Pierre Part’s Cliff Crochet was very open before this year’s Bassmaster Classic, saying he was solely focusing on winning.

“I don’t care if I lose,” Crochet said earlier in the week. “I just care if I win. This is the Classic: You’re fishing to win.”

The “Cajun Baby” but himself in position to do just that after a windy day on Lake Conroe Friday, bringing in a five-fish sack that weighed 21-8, good enough for third place heading into the weekend. 

Crochet, who qualified for the Classic by winning last year’s final Central Open on the Atchafalaya Basin was animated and loud when he climbed from his boat with his bag.

 “I’ve been very intense in my approach,” Crochet said. “I made it here in the bottom of the ninth inning. I was down in the count, and I know what it means to be here.

“I’m going to keep my eye on the prize.”

Conditions were tough on Conroe with 20- to 30-mph winds causing 4- and 5-foot waves on many parts of the lake. Calmer conditions are in the forecast for Saturday.

Brent Ehrler, a 40-year-old pro from Newport Beach, Calif., is in the lead after Day 1 with a 23-pound, 3-ounce bag boosted by a giant 9-12 largemouth.

“I’m definitely in position, but we have a lot of tournament left,” Ehrler said. “What I really like to do is start a little back in the pack, then jump up a little bit and have a chance to be there at the end. I don’t like jumping out in front, but a 9-12 will do that.

“I basically had a 16- or 17-pound limit today with a 9-12 that really bumped me up.”

Ehrler had a successful career on the FLW Tour, winning more than $2 million before moving to the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2015 

In two-plus seasons since then, he’s done well enough to make the Top 50 cut and earn a check in 12 events, and he’s qualified for the Classic both years he was eligible. But he has yet to claim a victory with B.A.S.S.

He said Friday’s big fish was a complete surprise, and he isn’t certain his pattern will hold up for three days.

“I had one big bite and a bunch of solid fish,” Ehrler said. “I wasn’t expecting to catch any big ones like that. I’ve fished three Toyota Texas Bass Classics here, and I haven’t caught a big bass like that — not even in practice. I didn’t catch one in practice for this tournament.

“I’ve learned something here, and I can do it in multiple areas. But I don’t know how strong.”

The kicker fish in Ehrler’s bag provided a slim margin over a crowded leaderboard that included seven bags of 20 pounds or more. Kentucky angler Bradley Roy is in second place with 22-1, followed by Crochet (21-8), Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey (21-2), Clifford Pirch of Arizona (20-11), Dave Lefebre of Pennsylvania (20-6) and James Elam of Oklahoma (20-1).

Louisiana angler Ryan Lavigne, of Gonzales, is in 17th place with 16-10. Greg Hackney is currently in 26th place with 13-6.

For a complete look at the leaderboard, click here