I know many of the pros have been looking forward to this week's Bassmaster Elite Series Tennessee Triumph tournament on Kentucky Lake ever since last season, and after the crankbait slugfest at Guntersville three weeks ago, excitement has risen even higher. That's because Kentucky Lake at this time of year historically offers a cranking bonanza. Kevin VanDam won the 2008 Elite event here with 84-13 and he was cranking almost the entire time.
Assuming TVA has the lake and Tennessee River under control and that it's not roaring or flooding from the recent rains, we should expect a lot of fish to be caught. Kentucky Lake produces a lot of fish but not a lot of giants. The pros will spend most of their week working offshore ledges and some mussel shell beds, and I expect another winning weight comparable to VanDam's 2008 total but not above the century mark.
Overall, the lake has been good to fishermen all spring, and both Alton Jones and Gary Klein, who practiced here between the Smith Mountain and Guntersville events, told me they caught a lot of small to average bass with a couple of 6-pounders thrown in. If the water is really high this week, it will push some fish shallow and turn on the spinnerbait bite, which will help even more pros, but I don't think a shallow bite alone will win.
One of the main differences between 2009 and 2008 is this year's launch at Paris Landing. This is where VanDam won last year, but now his hotspot won't be private anymore so he — and everyone else who ran to this area — will need to find something new. Water and weather conditions may dictate how far they go. The best hydrilla — which is making a comeback — extends for about 30 miles south of Paris Landing, so I'd expect a lot of activity along that stretch.
Alton Jones, fighting hard to win this year's Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title (he's 3rd now), finished 13th last year, and he fished in Lake Barkley. Last week he told me he might just go there again, even though it was a long ride and would require a gas stop along the way. It depended on what he was catching in other areas, but it could be a fallback spot for him, and he definitely planned to practice there.
With this picture of the lake conditions in mind, then, here are the pros I plan to watch during the tournament:
Kevin VanDam — Kevin has the bull's eye on his jersey now, and considering not only his past record here and his expertise with crankbaits but also his desire to win another AOY title, he's on everyone's watch list. After sharing boat time with him on Guntersville, I'm even more in awe of his ability to read structure and pick it apart.
Michael Iaconelli — I also fished with Michael at Guntersville and was truly impressed with his ability to figure out bass movement patterns and isolate their holding areas. I liked the way he used four different crankbaits on the same bass, too, just to keep them interested.
Skeet Reese — If these pros sound familiar, it's because they are. They're consistently good, and Skeet has been among the most consistent. Extremely relaxed since winning the Classic, his runner-up finish at Guntersville only added to his confidence. He's known for his spinnerbait work, but he can throw a crankbait, too.
Rick Clunn — Had he not been too sick to fish effectively at Guntersville, Rick would have changed the finishing order. He had a good tournament at Kentucky Lake last year, too, and I can't help but remember how many pros used his RC crankbaits at Guntersville. Who knows how to use them better than the man who designed them?
Gary Klein — There's a good chance the bite this week will include jigs as well as crankbaits, especially if bass are around shell beds, and Gary, who is fishing as well as I've seen him fish in several years, is a master with both lures. He's fifth in the AOY standings now and fully capable of winning his third title.
Kelly Jordon — After Guntersville, I spent a day crankbaiting with Kelly on Lake Fork, and I know how good he is working diving plugs over structure. I also know how close he has come to winning earlier this season. He loves crankbaits, swimbaits, and his Big Joe spoons, all of which will get wet during this tournament.
Others to watch include Mark Menendez, who lives on the lake but who has struggled here the past two years; Mike McClelland, another crankbait and jig expert who knows how to win big tournaments; and Kevin Wirth, who, like Menendez, lives nearby and knows the lake's many moods.