Louisiana anglers hold pro, co-angler leads in Bassmaster Central Open on Atchafalaya Basin

MORGAN CITY, La. — Mark Smith grew up fishing rivers in North Louisiana, so the high, muddy waters of the Atchafalaya Basin didn’t intimidate him this week when he arrived at the fishery for the final 2009 Bassmaster Central Open.

“That’s all we’ve got up there,” said Smith, the West Monroe angler who took the Day One lead in the third Central Open of the season. “This type of fishing suits me to a T.”

Smith’s 14-pound, 6-ounce stringer put him a scant 11 ounces ahead of James Biggs of Bedford, Texas, who boated 13-11, good enough for second place. Rounding out the top five were Duane Pittman of Prairieville, La. (13-1), Bassmaster Elite Series pro Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas (12-0) and Kyle Fox of Lakeland, Fla. (11-4).

Smith, who hails from West Monroe, La., took all of his five-fish limit while pitching flooded cypress trees in about 2 feet of water. He said he culled three times from the best of four areas he identified during practice.

“There were other anglers in two of my areas, so I went to my best area and fished it exclusively,” he said.

That fact boosted his confidence going into Day Two.

“I made one pass through there and caught all my fish, so I think I can go back there tomorrow and catch them again,” Smith said. “I feel good about this one.”

At stake for the Central Open pros are two Bassmaster Classic berths and seven Bassmaster Elite Series invitations based on points standings, as well as a top prize of $45,000 (based on a full field). Co-anglers are competing for a $32,000 boat rig.

In the points race among the pros, things look to be changing. Texas’ Todd Castledine, who led the standings coming into the Atchafalaya Basin event, managed just three fish Thursday for 5 pounds, 2 ounces, and goes into Day Two in 54th place.

Bassmaster Elite Series pro James Niggemeyer, who was only one point back in the race before competition began Thursday, brought just 6-5 to the scales and will start Day Two in 43rd place for the event.

On the co-angler side, Vidalia’s David Cooper was in first place with 13-5 after Day One.

“I had a good pro,” Cooper said. “The bites were few and far between, but the bites we got were good ones.”

After Day Two, the field will be cut to the top 30 pros and top 30 co-anglers for the final day.

Competition continues Friday with a 7:15 a.m. ET launch. Weigh-in begins at 3:20 p.m. All events will be held at the Belle River Boat Landing north of Morgan City, La., and free to the public.

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