It quickly became obvious Thursday that some anglers got dialed in during Wednesday's practice day for the GEICO 2014 Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, which begins Friday.
All the evidence you need to see is in the photo gallery of winning weight predictions. When Classic veterans like Gary Klein, who is fishing his 30th, and Stephen Browning, who is fishing his 8th, predict three-day winning weights of 84 pounds, 9 ounces and 84-4, respectively, it's apparent that almost everything is in order for a Lake Guntersville explosion.
"I think it will take a 30-pound bag, backed up with a couple of 25s," said Steve Kennedy. "It wouldn't surprise me a bit if it took 90 (pounds). This could be THE week."
You wouldn't say that unless you had seen signs that bass had moved into the pre-spawn mode. And some in this 55-angler field definitely saw just that Wednesday. They hadn't been on the lake since the three-day pre-practice period that concluded Sunday. And the lake had definitely changed, according to all involved.
But at the same time, that doesn't mean everyone expects all Classic records are in jeopardy this weekend.
"I'll be shocked if that happens," said Aaron Martens of the extra-heavy predictions. "The core temperature of the lake is still too cold. If that happens, I'd be so shocked I'd probably have to quit fishing.
"I'm ready to shock myself, but I'm not expecting that to happen."
Okay, Guntersville may not produce those off-the-charts numbers. All the planets have to align, so to speak, for that to happen. The front that is forecast to blow through here tonight with high wind and rain could throw a monkey wrench into the predictions. But a warm rain also has the potential to concentrate fish in runoff areas, a potential bonus for some.
"I wouldn't have rigged up a spinning rod if I expected that to happen," said Ott Defoe, one of the dialed-in club members. "It's awfully clear in some places. But I wouldn't mind being able to use heavier line in some dirtier water."
That's just one example of the variables that will become facts by Friday morning's 7 o'clock takeoff.
If you were to average the winning weight predictions made Thursday, it would probably be somewhere in the 75-pound range — a 25-pound daily five-fish limit. That's in the same ballpark of what it has taken to win previous four-day BASS events at Guntersville – 25 pounds a day.
Bassmaster Classic 2012 champion Chris Lane moved from Florida to Lake Guntersville in 2009. Until this year, he hadn't spent much time fishing the lake in the winter, but he has that experience now.
"I learned a lot over the winter, and I had a great time," said Lane.
Of his game plan for the Classic, Lane said, "I'm still fishing for bass that are waiting to go spawn. When the water is cold, like it will be at certain depths, there are some key spots. That's what I'm going to focus on. You can make five or 10 casts in one of those key spots, then move on."
And an angler can "get right" in a hurry in those spots.
"Historically, yes, 75 pounds would be a good guess for this event," Lane said. "But this lake has so many 5-pound-plus fish."
The lake record largemouth bass from Guntersville is 14-8. Lane thinks there will be at least a couple of 10-pounders weighed in over the next three days. The combination of pre-spawn, when most state records everywhere are set, and Guntersville's extraordinary big bass numbers are the reasons for 80-plus-pound predictions.
The other key in an off-the-charts total weight is the very nature of the Bassmaster Classic. This is not a tournament where a top 12 finish will help you earn points for the season. It's more like the NCAA basketball tournament: Win or go home. No one remembers who finished second, unless you've finished second four times, like Aaron Martens. It's strictly a pedal-to-the-metal event.
"Most of our tournaments are won on (key) spots," Kennedy said. "The winning fish are usually on one or two key spots. You'll have to catch some 8- or 10-pounders to win this. Somebody might catch a 12-pounder."
That's exactly what will light the fuse for a fireworks show at Lake Guntersville.