BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With heavy current and dirty water up the river, fishing has turned out to be a bit different from past Classics on Lay Lake.
Some anglers seemed to find something up north where the lake narrows, while others were turned off by the conditions and decided to focus their attention down south. Takahiro Omori, Tommy Biffle, Bobby Lane, Alton Jones and Scott Ashmore were all spotted up the river Sunday.
Count Jeff Kriet among the anglers who might head north when his boat number is called on Day One of the Bassmaster Classic on Friday.
"I have an early draw, going out boat No. 8," Kriet said. "If I get a few bites up here, it might be worth running up here first thing in the morning."
The issue of boat numbers becomes important because it will be a race to the most well-known community hole on Lay Lake, the Wilsonville Steam Plant. Pumping out warm water draws bass, especially in the cold conditions, and all of the 51 competitors know that.
Kelly Jordon found an area up the river, but he feels that there will be company on that end of the lake during the tournament.
"There are a lot of people up there," Jordon said. "I think I calculated if 50 of us run up there, it would give us each 200 yards to fish on both sides of the river."
In past Classics, anglers have focused on main river areas with current to catch big spotted bass. If an angler goes up the river this year, it is far more likely that they will be back in a creek, which are significantly clearer and warmer than the main river.
According to Mark Tucker, the main river offers a distinct disadvantage to anglers trying to fish the heavy current.
"The problem with so much current this time of year is that you want to fish slow and entice the fish to bite, but the current just washes your bait by them," Tucker said. "If the water was warmer, the fish would eat the bait as it flies by, but in this cold water, you need to be fishing slow."
Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series champion Darrell West didn't even fish up the river over the three days of practice. He checked the area out during pre-practice in December and it didn't line up with his style of fishing.
"I try to be versatile, but that is just not my style of fishing," West said. "Fishing in that much current and not knowing my way around has kept me from going back. It is narrow and will get crowded even with just a few guys."
Ultimately, the anglers face a big decision whether to commit to areas north of south of the mid-lake launch at Beeswax and only time will tell if that decision pays off.
Local angler Breck Price from Chelsea, Ala., lives right down the road and fishes Lay Lake twice a week. He described current fishing conditions as "the worse I've ever seen."
He did manage to land a bass Sunday, one spot that weighed 1.5 pounds, but what was frustrating for Price was the number of fish that would short-strike his bait.
"They would hit the bait on the fall and all I would get back were a few scales," Price said. "Water temperatures were in the 50s out here back in a few of the creeks and now they are in the mid 40s. That 7-degree drop in a week shut them down."
Price will ride out as a Marshal for the Classic and was hesitant to name a favorite, but did say that Aaron Martens will be hard to beat if the tournament ends up being dominated by spotted bass.
The fishing might be tough on Lay Lake right now, but back in December during pre-practice, it was like fishing a different lake. Many anglers reported great catches, but none came close to touching Mark Tucker's monster bass that he estimated weighed 10 pounds.
"I caught that 10-pounder and a few big spotted bass in one area in December," Tucker said. "I haven't gone back to that spot in the last few days because I plan on fishing the spot in the Classic no matter what."
The biggest change that Tucker has noticed from December has been the water clarity.
"Water clarity is more of an issue than water temperatures," Tucker said. "If the water on the main river would be as clear as it is in the backs of pockets, they would bite better like they did in December."