BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — J. Todd Tucker, 40, has been fishing Lake Seminole since he was 13 years old. He should have some local knowledge that will help him this week in the Dick Cepek Tires Bassmaster Elite Series tournament presented by Hardee's. But Tucker has never witnessed anything like what has happened during practice for the 2014 season opening event.
"I've never seen anything like the number of fish that moved up on the (spawning) beds overnight," Tucker said Wednesday. "They just swarmed."
In other words, past experience may not be a factor on this 37,500-acre lake that extends across three state lines – Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
Under these conditions, the No. 1 thing to watch is obvious, but there are others:
1. Bed Fishing Success — One Elite Series angler estimated that 100,000 bass moved to spawning beds overnight this week. Therefore, accomplished bed fishermen like Dean Rojas, Alton Jones and Kelly Jordon should have an advantage this week. According to one Elite Series angler, who shall remain anonymous, he hooked and got a good look at three 8-pounders before shaking them off in practice. It's easy to weigh a 30-pound bag when you can total 24 pounds on three fish, and many anglers are predicting a 30-pound bag or two from Seminole this week.
The lake's bass population has been on the upswing in recent years anyway. Combine that with being able to see the big girls on spawning beds and you've got a formula for some huge daily limits. But consistency will be the key for those concentrating on spawning fish. With 108 anglers on Seminole, the best spawning areas will attract a lot of attention.
2. Just Fishing — That's the term used by the anglers who aren't concentrating on spawners. Some believe they can concentrate on pre-spawn fish, stay out of the boat-bumping areas and be more consistent over the entire four days of this event.
"I don't know if there are enough (spawning bass) to go around," said Kevin Short. "A bunch showed up (Tuesday), but not as many showed up (Wednesday). I think you can catch them really well by just fishing. The (spawners) aren't everywhere. And I don't know if there are enough of them to go around.
"Plus, there's a lot of dirty water that's not typically dirty in this lake. That's going to put people all jammed up. I think you can just go fishing and avoid the crowds. But I could be wrong."
3. The Test of Nerve — It might take all day to put five big female bass in the boat. Who is going to have the nerve to keep doing what they're doing when they've only got three big ones in the boat at 2 o'clock? Especially in this first event of the year, when a poor finish handicaps you in the Angler of the Year race, it's going to be difficult not to change tactics and simply fill out a limit with two more keepers.
"I think you're going to have to catch five big females a day to win this," J. Todd Tucker said. "I think it would have been a lot easier to do that if the fish had stayed schooled (in pre-spawn mode). But that's going to be hard to do now. And lot of people are going to be fishing for points at the end of the day."
In other words: No guts, no glory at Lake Seminole this week.
4. The Rookie Class — This is the strongest rookie class in Elite season history. Just like Hank Cherry did last year, when he finished third in the Bassmaster Classic then took Rookie of the Year honors on the Elite Series, Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., is poised to do the same. After leading the Classic on Day 1 and trailing by only an ounce on Day 2, Tharp finished sixth in the Classic at Guntersville three weeks ago.
But Tharp is hardly the only "big stick" fishing the Elite Series for the first time after piling up accomplishments on the FLW tour. Glenn Browne of Ocala, Fla., Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., Chad Morgenthaler of Branson, Mo., and Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va., are accomplished bass tournament veterans who just happen to be rookies on the Elite Series.
One of these rookies will start strong and stay that way all season long, just like Cherry did last season.
5. Veteran Comebacks — There's nothing like a missed Bassmaster Classic qualification to put a spark in a B.A.S.S. veteran angler. During a walk through the Outdoor Expo at this year's Classic and visits with several of those guys who were working the Expo instead of fishing the Classic, the subject of a "new attitude" came up often. Zell Rowland, for example, said he'd be back on tour with a new determination this year. Rowland has qualified for 16 Classics and finished as high as fourth. Whether it's a new mental edge or an offseason program that put them in better physical shape, several of these guys are tired of seeing their names in the bottom half of the standings instead of the top. This week will provide a glimpse at who can back up the new attitude talk.