2009 Elite Series - Southern Challenge Lake Guntersville - Guntersville, AL, May 7 - 10, 2009

Current events at Southern Challenge

Moving water, or a lack of it, takes its toll in the semi-final round

 LAKE GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — River Dynamics 101 was the lesson of the day in the semifinals of the Southern Challenge, with some of the 50 Elite Series anglers earning a passing grade and others flunking out.

 The dozen who aced the test get to fish on Sunday; the rest of the field get checks and points that put them closer to a berth in the Bassmaster Classic.

 When Guntersville Dam is really humming, its 18-bay spillway is discharging 478,000 cubic feet of Tennessee River water per second, and generating 140,000 kilowats of electricity at full capacity. That turns on a lot of light bulbs, and also turns on a lot of bass in Lake Guntersville.

 Imagine the river current that's being sucked down toward the dam. To some extent, it has the same effect on bass as the wind does on an anchored boat. The stronger the current, the more predictable the position of the bass relative to it. They're looking upriver, mainly; they're in places where they don't have to fight the current all day. They're not turned sideways against the current or casually milling around as they get swept downstream.

 Bass also know something else about current that's important for an angler to know as well. Current moves baitfish to them. Shad are bullied by a river, and sometimes go where it wants them to go. When that happens, bass sense that it's time to put on the feed bag and station themselves where they can take advantage of the river's gift. For a fisherman, the when is never so hard to figure out as the where, and that was evident Saturday as the top 50 anglers were culled to 12.

 As is the case for most hydroelectric dams on any given weekend, Guntersville Dam went on standby mode Saturday. The strong current that triggered feeding binges Thursday and Friday slowed in Saturday, and it was evident by the reduced number of bass caught and the hard-luck stories of anglers who had dreams of another day of fishing.

 "The fish just sort of sulled up on me; it killed me," said Mark Davis. "I was fishing out along the main river run and I caught a lot of bass during the course of the day. But I also lost about 25 pounds of fish, including one that would have gone 7 pounds or better. They weren't just swallowing the crankbait like they had been; they just weren't feeding as aggressively for me."

 After weighing in 26-14 and 21-11 stringers the first two days, Davis had 14-4 Saturday. Conversely, Denny Brauer used what seemed to him to be a spurt of current in mid-morning to catch his best bag of the tournament, 23-8.

 "The current where I was fishing picked up about 10 o'clock and I just busted them for about 45 minutes," recalled the Missouri pro. "After that, I went back to catching small ones here and there. When there's current, it groups bass up on a point or somewhere they can catch baitfish; if you can find those places, it's like what we experienced here on Thursday."

Patterns within patterns; sometimes even finding the likely holding positions of bass in current isn't enough. Aaron Martens figured that out on Lake Guntersville, so did Mike Iaconelli. Martens came in with 28 pounds, 11 ounces Saturday; Iaconelli, in third place now, had 25-8.

 "The current slowed down and I had to make some radical adjustments compared with what I had been doing earlier in the week," said Martens. "It wasn't a matter of changing lures or anything like that so much as trying to figure out the best angle to cover and repositioning my boat accordingly.

 "On one spot, in particular, it was very important to cast in a certain direction. I did change colors today because the water is clearing up and was calm today, but I don't think that was as critical as positioning."

 Iaconelli calls it "finding the right line," and it involves determining the fallback plan of bass that have been feeding voraciously in a given spot because of current, and what they will do when Guntersville Dam goes into that standby mode. There's no magic formula at Guntersville or anywhere else where bass position themselves relative to cover, but accepting that it does happen is Rule Number One.

 "I discovered that I had to get the right line relative to the structure and cover I'm fishing," Iaconelli said. "My three best spots feature, one, a shell bottom; two, a big rock; and three, a single stump. If I got lined up on them right and my crankbait deflected off the structure or cover, I could trigger a bite; but it was critical to deflect the lure."

 Figuring out how the current, or lack thereof, will reposition bass on their hotspots will be a test for the top 12 Sunday.

 Marty Stone caught a 30-pound, 1-ounce stringer Saturday to move into second behind Martens, and much of his daily routine involves fishing current-proof shad spawns in shallow water. What draws most of the leaders toward deeper water is the promise of big fish like the 8-, 9- and 10-pounders they were catching in practice when the current was stacking bass up along the points and breaklines.

 "They're out there; they moved some, but they're still out there somewhere at the end of a cast," said Mark Menendez, who moved from 10th to 9th in the standings. "It's going to be very tough to get that big kicker, but you've got to just keep fishing and hope, right down to the last cast."