FLORENCE, Ala.-- After Monday evening's torrential rainstorm, Bassmaster Elite Series pros awakened Tuesday to clearing skies, crisp air and the rising water of Pickwick Lake.
More water in a lake that was already about 4 feet higher than normal made Tuesday's final practice day a puzzle. The high water and faster current could help some pros and hurt others on Wednesday, the opening day of the Alabama Charge.
Boyd Duckett, the 2007 Bassmaster Classic champ from Demopolis, Ala., said that the high water was making the fish act freaky.
"The lake never fishes good (when it is) high. All these Tennessee River lakes get messed up when water's high; the bite's weird," said Duckett, winner of a Bassmaster Open on Pickwick in 2002, his first full year as a pro. "They don't get in the bushes like you'd think they would, and they come off of deep water, they're kind of in between, and you don't get near the bites like you should at Pickwick."
Pickwick is known for its numbers of fish, he noted. In late April 2010, the last time the Elite Series stopped at Pickwick, no angler failed to bring in a five-fish limit of bass.
"Most of the guys are working hard to get five or six bites. That's very unlike Pickwick," Duckett said Tuesday afternoon after three days of practice for the tournament. "I had three good bites today -- but I didn't have five."
The cold front that moved through the area after the rainstorm could also have affected the fish, Duckett said. He added that according to the latest Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) report he read, the water would be drawn down as the week progresses, so the bass could work out of their funk.
Defending Alabama Charge champ Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., said the effect of more water in the system depends on where an angler is fishing.
"Down on the (western) end of the lake, it hasn't gone up much," he said. "This end (near Wilson Dam) it's up another 8, 10 inches, and that is true to half, maybe two-thirds of the way down the lake. The closer you get to the other dam (Pickwick), the more normal it is."
Short said that the most recent TVA forecast he read was for the water level to drop slowly.
"The high water makes the fish more scattered," Short said. "The offshore stuff in the upper end of the lake is not going to work so well because there's so much water on top of it. The lower end is fishing better, and I'll probably spend all my time there tomorrow, flipping."
Short said he's got several spots going. Some of the largemouth he's found are prespawn, some are spawning. The water's so stained and high, he can't literally see them, but he can tell by the way they react to his baits that they are spawning fish.
Randy Howell, who finished second to Duckett in the 2002 Open, said the Monday rain made an almost immediate difference in the upper part of the lake.
"Down further, there's plenty of water in the bushes and the trees, and a lot of fish are up closer to the bank, and that helps the fishing overall," he said.
As usual, Pickwick is fishing like two different lakes, he said.
"The river part -- the upper lake -- has a lot of smallmouth and largemouth mixed," he said. "The fish down the lake are up on the banks and in the bushes. You can catch a lot of fish, but you have to wade through all the little ones to get to the big ones. Upriver you don't get many bites, but those are the big ones."
Heavy rain and the faster current has kept anglers from finding offshore smallmouth, he said. Living in cooler water, they are still prespawn fish with the extra weight that will help Elite pros build their daily bags.
From Springville, Ala., Howell doesn't consider Pickwick his home water, but he has competed several times on Tennessee River impoundments. At the 2010 Elite event on Pickwick, he missed the "money" cut by mere ounces.
"Last year was a heartbreaker," he said. "This year it's going to be a good tournament."