GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Guntersville is the star quarterback of bass fishing lakes in America and its popularity is rising. When the Elite Series field blasts off on the lake Thursday morning, they can expect plenty of company on their primary spots.
Dean Rojas has seen even more recreational anglers on an already popular lake and compared the scene to the legendary big-bass waters of Lake Fork.
"The big equalizer for this tournament will be the locals," Rojas said. "They've been beating on the fish for the last three months. There seem to be more locals and more guides on the water this year than ever before."
The pressure might create some issue for anglers looking to get on some of the offshore locations they fished last year that have now turned into community holes.
"I have two deep spots that are community holes, so my going there depends on the draw," Rojas said. "There are so many guys out there on the humps right now, I know if I fish my strengths, it will all work out. There aren't a whole lot of people beating the bank."
Kevin Short, recent winner of the Alabama Charge on Pickwick Lake, agreed with Rojas' assessment of the local pressure, but acknowledged that the recreational anglers have every right to fish the water as the Elite pros; it's just another variable to be dealt with.
"There are so many people on the water," Short said. "There are way more people here than in the past and they didn't come here to watch us, they came here to fish. You are not going to have a place to yourself. I've seen people here from all over the country and I don't blame them."
As for pressure, Short has had some pressure of his own to deal with since his big win just days ago down the Tennessee River. With his phone ringing off the hook, it has been harder for the Arkansas pro to focus on continuing to move up the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
"I didn't have time to do much of anything after Pickwick," Short said. "That's the hard part of making the top-12 on the first stop of a back-to-back. It sucks — a good suck — but it has been a pretty hectic week with the phone ringing on the ride over and all day Monday."
As for the fishing itself, Short predicts weights could fall in the mid 90-pound range for the four day tournament. Anglers can bring in largemouth and smallmouth that measure over 15 inches in length and spotted bass over 12 inches, but the consensus is that just-keeper size fish won't be enough to make the cut.
Wade Grooms finished 24th here last year with 67 pounds, 1 ounce, but has struggled to get as many big bites as he did then.
"You will catch a lot of fish here, not unlike Pickwick," Grooms said. "You will catch a bunch of 14-inchers before you finally catch a 3-pounder. The problem now is fish are in between, so they are not way up or far out. Last year, I knew I could get a couple big bites each day, but if you would give me 18 pounds a day right now, I wouldn't even put the boat in the water."
Grooms predicts the top anglers will still be able to catch 20- to 25-pound limits, but the overall weights will be down, with no one likely to break the 100 pound barrier for four days of fishing.
Alton Jones agreed with Grooms, saying that a 6-pound bite will be worth a lot this year. Part of his reasoning for that is the change in the grass. The normally-prevalent hydrilla out on the main-lake flats seems to be largely absent, with milfoil being the dominant vegetation.
"The grass is always the key for Lake Guntersville," said Jones. "There is less grass than I've seen since the grass rebounded here. There still is plenty of it, but places that have always had grass, don't this year."
The current goes hand in hand with the grass as a key to unlocking the bigger fish on Guntersville and with recent heavy rains, the current has increased, helping those anglers fishing offshore.
"When there's current running, it positions the fish," Jones said. "When you pull up on the right little stretch, they show themselves pretty aggressively."
Even with tougher fishing and increased fishing pressure, Guntersville is still one of the best lakes in the country and anglers can expect to catch upwards of 100 fish a day. The action starts Thursday with the Toyota take off at 7:00 a.m. ET at the Lake Guntersville State Park with the first fish hitting the scales starting at 4:30 p.m. ET.