Everyone I have spoken to about this week's Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl event on Smith Mountain Lake, including 2007 winner Casey Ashley, believes the bass will be in full spawning mode where sight fishing could be an important part of tournament strategy. If that happens, the playing field may very well get tilted, because while all the pros can pitch and flip in shallow water, only a handful of them truly excel at catching bedding fish.
So far this season, however, our pattern predictions haven't been that accurate. Instead of finding bass in prespawn as expected at the first three events, the pros have encountered bass in all phases of the spawn, including postspawn, and at all depths. That might also hold true at Smith Mountain, although I really don't think anyone will be able to specifically key on postspawn bass this early on this lake.
When I fished Smith Mountain Lake, I was impressed not only by its beauty but also by the fact it offers so many fishing options. For example, the upper end of this 40-mile impoundment is not nearly as clear as the lower end, so lures, presentations and bass behavior vary considerably. Naturally, the smallmouth like the lower end, but they're not that large, so with good conditions, many pros will head north for the heavier largemouths.
The other thing I like about this 20,600-acre impoundment is that while it is deep, there's really no shortage of shallow water. The shoreline is a ragged edge of points and coves and pockets with beautiful stair-stepping bottom contours in many places. Boat docks are abundant — Ashley won here with two late-afternoon boat dock bass — and my guess is that every pro in the tournament will spend some time fishing them.
Here are some anglers that could do very well in the event:
Alton Jones — He's leading in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and wants to win it, he loves sight fishing, and he's extremely confident right now. If bass are bedding, he will be tough.
Denny Brauer — The 1998 Bassmaster Classic winner isn't that fond of sight fishing, but no one can question his shallow water expertise with a jig. At Smith Mountain he's got 500 miles of shoreline filled with boat docks waiting for him.
Gary Klein — It's really great to see this long-time pro having such a good year (4th in AOY going into this event), and I see no reason why it won't continue up here. He's good shallow or deep, and, like Brauer, he's made a career of using a jig. The boat docks and the breaklines will give him plenty of targets.
Todd Faircloth — I like Todd's chances this week because of how he often fishes — when everyone else is throwing jigs he may be using a Senko or a swimbait, but he loves flipping, too. He doesn't shy away from clear water, either. While he has not matched his AOY performance of 2008, he hasn't changed his style or lost his confidence.
Skeet Reese — The 2009 Classic champ has been very strong and really fun to watch since winning on the Red River. He's not doing anything spectacular, but he's always there when checks are handed out. Being from California, Skeet is well-versed in clear water, and I've been with him when bass were bedding on Clear Lake so I can assure you he knows how to catch spawning fish.
Dean Rojas — Dean is one of the best on the Elite tour when it comes to sight fishing, and I know he's hoping bass will be bedding this week. Don't forget, that record catch from Toho he made in 2001 came entirely from catching bedding bass. I don't think he'll do much with his frogs at Smith Mountain, but he's got plenty of tubes and other soft plastics he can use.
Of course, there are others to watch, including Edwin Evers, Mark Tucker, Mike Iaconelli and Casey Ashley, each of whom is strong in shallow water and adept at finding slightly different patterns and presentations that others miss.