An Insider's Look at the Southern Challenge

It's been two years since the Elite pros competed on Lake Guntersville.

It's been two years since the Elite pros competed on Lake Guntersville, site of this week's Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge, but that won't matter, since BASS has been conducting tournaments on this famous Tennessee River impoundment since 1976, and virtually everyone in the field has experience on it. This time, they'll find bass spawning as well as in postspawn, so you can expect a lot of fish to be caught, weather permitting.

Since 1976, when the Bassmaster Classic was held on Guntersville, the list of winners reads like a Who's Who of bass fishing, with names like Clunn, Rowland, Jordon, Iaconelli and VanDam all on that list, and each certainly capable of winning again. Kevin VanDam took top honors most recently, bringing in 66-3 in 2007, while Michael Iaconelli won with 71-13 a year earlier.

"All the Alabama lakes seem to be two to three weeks later than normal this year, so that's why we're going to see a lot more bass caught shallow than we usually do," Skeet Reese told me as he prepared for this event.

"Many of the pros would have keyed on the shad spawn, but now they're actually going to be looking for bedding bass. Guntersville always has a lot of variables, so I think you're going to see a wide range of weights. Some are going to come in with 12 pounds while others will bring in 25 pounds."

One of the best things about Guntersville is its size — 69,100 acres. It's 82 miles from end to end, but no one will fish the far, far upper reaches because the best fishing traditionally takes place between the Guntersville dam and the city of Scottsboro, more than 30 miles to the north. Included are such legendary tributaries as North and South Sauty, Siebold Branch, Roseberry and Brown's creeks.

There are islands, shallow milfoil flats, winding channels, plenty of stumps and boat docks, and untold numbers of bass. The pros can fish a lot of different ways, but I'd expect to see plenty of small swimbaits, swimming jigs, spinnerbaits and soft jerkbaits being used.

That kind of variety opens the door for practically everyone in the field, so picking a potential winner is difficult. Nonetheless, here's who I'll be watching:

Kelly Jordon — After three so-so tournaments (by his standards, anyway), the Texas pro turned up the wick at Smith Mountain with a third place finish. He won at Guntersville in April 2002, with 83-11, so he knows the lake, and, as his record shows, he certainly knows how to win.

Kevin VanDam — Not only did he win here in April 2007, KVD just won at Smith Mountain Lake. He wants the 2009 Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title very badly, and he's even more motivated now that Reese is right behind him in AOY points. KVD is going to be fishing as hard as he's ever fished the rest of this season to win it.

Michael Iaconelli — I know it's beginning to sound like a broken record — especially after Ike's poor showing (42nd) at Smith Mountain — but he's won here, too, and this tournament could set up to match his style very well, especially if it's primarily postspawn.

Boyd Duckett — This Alabama pro is overdue for another win. He has shown a tendency to start fast but finish slow, but Duckett knows Guntersville, and he's awfully good at pitching his Chigger Craws around stumps and milfoil.

Matt Herren — Herren is classified a rookie only because this is his first year of Elite competition, but in truth, he's a very experienced — and very good — fisherman. He nearly won the Southern Open here last October, and he was just one fish away from beating KVD at Smith Mountain. So far, his Elite season has been superb.

Dean Rojas — If there are enough bass on beds, Rojas will be a factor. If he can find enough milfoil, his frogs will increase his chances. In fact, whenever and wherever bass are shallow, Dean bears watching, as evidenced by his Elite win last season at Oneida.

There are plenty of other pros to watch as the tournament unfolds, and, given a lucky break here and there, Fred Roumbanis, Matt Reed or Terry Scroggins could easily slip in to take the title.