The Lake Guntersville Southern Open was all about finding the right grass and then making the bass bite. Here's how the best finishers did that.
(66 pounds, 12 ounces)
"On the first day and the last day I mostly rat fished with a black Spro Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog 65," said the Gardendale, Ala., professional angler after his win. "I found a group of really thick mats — mixed hydrilla and milfoil — over 3 to 5 feet of water in the middle section of the lake.
"All I really did was toss the frog up on top of the mat and move it along slow and easy, one inch at a time. Some of my casts lasted three minutes. I mean that — a full three minutes. It was intense.
"Almost every fish I caught hit the bait while it was sitting still. The bass would hit it as hard as I've ever seen, but not if it was moving fast."
On the second day, when his topwater bite slacked off, Tharp pitched and flipped a Zoom Super Hog (watermelon candy) with a 1-ounce Penetrater weight and a 4/0 Owner Extra Wide Gap Hook into the same areas.
"I was trying to imitate bluegill with both baits. The key was to find heavy mats in medium depth water where the bream were feeding under the mats. Despite the heavy shad population, the bigger bass feed on bluegill except during the shad spawn. Obviously, that's not in October.
"I committed to my pattern early in practice and never looked back. I knew I could catch fish on the Rojas frog and the Super Hog. I hoped they would be enough to win or place high. It all boils down to confidence."
Tharp fished his Bronzeye Frog on a 7-foot, 6-inch G. Loomis IMX Flipping Stick with a Shimano Calcutta 200 (5:1 gear ratio) reel and 65-pound-test Power Pro braid. His Zoom Super Hog was thrown with the same rod and line but with a Shimano Core Flipping Version Reel (7:1 gear ratio).
"I alternated between two patterns during the tournament," said the Wetumpka, Ala., runner-up. "With the first, I attacked scattered clumps of grass in 2 to 4 feet of water with a NetBait Paca Craw (Okeechobee Craw) or a Stanley Ribbit Frog in black and blue or melon pearl.
"I pitched and flipped the Paca Craw first and then, if I didn't get bit, I switched to the Stanley Frog. It was a matter of hitting every clump of grass I could find that was by itself or scattered away from other grass. My most productive spots were in the middle section of the lake, away from the shoreline."
When those patterns got tough, he skipped boat docks with a watermelon candy, 5-inch Salt Lick.
"This was basic bass fishing. I skipped the bait as far back under the docks as possible and let it fall on a slack line. In most cases my fish were on when I reeled in the slack. It was the kind of thing that can be done anywhere in the country."
Vinson flipped his Paca Craw with a 7-foot, 2-inch heavy action G. Loomis GLX flipping stick, a left-handed Shimano Curado reel (6.2:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test P-line Halo (fluorocarbon) line. He weighted it with a 1-ounce Bass Pro Shops XPS Tungsten worm weight. His hook was a 4/0 flipping model.
On the Stanley frog he switched to a 5/0 Mustad Ultra Point Big-Mouth Tube Hook.
His used the same tackle to skip docks with the exception that he changed to 20-pound-test braided line and a 3/0 flipping hook.
(65 pounds, 9 ounces)
Herren fished a mix of milfoil and coontail moss in a major creek to secure his third place finish with two basic techniques: pitching and flipping plastics and throwing a topwater frog.
"I pitched and flipped a Sweet Beaver (black and blue or Okeechobee Craw) to grass mats I found sitting on a hump alongside a channel," said the Trussville, Ala., angler. "When that slowed down, I threw a Swamp Donkey to generate a topwater bite. Both lures are made by Reaction Innovations.
"The key to my success was finding grass over wood in 5 feet of water. The credit for that goes to my 1197c Humminbird with side imaging. Without that I would never have found the stumps under the grass. It's impossible to go over the top. You have to look from the side."
Bassmaster.com was unable to contact David Gray.
(60 pounds, 12 ounces)
"It's all about the grass," said the Lakeland, Fla., Elite Series pro. "At this time of year in a grass-based lake, the biggest and best bass will be in the grass. The trick is to find them and then make them bite.
"I caught a couple of fish with a buzzbait, but mostly I did that this week with an aggressive flipping strategy. I flipped a Sweet Beaver and a Chigger Craw with a 1 1/2-ounce Penetrater weight into hydrilla mats located in the middle section and southern end of the lake.
"I did everything possible with my plastics. Sometimes I'd bounce it just under the surface. At other times I'd bounce it around on the bottom. If that didn't work I'd let it lie motionless. I fished several spots for 30 minutes without moving the boat. It's a matter of confidence; if you believe the bass are there you stay until they bite."
(60 pounds, 3 ounces)
Ashley's lure choice was ordinary. His technique was not.
"I fished both sizes of the Dean Rojas Signature Series Bronzeye Frog — the one with the red belly — on grass mats," said the Donalds, S.C., Elite Series pro. "But unlike a lot of the guys, I moved my frog really fast. I never let it stop or even slow down."
Ashley didn't fish any mat unless he heard the bream popping under it. "That was the key. I learned very quickly in practice that if you couldn't hear the telltale popping of bream under the mat, it was time to move on. The bass just weren't there."
(54 pounds, 8 ounces)
"I flipped most of my bass out of the grass with a Gambler Ugly Otter and a Baby Paca Craw," said the up-and-coming professional from Lakeland, Fla. "I concentrated on the defined edges of the river channel north of the launch ramp. I found larger areas of healthy grass with deeper pockets inside them. Those were my primary areas.
"This was my first tournament on Guntersville. I knew there was a lot of grass but that a lot of it had been eradicated, too. I wanted to find the green grass with plenty of growth and avoid the dead stuff. The big green areas of grass along the channel break were perfect."