The Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville was one to remember. It was a study in what happens when extraordinary anglers meet an extraordinary fishery at an extraordinary time.
Twenty pound bags were common. In fact 20 pounds on Thursday and a like weight on Friday merited the weekend off, not a ticket to Saturday morning's Top 50. Even more amazing, the top four finishers all weighed in over 100 pounds of bass.
Here's how they did it.
(1st Place — 107 pounds, 8 ounces)
2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Aaron Martens managed his win through a combination of proper lure selection, skillful rotation of his spots and the ability to focus on the task at hand.
"The fishing was unbelievable this week," he said after the hoopla of this victory subsided. "I knew after the first day of practice that it'd take 100 pounds to win. I was catching bass after bass all day. They were big ones, too.
"Knowing that, I figured it'd take a lot of spots to win. The fish were in the postspawn so it wasn't like you could camp in one area all day and put together a winning bag. Besides, the local boat traffic was really heavy and that always has a negative effect on the fish.
"I finally located about eight places that I though would produce for me. That was enough water to fish without wearing out one spot or ruining it for another day. I was able to develop a good bite with a Lucky Craft RC 2.5 DD crankbait in a kind of Sexy Shad color. With the exception of just a few, I caught all my fish on it."
Martens followed two current-related patterns to amass his weight.
"I had two types of areas. One was shallow shell beds with weed lines running up against them. The other was hard bottom spots out more towards the main lake in deeper water. All my water was between 2 and 10 feet deep, and I didn't fish anything that didn't have current on it.
"The thing was that the reservoir was full of water from the Tennessee River and all the rains we had here and upstream. They started pumping water out, and the bite just exploded. One day I caught 137 keepers. I was catching 3-pounders on every cast. I had to unhook them real fast so I could cast again and try to catch one that counted. This went on for three full days.
"On the last day, things slowed down for me. First, there wasn't as much current as there had been. That slowed the bite considerably.
"Second, I had something happen that is so unusual I feel I have to mention it. Some guy intentionally ran over my spots — the ones I was fishing. What makes this so unusual is that it never happens. I mean, 999 out of 1,000 guys are really courteous out there. Why this dude thought it was funny or cute to be a jerk is beyond me.
"I've never done anything like that and neither have any of the other guys. We all try to be true sportsmen, good examples for the angling community. What got into him is beyond me.
"Anyway, his efforts went for nothing. I concentrated on catching a winning sack and, fortunately, was successful. I guess that's the ultimate answer to someone like him. And it's a lesson learned for any competitive angler. Keep focused on what you're doing, don't let anyone get into your head, and everything will work out in the end."
Tackle: A 6-foot, 9-inch Mega Bass Evoluzion rod (medium action), a high-quality reel (7:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line.
(2nd Place — 104 pounds, 4 ounces)
Bassmaster.com was unable to contact Skeet Reese
(2nd Place — 102 pounds, 3 ounces)
Perennial Bassmaster Classic qualifier Kevin Wirth combined two basic patterns — one for the morning and another for the afternoon — to secure third place.
"This was a fun tournament," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "I can't ever remember catching so many bass. On Thursday my marshal said I caught 70 keepers in two and a half hours. On Sunday, they said I caught 90. How often are you going to do that?
"In the mornings I fished the shad spawns on shallow shells and grassbeds with a War Eagle spinnerbait — 1/2- or 3/4-ounce with a white and blue skirt and two No. 4 willowleaf blades, one silver and one gold.
"Then, around 10 a.m., I moved out a ways to the main river ledges and underwater points. I fished them with a Strike King Series 5 crankbait in Sexy Shad and Bomber Tim Horton Switchback Shad crankbaits in Citrus Shad and Foxy Shad.
"If they stopped biting crankbaits I switched to a 3/4-ounce Jewel Football Head jig with a 4-inch green pumpkin Berkley Chigger Craw as a trailer.
"I know several of the guys said their biggest fish came in the mornings, but mine were all caught in the late afternoon, within an hour or so of the weigh-in. I wish I had an explanation for that, but I don't.
"If there's anything to be learned here, it's to pay close attention to your practice. I knew the weights would be through the roof. I didn't worry about catching bass or catching limits. I concentrated on the big bite. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a chance in order to have a chance."
Tackle: Wirth threw his spinnerbaits on a 7-foot Fenwick rod (medium-heavy action), an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) and 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.
His crankbaits were handled with a Quantum Tour KVD Cranking Rod, an Abu Garcia Revo reel (5.4:1 gear ratio) and Spiderwire Ultracast 100% Fluorocarbon in 12- and 15-pound-test.
His jig tackle was a 7-foot, 4-inch Mike McClelland Signature Series Falcon rod, an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel (6.4:1 gear ratio) and 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.