, and we fished both deep and shallow. I was a marshal on the Elite Series a few years ago, so I had somewhat of an idea what to expect. It was a lot different to actually be out there and try to catch fish.”
The tournament will again launch on Friday Morning out of Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville, Tennessee at 6:30 a.m. CT, weather permitting. Friday’s weigh-in will be held lakeside at the Sanders Ferry Park boat ramp beginning at 4:15 p.m. CT. At the conclusion of Friday’s competition day, the field will be cut to the top 15 anglers, and the final day weigh-in will be held in Nashville at the Bass Pro Shops on Opry Mills Drive beginning at 4:30 p.m. CT.
Following the weigh-in on Saturday, country music star Daryle Singletary will perform a free concert for fans at Bass Pro Shops in Nashville.