Typically during the official practice day of a Bassmaster Classic, the focus for most anglers is to build secondary spots on the primary areas they found whether in the two-day pre-practice time last weekend or before the January cutoff date.
But there was a different mood Wednesday during the practice day for the GEICO 2014 Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro.
"Absolutely," Todd Faircloth said. "This is the most important day (until the tournament starts Friday).
"I had a tough pre-practice. But a guy could get dialed in today."
The difference in this practice day and the ones in previous years has more to do with the weather than it does Lake Guntersville being different than any other Classic site. A warming trend is underway, and if that trend continues bass are likely moving shallow — in bunches. The combination of Guntersville's southern U.S. location and warming water means bass are thinking spring and pre-spawn.
But no one seemed to get dialed-in Wednesday, based on our on-the-water reports. That doesn't mean no one did. But it stayed cloudy and felt cold all day. With no sunshine, the water temperatures in the main lake stayed in the mid 40s. High winds and rain are supposed to blow through here tonight and tomorrow, giving way to partly cloudy skies, highs near 60 and lows in the mid 30s all three tournament days.
In other words, an ultimate fish-the-moment Classic could be in store. It could be start-all-over with no clues come Friday. That might be frustrating for the competitors, but it sets up a fascinating event for observers.
No one fishes-the-moment better than Mike Iaconelli. But a dark-horse candidate is Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark. Browning is a pro's pro. He's been fishing B.A.S.S. for almost two decades now. He's got over $1 million in BASS earnings, but only two victories. Browning is coming off back-to-back second place finishes: He was second in the last Bass Pro Shops Central Open on Ross Barnett last October, and second – by a mere one ounce – on Amistad in a Central Open earlier this month. Instead of being deflated by finishing second twice, Browning claims he's as confident as he's been in his long career.
"I've got as much confidence as anyone in this field," Browning said Wednesday morning. "In both of those tournaments, I had nothing after practice. I just flew by the seat of my pants and figured it out. I'll be confident in pulling anything out of the rod box and using it in any situation this week."
Another factor that might favor Browning is the lack of aquatic vegetation in Lake Guntersville. There's still a significant amount, but much of the usual salad has been knocked back by the unusually cold winter.
That's standard fair for Browning. His home state's more northerly location makes Guntersville look typical to him for February fishing, just like it is in Arkansas' Lake Ouachita, Lake DeGray and the Arkansas River.
"It looks just like it does every year back in Arkansas," Browning said.
That will be important — knowing where to find "the needle in the haystack," as Todd Faircloth put it. The Jasper, Texas, native doesn't see the winter die-off of aquatic vegetation in his home state, but there may not be a better grass fisherman than Faircloth in this tournament.
"That's my comfort zone, fishing the grass," Faircloth said. "But it might be a hard spot in the middle of the grass where the fish are holding."
Hence, the needle in the haystack.
You've got anglers in this field who will stay away from Guntersville's limited grass and the crowds it's likely to draw.
"A guy who concentrates on the hard structure — the stumps, the rocks, the road beds — might win this because he'll have those fish to himself," Ish Monroe said.
Mark Davis doesn't agree, saying, "On a grass lake, the fish tend to migrate to those areas that have good grass. It's not rocket science. It's a pretty simple equation."
No one will argue with Monroe's assessment of the tournament, which he made on Tuesday, saying, "Everyone is going to whine after practice, then whack 'em during the tournament."
What's whacking 'em at Guntersville?
"I think it will take 78 pounds, 11 ounces to win," Monroe said with a smile. "If I catch 78-11 and don't win it, it is what it is."
"I think it will take 25 or 26 pounds a day to win it," said Davis. "This lake has got a population of fish right now that is bigger than normal. I think you'll see a lot of 8-pounders caught in this tournament."
Added Faircloth, "I think you'll have to average 25 pounds a day. But you never know. This lake is so full of big fish, 30 pounds a day isn't out of the question."
Wide open and big fish catches — if that doesn't catch your eye, well, you're probably not reading this anyway.