Florida native Kyle Fox must have some Northern blood coursing through his angler veins.
As he led the Mississippi River Rumble on Thursday with 16 pounds, 8 ounces, the Bassmaster Elite Series rookie from Lakeland, Fla., was reminded that he tied down his Elite qualification in 2011 by excelling on northern fisheries like Lake Erie and New York’s Lake Oneida.
Fox, 24, added the Mississippi River to that list by beating 97 other anglers on a river he’d never before competed on and first saw three days ago.
“I think I am so limited with what I know about a place I fish the first time, I have to go with what I do best,” he said. That, he said, was to hit the river’s shallow grassy backwaters, not so unlike what he was weaned on in Florida.
Fox led the Rumble by 3 ounces over Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., in second place with 16-5. Fox was ahead of the Top 5 by less than 1 pound: Grant Goldbeck of Boerne, Texas, with 16-0; Billy McCaghren of Mayflower, Ark., with 15-11; and Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., with 15-10.
The spread between first and 49th place — the cutoff after Day 2 — was even tighter. Just 3 pounds, 11 ounces, separated Fox from 49th place, a position shared by five pros.
Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., who sat about midway in that Top 49 mix with 13-13, summarized the situation with his on-stage comment: “Ounces are going to be everything.”
The leader said he had a five-fish limit within 20 minutes of Thursday’s start.
“I got on the right spot that had a good school in it,” Fox said. He stayed put for most of the day, working to improve his bag. He said he caught about 30 fish by day’s end, culling several times.
“It’s all about the method that catches them,” he said, sharing only the detail that his method is probably not similar any other Elite competitor’s.
Martens, the last boat to leave the dock Thursday, said his best spot was “something everybody else missed.”
“And I found a second spot like the first, maybe something with a little better quality, some 3-pounders,” he said.
By the end of the day, “I was actually shaking them off,” he said. The bass were 2 to 2 1/2-pounders — perhaps good enough to save for Day 2 — but they wouldn’t have helped him improve his weight Thursday, he said.
“My goal is Top 12, at least, to try to regain a Classic berth,” said Martens, whose slow start to the season could jeopardize a 14th trip to the championship.
Goldbeck, with 16 pounds even, said he’s sharing his water with two other Elite pros.
“I also have two little sleeper spots, and I tried to sneak in there without them seeing me to try a little something different,” said Goldbeck.
First prize in the Rumble is $100,000 and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. The pros also will be out to earn points, which count toward a postseason entry and qualification for the 2013 Classic.
The largest bass of the day was caught by Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark. His 4-13 was the first candidate for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of the tournament, worth up to $1,500.
The Rumble will continue through Sunday at Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse. Takeoff is set for 6:15 a.m., and weigh-ins will begin at 3:15 p.m. The Bassmaster Elite Series Family Festival will open at noon on Saturday and Sunday.
All Bassmaster fan activities are free and open to the public.
Image courtesy Bassmaster