When fishing Pickwick Lake, often billed as the "Smallmouth Capital of the World," would an angler bother to target largemouth bass?
Absolutely — and expect both species to be in play at the April 6-9 Alabama Charge, the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament out of Florence, Ala. That, at least, is what happened in the 2010 version of the Alabama Charge, when largemouth bass commanded a starring role in Kevin Short's 75-plus-pound win, but several other top finishers keyed in on smallmouth.
The largemouth of Pickwick are prolific. Hundred-bite days are not just campfire tales. In the April 2010 tournament won by Short, no Elite Series angler failed to bring in a limit on any of the four days of competition.
"There were guys last year who were catching 60, 80, 100 fish a day, and from all over the place — not just out of little, bitty areas," Short said.
The trick, of course, is to get those key bites of big largemouth, like Short did in a backwater studded with cypress trees. At the same time, smaller-size largemouth can heat up a competition fast, as they did in the 2010 event, noted the defending Pickwick champ, who's from Mayflower, Ark.
"The standings were pretty tight. Going into the last day, five or six of us were within a pound of the lead," said Short, who boated 23-5 that final day — including two 6-pound-class largemouth — to end up almost 5 pounds ahead of runner-up Cliff Pace.
While the size of Pickwick does not demand a daylong commitment to either species, anglers still must decide each morning if they should spend time on the smallmouth of Wilson Dam's rocky tailrace, or if they should go hunting largemouth in Pickwick's lower regions.
Choices abound, according to Elite Series pro Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who calls Pickwick home water. Away at other events, he has not fished the lake in many months, and Pickwick has been off-limits to Elite Series pros since March 7; but historically speaking, he said, the lake's largemouth tend to be smaller than the smallmouth.
"You can catch a whole lot of 2-pound largemouth, but the average smallmouth is in the 3- to 5-pound range," Horton said. "But both smallmouth and largemouth can get really big, thanks to the lake's baitfish population."
Largemouth vs. smallmouth is just one of the decisions anglers will have to make on the Tennessee River impoundment in early April. They'll also have to decide on strategies to deal with uncertain water levels. During the Alabama Charge, the lake is scheduled to be at winter pool, about 4 feet below summer pool; but upriver rains, and drawdowns to handle a coming deluge, can change the level quickly. Rain in early March flooded the banks, yet the lake dropped fast — or so it looked to Horton when he drove across a bridge the other day.
"Water fluctuations are going to be a pretty big deal, and we'll have to make the right adjustments," Horton said.
Another variable is the spawn, usually dictated by weather and water temps. Last season's Pickwick event was about three weeks later than this season's April 6-9 stop, a timing difference that could bring bedding bass into the equation, said Pace, an Elite Series pro from Petal, Miss., who took second place to Short in 2010 on Pickwick.
"Last year we had a lot of postspawn fish in the system, but this year it could be more of a spawning type of event," said Pace, who targeted offshore structure in last season's Alabama Charge.
Largemouth? Smallmouth? Water level? Spawners? Offshore? Creeks? Tailwaters? A bad call on any one of those factors could be a game-wrecker. Several good calls could lead the way to a $100,000 winner's check, a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth and valuable Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points.
Conditions shift every day, but Pickwick is ripe for a hot competition, Horton said.
"The lake is very healthy, as healthy as I've seen it," he said. "That has a lot to do with the lake's hydrilla. It won't be a factor in this event because it doesn't start growing until the end of May, but the hydrilla gives fry a place to hide and survive. That's been the case for several years, and the bass population of the lake is really good right now."
Alabama Charge facts:
- First prize: The winner takes home $100,000, a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth and points that count toward winning the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and qualifying for the postseason — both $100,000 competitions within themselves.
- The cut: The 99-angler field will compete the first two days, then be cut to 50 for the third day. The last tournament day — Saturday, April 9 — will be a contest between the 12 pros who make the final cut.
- When: April 6-9. The event runs Wednesday through Saturday, not the usual Thursday through Sunday. Anglers will be allowed three days of official practice, April 3-5, before the four-day competition begins on Wednesday.
- Where: The April 6-9 launches and weigh-ins will take place at McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Drive, Florence, AL 35630.
- Launch: Launch time is set for 7:30 a.m. CT. The public is invited to watch.
- Weigh-ins: Set to begin at 4 p.m. CT, all weigh-ins are open to the public.
- No cost to attend: All events are free and open to the public.
- Local sponsor: The local sponsor of the Alabama Charge is Florence/Lauderdale Tourism, which will host Friday and Saturday fan activities at the park beginning at 1 p.m.
- Fan fun onsite: Exhibits include Eukanuba Super Dock, a dog-jumping competition; kids activities; food vendors; and music. For a full list, check out the Attend an Event page of Bassmaster.com.
- All-out online coverage: Bassmaster.com will provide complete online event coverage. Features include live, streaming video of the weigh-ins; a real-time weigh-in leaderboard; B.A.S.S.Trakk catch reports; daylong live blogging; from-the-water B.A.S.S.Cam video reports, the live "Hooked Up!" show with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona; live hourly updates hosted by emcee Dave Mercer from the Toyota Hooked Up! stage; daily photo galleries; in-depth analysis; and daily results and standings.
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Luck "E" Strike, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ramada.