A heavy, 21-pound, 15-ounce limit of largemouth bass, anchored by an impressive 7-9 big fish, put Ray Hanselman Jr. of Del Rio, Texas, in the lead after the opening round of competition at the 2018 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Lake Travis.
Texas Fest offers fans a unique format under which the majority of the fish are caught, weighed and immediately released. Each pro is allowed to keep one big bass that measures more than 18 inches.
Each big bass will be brought to the scales, weighed and showed off to the Bassmaster cameras. The bass are then immediately returned to Lake Travis after the weigh-in has concluded.
Hanselman grew up in South Texas, and has guided bass fisherman on legendary Lake Amistad for many years. After noticing many similarities between Lake Travis and Amistad, he was confident in what he needed to do.
"The water color on Lake Travis is very similar to Amistad. But the biggest difference is there isn't any grass here," Hanselman said. "I just clicked with this lake. I've fished many of the other lakes in this chain and they are all pretty similar, but overall I don't have much experience on this particular lake."
The 45-year-old rookie earned an invitation to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series by finishing among the Top 5 in standings for the 2017 Bass Pro Shops Central Opens last year.
"The weather has been hot and calm, which makes my morning bite critical," he said. "I'd feel a lot better about staying consistent if some clouds and wind would move in. It's harder to fool these bass in water this clear."
Lake Travis is known for its gin-clear water and substantial fishing pressure due to close proximity to Austin, Texas.
"Another 20-pound day is sure possible, but getting the right fish to bite at the right time is the challenge," he said. "I caught my three big bass from the same stretch that was about 250 yards long. After that, I left it alone hoping to save some bigger fish for coming days of the tournament."
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., managed an impressive 21-2, which will have him starting Friday's second round of competition in second place.
"I fished real clean today," Lane said. "I caught three big fish and I got them into the boat without any problems. That doesn't always happen, especially when you're fishing around wires, cables, pipes and docks. Lake Travis is full of those types of things."
The big bass of the tournament will win its captor a 2018 Toyota Tundra.
Currently leading that race is Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., with a giant 10-5. That big bass pushed his first limit to 19-8 and third place.
"Any time you catch a 10-pounder in a tournament, it's a big surprise," Pace said. "But catching that fish on this lake is just as surprising. There are plenty of big fish here, but Travis is full of small 10- to 13-inchers, making it hard to catch a real big one. That fish was a gift from God, and I'm thankful for it.
Rounding out the Top 6 are Jacob Powroznik and Josh Bertrand tied at fourth place with 19-5, and Jacob Wheeler is in sixth with 17-4.
A total purse of $1 million will be paid out at Texas Fest, including $100,000 to the winner, who also earns a berth in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods.
Takeoff will begin at 6:15 a.m. CT each morning at Jones Brothers Park in Jonestown, Texas, and weigh-ins will be at the same location each afternoon beginning at 3 p.m. Fans can follow the action online by tuning in to Bassmaster LIVE on Bassmaster.com and the ESPN App and by viewing BASSTrakk leaderboard and other real-time coverage on Bassmaster.com