BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro begins on Friday. But Wednesday's practice day will provide some clues about who is likely to win this year's three-day event on Lake Guntersville. Here are five things to watch on Wednesday, the last day these anglers will have on the water before Day One of the tournament Friday:
1. Water Temperature — The lake is warming after being covered with ice about a week ago. That should have Guntersville's bass moving shallow in waves at some point. Wednesday's practice day and the Thursday off-day are forecast to be the warmest this week, bumping or surpassing 70 degrees. Tournament days are forecast to be near or above the 60-degree mark.
"I saw some water as warm as 52 degrees on Sunday," said Jordan Lee, the Carhartt College Bassmaster Series qualifier from Auburn, Ala., who has extensive experience on Guntersville. "There are too many fish in this lake for them not to be moving shallow. It's been too cold, and it's getting too warm for something drastic not to happen. One day they're not there. The next day there will be hundreds of them."
That's why you'll hear a lot of talk about timing this week. Dean Rojas is glad he's got a high boat number – 43 – for Friday's take-off. It's not just day-to-day, it's hour-by-hour that the bass will start to move shallow.
"The later the better," said the 42-year-old Rojas, who is fishing his 12th Classic. "There are going to be some pockets that warm four or five degrees during the day, if they've got direct sunshine on them. The sun needs to come out. That's key."
2. Big Bass — Lake Guntersville has so many big bass in it that anyone who hopes to contend for the title must focus on big fish, not just numbers. Combined with the fact that jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits are going to be key weapons this week, it means you're going to see some big bass caught during practice Wednesday. You can't very well bend the hook points down on those baits and fish them effectively. Plus you need to see the quality of the fish that are biting. So, unlike other events, where simply bites are key, here it's all about big bites.
"I think it's going to take over 75 pounds, realistically, to win this event," said Rojas.
With a five bass daily limit, that's an average of 25 pounds per day.
"You're going to see guys catch 30 pounds one day and 17 or 20 the next," Rojas said. "In practice, you've got to figure out what size fish are there. Three-pounders aren't going to cut it. You need 5-pounders."
3. The Grass — The unusually cold winter has caused a die-off of aquatic vegetation in Lake Guntersville, which is known for its fish-holding grass.
"It's like gold," said one angler of the importance of the aquatic vegetation. If there's grass, it's usually holding bass.
If it's truly a gold mine during the tournament, that's likely to cause some crowding in the 55-man field. But with so little grass in the lake, it's just as likely that what little aquatic vegetation is left in the lake won't be a factor. And that's one more reason you'll hear many anglers talking about "timing" and "decisions."