GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Some stories played out as expected on Day One of the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, while in other cases the hype and expectations were not met.
There are still two days left, though, and if everything was preordained then they wouldn’t have to fish the tournament. The following are two of the Bassmaster pundits’ hints on the factors that might prove to be determinative.
Weather influences fishing more than any other factor, so it’s no major revelation that natural forces will shape the outcome of the Classic. But how will weather influence the rest of this derby? And to what degree?
Conditions at Lake Guntersville have been almost bipolar over the past week. During last weekend’s practice, anglers had to clear snow and ice from their boat decks before launching. A serious warming trend followed, and air temperatures soared into the 70s by Thursday. Surface water temperatures surged 10 degrees or more in a matter of days.
But just as everyone associated with the tournament was predicting a heavyweight slugfest, a cold front rushed through northern Alabama Thursday night, bringing heavy rain and thunderstorms and a 10-degree drop in air temperature. Despite Randall Tharp's leading weight of 27-8, Friday looked more like a middleweight bout with a lot of jabs and few power punches.
Conditions will stabilize on Days Two and Three. It won’t be as warm as it was prior to Thursday night’s cold front, but warm days and ample sunshine will continue to push water temperatures slightly upward. Will the lake’s bass inch closer to shallower water? If so, which anglers will find them?
2. Spectator boats and local angling pressure
Alabama is arguably the center of the bass fishing universe; people around here love their bass fishing. That was evident in the number of spectator boats following anglers on Friday. It wasn’t uncommon to see two or three dozen boats in a flotilla around some of the sport’s big names.
Likewise, there were scores of local anglers plying the lake Friday, some of them moving into the contenders’ areas as soon as the Classic anglers picked up their trolling motors and moved to new areas.
It’s almost certain the number of spectator boats and local anglers will increase exponentially over the weekend. Fewer people will be working, and moderating weather likely will entice more observers to take part in on-the-water action.
Will Classic contenders’ areas hold up to the pressure? Better yet, will an angler vying for bass fishing immortality and a huge payday be able to withstand the psychological pressure that comes with all that traffic?
3. Water Clarity
This might more aptly be described as factor 1b or 2b, since the changing water clarities are largely the result of changing weather and boat traffic, but it’s important enough that it deserves a category of its own. The textbook tells us that there’s nothing worse than cold, muddy water.
It’s cold but warming. Will it be clear enough? Several competitors described “rolling red mud” and “red and orange” water as a result of Thursday night’s thunderstorm, forcing them to abandon what they’d assumed would be key areas.
Those areas could get worse tomorrow as hundreds of bass boats run up and down the lake. Or they could get better with a day for the grass to filter out yesterday’s mud. Or perhaps the vast majority of the field will crowd into the remaining clear pockets and someone will have mud-dumb bass all to themselves.
4. Will the “Real” Guntersville Show Up?
At Media Day and again Friday morning, multiple anglers posted that it would take in the upper 20 pound range just to be in contention after Friday’s opening round of competition. Many anglers with weights in the high teens probably assumed that they were out of it, but they’re not.
As Fred Roumbanis showed with his 9-pound, 3-ounce big fish, monsters live here and there’s nothing that says someone who’s far down the leaderboard can’t put together a 30- or 35-pound bag and come out of nowhere to lead heading into the final day.
Two 9-pounders and three companions will go a long way. So will a quintet of fives. There are a handful of anglers who are all but mathematically eliminated now, but that number is fewer than you might expect. Someone with 12 or 14 pounds can add 30, make it to Sunday, and make up the difference with the leaders in just a cast or two.
5. Decision Making?
Several recent Bassmaster Classics, like the 2010 event on Lay Lake and the 2011 version on the Louisiana Delta, were won largely on “spots,” rather than patterns. That’s not to say that the winners didn’t adjust as the tournament went on – certainly they did – but the critical decision was where to spend the event.
Because of spectator traffic and warming temperatures, it seems unlikely that an angler will be able to win from one spot this week. At the same time, he won’t know who among his competitors or the locals has previously gone to his other water and plucked out the quality fish he was depending on. It’s a big lake, and one in which several different patterns can be effective at the same time, so “fishing in the moment” will help to discern who does well and who leaves with the trophy.
Aaron Martens, for example, said he fished almost exclusively deeper than 5 feet today. Tomorrow, he’ll flip it and just hit places shallower than that level. Could that sort of bold flip-flop reverse his fortunes and rocket him to the top?
Randy Howell credited junk fishing with his good fortune while Gerald Swindle bemoaned junk fishing for his meager catch. Whoever is dialed in such that he can replace two 4-pounders with two 7-pounders will likely turn a top 10 into a top two or three.
Most members of our top 10 have won at the tour level before, but this is the Bassmaster Classic, the most prestigious event in the sport and the pressure to “win or go home” is greater than anywhere else.