Midmorning flurry vaults Surman into lead at Bassmaster Open on Lake Ouachita

While Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Ouachita presented by SEVIIN was mostly tough for Mike Surman, one stop produced a limit of largemouth weighing 20 pounds, 5 ounces that put him in the lead.

Anchoring his bag with a 7-pounder, the Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifier division pro from Boca Raton, Fla., holds a 6-ounce advantage over Andrew Hargrove, while Evan Kung is third with 19-9.

“Coming into this, I thought there would be one or two guys who would catch 20 pounds. I wasn’t expecting it to be me,” Surman said. “To me, 20 is about the maximum on this pond, especially with bright skies and tough fishing conditions.”

A longtime FLW Tour pro, Surman has competed on Lake Ouachita in the past, notably finishing fourth during the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup. That event was held in the blazing heat of August, so Surman did not have a good idea of what to expect in this week’s event.

“Especially for a Florida boy, it's been cold. This week I have been in layers,” he said. “It’s been a little tough. I’m really thrilled with 20 pounds.”

Temperatures rose close to 70 degrees Thursday in Hot Springs, but calm and sunny conditions made the fishing stingy for many anglers.

After practice, Surman anticipated he could catch around 11 or 12 pounds rotating through several different areas. That plan, however, did not pan out exactly how he thought.

“I was really struggling,” he said. “I pulled up into one little spot about 11 o’clock and I made 15 or 20 casts and had 20 pounds and I left. It was a good 20 minutes, let's put it that way.”

His money stretch was about 50 yards long, and the bass he found were located in about 12 feet of water. Surman’s flurry began with a couple of 3-pounders before he landed the 7-pounder. After filling a limit, he made one more cast and culled a 2-pounder with another 3 1/2.

One bait produced all six of the bites Surman landed.

“All week, I have been doing a bunch of different things, but there is one key thing I’ve been catching the fish on,” he explained. “I tried a bunch of other things today and it really didn’t work. I put the bait in my hand and went fishing. I’m not going to put it down tomorrow.

“There are also some key little things that are in this stretch and that is where I caught two or three of the really good ones.”

Warm temperatures are expected Friday as well, but a front is expected to pass through the area, bringing the potential for clouds, wind and rain. While Surman isn’t sure if more bass will be located on that magic spot, he does anticipate the bite getting better for all anglers.

“If we get a bit of overcast (conditions) and a little bit of wind, I think they will bite better. But they will bite better for everybody,” Surman said. “I’m confident that I should be able to catch five tomorrow.”

After a dismal practice, Hargrove landed 19-15 to land in second. The Moody, Texas, pro settled into one big flat where he had one big bite during the warm-up period and filled his limit around 11:30 a.m. There are several deep points extending off of the flat.

Using his forward-facing sonar, Hargrove located several groups of bass between 20 and 40 feet of water. One bait caught the majority of his bass.

“They are actually on the bottom,” he explained. “I probably caught 50% of what I saw today — which is crazy because practice wasn’t anywhere close to that. I think that’s why I got so many to bite today because I was fishing so deep. I don’t think those fish see as many baits as the fish that are up shallow.”

Kung, meanwhile, anchored his bag with the Big Bass of the Day, a 9-14 lunker largemouth that he caught during the morning hours.

“I thought it was a striper on LiveScope,” Kung said. “I cast it and saw him eat it. It got wrapped in a tree, so I had to go above it and untangle it. The fish sort of just floated up and I grabbed it. It felt like forever, especially when I saw it was actually a bass.”

The Pickering, Ontario, Canada, native filled a small limit of spotted bass early, but a move to a shallower area soon after that produced better quality bass, including the 9-14.

The majority of the bass he caught were suspended and chasing balls of bait in standing timber. He triggered bites with a Damiki rig.

“It is pretty much all LiveScoping,” he said. “There is one main section of the lake that I’m fishing and one spot where I caught all of my fish. It was half winter, half prespawn fishing. I’m not seeing a lot of bait, but when I do get around the bait, that is where the bass are.”

The day wasn’t without a hiccup, as Kung bent his LiveScope mount on a piece of standing timber and wasn’t able to fish effectively much of the afternoon.

“Hopefully tomorrow I can fish the rest of my areas and catch a few more good ones,” Kung said.

Hot Springs native Chris Darby leads the co-angler division with a three-bass limit weighing 8-2. He is followed by Nevada’s Mike Steckel in second with 7-15 and Benton, Ark., angler Alex Allen in third with 7-12. New York’s Jimmy O’Brien caught the Big Bass of the Day on the co-angler side, a 6-1 largemouth.

The full field of 199 boats will launch from the Brady Mountain Recreation Area beginning at 6:45 a.m. CT and return for the weigh-in starting at 2:45 p.m. The co-angler champion will be crowned at the end of the Day 2 weigh-in, while the Top 10 pros will advance to Championship Saturday.

The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 6:30 a.m. CT, with streaming available on Bassmaster.com, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

The tournament is being hosted by Visit Hot Springs.