Waiting for the big bite

Elite anglers find plentiful bass on Pickwick, but size will prove challenging

FLORENCE, Ala. — When the Elite Series anglers take off onto Pickwick Lake Thursday for the Alabama Charge, catching over 100 fish a day won't be impossible. Catching fish over 4 pounds, however, nearly has been.

"There's probably more fish in this lake than any other I've every fished," said Mark Tucker. "This has the perfect habitat for them, both moving water and backwaters, without the pressure like Kentucky Lake."

The biggest challenge for Tucker in the tournament will be not getting lulled into complacency by the number of fish.

"Not losing a fish will be important here," Tucker said. "You are getting so many bites, the minute you get sloppy, you could lose a 3- to 5-pounder and that will kill you."

With a 12-inch minimum length limit on spotted and largemouth bass and a 14-inch limit on smallmouth, catching a five-fish limit will not be a problem for the 93 anglers competing this week. Unfortunately, many of the pros plan on wading through numbers of fish and hoping for a big bite to come along.

Gary Klein has found several schools of fish, but has to hope that he has those spots to himself and a big fish comes along eventually.

"As an anglers, you only have a couple of options: try to wade through them, or make a boat or bait change, something you figure out over the course of the day," Klein said. "The weather will also be a factor. We had two hard days of practice and we're supposed to have wind tomorrow. They bite good when it's overcast, cloudy and windy."

Forecasts for Florence call for sunny skies for the first day of competition, but scattered thunderstorms will likely move through north Alabama for the anglers fishing over the weekend.

As for the lake itself, the anglers can go all the way up to the Tennessee line on Pickwick or lock down into Wilson. Historically, smallmouth have dominated on Pickwick and while they still represent great fishing, the recent emergence of grass has made largemouth even more dominant.

Muscle Shoals resident Timmy Horton has extensive experience on this section of the Tennessee River and doesn't think grass is as big a factor this time of year because it hasn't had enough time to develop yet.

"They drop the lake down in the winter, so the grass never really comes up this time of year," Horton said. "Other than that, the lake is in great shape. There's not a lot of big fish, but the fishing is good."

As to the local advantage: "If we were here 3 to 4 weeks later, probably, but right now the fish are shallow so there really isn't a local advantage."

His predictions for the winning four-day stringer was 20 pounds a day, with 14 to 15 pounds good enough to cash a check as one of the top-47 anglers.

More anglers thought it would take less weight, however. Chris Lane predicted 17 pounds a day would take home the trophy, while Greg Vinson thought it would be closer to 18 or 19 pounds. Dean Rojas pointed out that with as little recent history as anglers have had on this lake, it will be hard to really pinpoint a winning target.

"I really have no idea what will be a good weight, maybe 15 pounds a day," Rojas said. "I fished one other event here, but we locked into Wheeler and Wilson to get out of Pickwick. It has been a numbers game and I just hope my five biggest fish will prevail. The water is real high right now, so there is a lot of shoreline cover."

Shallow cover would seemingly play into flipping experts like Tommy Biffle, but he insisted that wasn't the case and the tournament would likely be won out deep. To hear what he had to say, click here to watch his BASSCam update.

The Toyota take-off on Day One is set for 7:10 a.m. ET from McFarland Park, with anglers weighing in at 4:30 a.m. ET.