CELEBRATION, Fla. — The big-bass hit parade known as the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series rolls on to yet another major-league bass fishery when it makes its fourth stop of 2006 at Alabama's Lake Guntersville for the Southern Challenge presented by Berkley, April 20-23.
After thrilling fans with unforgettable trophy-bass jaunts to Lake Amistad and Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas as well as Santee Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, the Elite Series pros travel to Lake Guntersville where BASS records have fallen in the past. Year in and year out, few bass fisheries have been as dazzling as the Big G — particularly in the springtime.
"I think it's going to be fabulous," said Lee Bailey, an Elite Series pro who moved to the shores of Lake Guntersville last summer. "It's been kind of warm here the last couple of weeks and it's going to be warm again next week. There's going to be a lot of fish up on the beds.
"Some fish came up on the beds a month ago, so you're going to have all three stages (pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn) during the tournament. The grass is up good and things are stable."
The last three times the nation's premier tournament circuit visited the 69,100-acre Tennessee River impoundment have been nothing short of amazing. In 2002, winner Kelly Jordon of Texas weighed in more than 83 pounds of bass. But that was eclipsed by two-time Classic champion George Cochran's performance in a February 2004 tournament when he had a catch of almost 100 pounds. Three other pros brought in more than 83 pounds at that event. Last February, despite a weather-wracked week, Zell Rowland of Texas won with 87 pounds, followed by Morizo Shimizu of California with 85-9.
So it's no wonder why Elite Series pros are so eager to return to Lake Guntersville and repeat last year's big-bass bonanza.
"I'm really looking forward to it," said Alabama's Steve Kennedy, an Elite Series rookie who is off to a fast start this season (leading the Toyota Rookie of the Year race). "I'm sure the fish have been moving up and if so, these guys are really going to catch them.
Bailey believes it will take an average daily catch of 20 to 22 pounds to have a chance of taking the $100,000 top prize, but he cautioned that pre-spawn has always been better for the anglers than later patterns they may see next week.
"I don't think it will be at absolute best," cautioned Bailey, who is ranked 30th on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index. "When we're here at the early pre-spawn, that's when we find the fish really stacked up. That's when they're big and fat. With all three stages going on, there's going to be fish spread out all over the place."
For the fourth Elite Series event, much of the fishing is expected to center around sight-fishing for visible spawning bass. It's the same technique that the majority of the top-ranking pros in previous events have used.
"I hope we're looking at them," Kennedy said. "That makes it much easier than hunting fish. I'll be looking in that grass and also looking for a topwater bite. We may be sight-fishing for females or we may be fishing shallow with a weightless worm."
In addition to the $100,000 top prize and gaining valuable points toward the coveted CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Elite pros will be earning points for the three coveted Majors events, which feature a $250,000 top prize.
Also, in connection with the tournament, Advance Auto Parts, 1389 Highway 431 North, in Boaz will hold an Elite Series pro night and CastingKids expo on Saturday, April 22 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Entering the Southern Challenge, Greg Hackney of Louisiana is leading the race for the lucrative CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year. The top 10 are:
1. Greg Hackney, La.: 857
2. Dean Rojas, Ariz.: 825
3 John Crews, Va.: 749
4 Terry Scroggins, Fla.: 733
5 Michael Iaconelli, N.J.: 732
6 Steve Kennedy, Ala.: 725
7 Takahiro Omori, Texas: 712
8 Kelly Jordon, Texas: 700
9 Ishama Monroe, Calif.: 699
9 Skeet Reese, Calif.: 699
Daily weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. at Guntersville High School, 14227 Hwy. 431, in Guntersville. Coverage of the event will air on The CITGO Bassmasters on ESPN2 on Saturday, April 29 at 10 a.m. ET.
Local sponsors include the Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce and the Marshall County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Advanced Auto Parts and Theraseed.