FLORENCE, Ala. — Alabama Charge winner Kevin Short said he felt confident about his chances during Sunday's abbreviated competition day, pointing out that Saturday's competition led him to a sweet spot in the cypress trees where he planned to start fishing Sunday.
But he said he knew Sunday might be his day when a hung-up lure turned into the day's biggest bass.
Short was fishing around cypress trees in a backwater area, and during one retrieve his bait hung on cypress bark below the surface.
"I'm standing there popping the line and popping the line, and nothing's happening, so I start going over toward the tree to get my bait, popping the line the whole time, and then I look down and my line's going over here [to the right of the boat]," Short said. "That was one of the six-pounders I caught today.
"At that point, I think, 'This might be my day.' "
If he wasn't certain then, it happened a second time, this time with a four-pound fish.
"Some days, things just go your way," Short said.
They went Short's way Sunday to the tune of a 23-pound, 5-ounce limit, the heaviest of the tournament, which helped Short to his second Elite Series victory and $100,000.
Several Elite Series anglers spent much of this week's tournament in what anglers call a community hole, which can be defined as any well-known fishing spot that's used extensively by numerous anglers.
But during the Alabama Charge, one productive community hole supported five anglers who made Sunday's final: Cliff Pace (2nd) Steve Kennedy (3rd), Aaron Martens (6th), Shaw Grigsby (8th) and Edwin Evers (9th).
The area, a backwater on the backside of an island that creates an eddy in the current, is well-known as a productive smallmouth hole just downstream from Wilson Dam. But this week it produced largemouth, too.
And despite the number of anglers fishing the same general area of Pickwick Lake, which is an impoundment of the Tennessee River, there were no problems with anglers fighting over the same water.
"It was a great week up there," Evers said. "There was no animosity between anybody."
But it wasn't always easy to concentrate on fishing.
"It was really hard not to see everybody catching fish," Evers said. "That made it really hard to focus, really hard to stay focused on what you were doing."
The area consists of a large flat with water depths between four and 10 feet. Kennedy said it's a well-known spawning area for Pickwick's smallmouth bass, but that this week it held more largemouth than usual. The area has multiple rock piles and plays host to fish in various stages of the spawning cycle.
"It's always been good," Kennedy said. "It's not anything new. It was fun up there."
Every angler who crossed the weigh-in stage for the Alabama Charge carried a limit of five bass to the scale. Not just one day of the tournament, but every day.
All 93 pros caught limits of fish the first two days, followed by 47 limits on Saturday and 12 more on Sunday.
No tournament officials could recall such a feat in the recent history of Bassmaster competition.
"When you're catching 30 to 40 fish a day, it's just plain fun," said eighth-place finisher Shaw Grigsby. "It's just spectacular."
Numerous anglers reported catching even more fish each day, some saying they caught as many as 100 fish a day. But even though anglers batted 1.000 in the limit department, it wasn't a surprise to home-state pro Steve Kennedy.
"That's impressive," Kennedy said, "but I expected it."
Kennedy's explanation for the prolific catch rates?
"We had a week of 20-degree weather this winter, and that killed a lot of grass in the lake," Kennedy said. "And we also had a lot of water, and the flood gates were open for three weeks straight. All that mud and cold killed a lot of the grass. So all the fish that had been living in that grass had to find someplace else to live, and now you can find them on every piece of wood, every rock pile. They're just everywhere where you find cover."
And there's good news for Elite Series pros next week on Guntersville. Kennedy said pros will find similar conditions there.
"We'll do it again next week," Kennedy said. "I'll bet money on it."
Although Pickwick Lake and the Alabama Charge missed most of the severe weather that plagued Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi over the weekend, there were tense moments Saturday night in Florence, Ala., site of the tournament.
Weather warning sirens sounded just before 9:30 p.m., and local television stations and The Weather Channel reported the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Ala., had issued a tornado warning for the area.
Numerous tournament officials and media gathered in the lobby of the Hampton Inn near downtown Florence, the official tournament host hotel, when television weathermen said downtown Florence was in the path of the storm.
Just down the street in the city's downtown entertainment district, Florence Police Department officers cruised the main drag announcing over loudspeakers that everyone should take cover immediately.
Despite the darkness, a huge wall cloud was visible just to the west of the downtown area. Meteorologists later reported that the storm produced a funnel cloud but that it didn't appear to touch down in Florence.
"In the best interest of safety, we sat down this morning with the best information we had from the National Weather Service and made the decision to shorten the day. It's a miracle we got in three days and three-quarters of a day of this tournament."
— Bassmaster Elite Series tournament director Trip Weldon on the decision to shorten the final day of the Alabama Charge
"I still caught 30 fish today, even on a half-day."
— Fourth-place finisher Rick Morris on Pickwick Lake's abundance of fish
"It was mad chaos."
— Ninth-place finisher Edwin Evers discussing the community hole where he, Cliff Pace, Steve Kennedy, Shaw Grigsby and Aaron Martens fished on Sunday's abbreviated competition day.
"You really needed all day to weed through the little fish."
—Eleventh-place finisher Mike Iaconelli on the difficulty in finding big bites on the weather-shortened final day.
"I ain't got time for swimbaits right now. Now, I love me some swimbaits, but there's a time and place for them, and I didn't think this was it."
Alabama Charge winner Kevin Short, who won the tournament on a crankbait.