Lake Guntersville proved to be more than an adequate challenge for the field of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge.
Michael Iaconelli, though, figured it out nicely. How did he do it? Minutes before he weighed in his final-day stringer, Bassmaster.com asked him to detail how the tournament played out. These are his exact words:
"Going back to before the tournament started I tried to plan on finding a couple of different patterns that would work. I ended up discovering that there were both spawning fish, actually bedding and guarding fry that were in the shallow water, and also a good deepwater bite that was mostly post-spawn fish. The deeper fish were in anywhere from 8- to 12-feet of water.
"So I set up for the two patterns. I love having that option during a tournament because that gives you an A and B plan. I love to be able to go back and forth.
"The first day of the event the conditions were so perfect for sight-fishing. And that is your best day to use this pattern because the fish get molested as the tournament goes on. I made a commitment the first day to exclusively fish for shallow spawning fish, fish that I could see. I caught every one of my fish on the first day on a bed or guarding fry. We had calm water and it was sunny so the conditions were ideal for sight-fishing.
"I caught about 90 percent of those fish on a Berkley Power Bait Beast. It is a bait that I designed and it's sort of a cross between a creature bait and a tube. It's kind of a strange looking lure, but it is perfect for bed fishing because it's compact. It really mimics a little blue gill trying to eat their eggs, and when (bass) are guarding their fry you can throw it right over there to them. So that is what I threw almost exclusively for the spawning fish.
"The second day was totally different. We watched the Weather Channel and knew what was coming. Sure enough, rain, wind, potential lightning, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to see them when the surface was disturbed like that. So that day I made a commitment to exclusively fish pre- and post-spawn fish in that 8- to 12-foot zone.
"All day on the second day I did that. Out in the deep I basically used three different lures. The main one I used is a medium- to deep-running crankbait called Berkley Frenzy Medium-Deep Diver; the color is chartreuse with a blue back. I also used a chartreuse with blue back (Rapala) DT Series crankbait a little bit. The third lure I caught a few on was a Carolina-rigged 6-inch green pumpkin Berkley Power Lizard. So the crankbaits and Carolina-rig is what I relied on out deep.
"Those fish were posting up, they were leaving the beds. Before they move to the river ledges, their summertime patterns, they stop on these grass points. So it was hydrilla in 8- to 12-feet of water. This was my best day of fishing. I actually lost a big one so I should have had over 25 pounds that day. So I start thinking in my mind that this is what I need to do the rest of the event.
"(Saturday) it rained in the morning and then by the afternoon it kind of broke. Because of this I was tossed on what to do, but since we had the deeper-pattern weather in the morning I was fortunate enough to catch a good limit early. Since I was able to get a limit I made the decision to stay out there when the calmer conditions came, and I was able to cull a couple of times. Again, my fish were caught deep on Carolina-rigs and crankbaits. The 18 pounds I caught yesterday were all in the boat at about 10 o'clock.
"And now comes today. I watched the weather channel and dreaded what I saw. Sunny, bright, blue birds, the worst I could ask for. On top of that, Trip (Weldon) told us that we weren't launching until 6:15 which meant we were losing time. I said to myself, 'that memory of the 22 pounds is in my mind and that could screw with me, you don't want to let that draw you (deep).' Then I said, 'Mike, go out and fish those deep fish while there is a little light and if it's happening stay and if not, you've got to come in.'
"I went out there and surprisingly in the first hour I didn't catch a fish. I just kept working and working and I finally caught one about an hour and a half in. It was a big one. That settled me down a little bit. Then another hour goes by and I didn't have a single bite. Thirty minutes later, boom, I catch another big one.
"So it's 9:45 by now and I've got two good fish in the livewell. I am thinking, 'Mike, all you need is five more bites so I should just stay out here.' I went from 9:45 to 11:30 and never had another nibble. At that point I started to get a little antsy, and I had to make a decision.
"If I win, it will end up being the winning decision. I knew that even though the big winning fish were there I had to abandon that pattern and go back to sight-fishing for the spawners. I ended up catching the rest of my limit doing this. I only caught five fish the whole day and the last keeper I landed, I caught with three minutes of fishing time left. It was a very dramatic day.
"I caught all of those on a Berkley Power Noodle. This is a bait that the pros call a "French fry" lure. It is essentially just a four-inch, flat-sided, crinkle cut looking bait and Berkley calls it a Power Noodle. I was casting this with a nail in the tail. It's Texas-rigged French fry with the flat side down, no weight, but you get a little finishing nail and stick it in the tail of the bait. What this does is every time you hit it forward the bait will literally glide backwards.
"I felt like why I needed to change from the Beast to (the Noodle) today was because there was so much pressure on these fish over the last few days. Pressure not only from competitors but locals as well. They had seen everything. So I put on the watermelon seed Berkley Noodle with a nail in the tail and 8-pound Berkley Vanish line in a spinning rod, and I was able to catch spawning shallow fish guarding fry. That is how I caught my limit and depending on what Alton (Jones) has we'll see if I can win this thing."