MONETA, Va. — Judging by pre-tournament excuses and complaints, you would have thought the bass in Smith Mountain Lake were asleep. The reality is that some of them were on their beds.
Many competitors in the Blue Ridge Brawl presented by Advance Auto Parts found an odd surprise Thursday, with numerous anglers seeing and catching bass on spawning beds.
What's shocking is that it's June in the South. Typically, Southern reservoir bass would've completed their annual reproductive activities weeks or months ago. Going into this tournament, most anglers and observers suggested Smith Mountain Lake's bass would be in a post-spawn to early-summer pattern.
A lot of the lake's bass are, in fact, in the deeper-water haunts where anglers predicted they'd be, and many of the tournament leaders confessed to catching fish in water as deep as 18 feet. But several among the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers at Thursday's weigh-in also carried fish that had been plucked off shallow spawning beds.
"I caught a limit that way," said Arizona pro John Murray, who is 24th with 12 pounds, 10 ounces, but within a pound of the top 12. "I saw some giants, but I couldn't get them to bite."
Murray wasn't alone. Oklahoma pro Edwin Evers said he spent more than two hours trying to catch a large bass that he spotted on a spawning nest.
Alabama pro Timmy Horton had a limit that weighed 13-14, including three spawners he pulled out of Smith Mountain's shallows.
Kevin Wirth of Kentucky is 20th with 12-12 and had some bedding bass among his limit.
"It never entered my mind that there could be spawning fish here," Wirth said. "I hadn't seen them until today. I didn't see any in practice. I was on Kentucky Lake last week and the fish were in a mid-summer pattern. It's weird."
Wirth said he failed to catch a 5- to 6-pounder that he saw on a spawning bed, but he admitted he'll go back to try to catch that fish Friday.
How much the spawning bass will factor into the rest of the tournament is a subject of debate.
"Anything that was up is gone now," Horton said.
Skeet Reese, the current Angler of the Year points leader, shared a different opinion.
"They will play a role," said Reese, who wasn't as surprised as others about finding spawning fish on a Southern reservoir in June. "There's always a late spawn."