MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Here in the birthplace of the Confederacy, another war between North and South is shaping up, but this latest struggle will be a battle of wits rather than armies, and the weapons here are rods and reels instead of guns.
Should I go north, or should I go south? That's the question of the day for the 12 anglers competing in the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph on the Alabama River. With 80 miles of river to run and not much time to fish it all, the contestants will have to decide whether to make the long haul toward Jones Bluff Dam to the south, or head toward Bouldin Dam, at the northern terminus.
The choice isn't easy and, with $200,000 at stake for the fisherman who captures the Bassmaster Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year title, isn't anything to be taken lightly. Tuesday, the two-day practice round saw most of the field going south to try their luck in the wider, slower-moving part of the river below Montgomery. Wednesday, most of the boats headed north to fish the Bouldin Dam tailwaters that flow from Lake Jordan. At 11 a.m. sharp, the dam's gates were opened and water began pouring out into the diversion canal that empties into the Coosa River a few miles south. The boiling current then swept past where the Coosa and the Tallapoosa Rivers meet to form the mighty Alabama River. The flowage is expected to continue for at least a couple of days until Lake Jordan is drawn down 4 to 6 feet so that Bouldin Dam can be inspected and, if necessary, repaired.
Typically, tailwater fisheries of the Coosa River chain can be outstanding for spotted bass, and several of the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph tournament boats could be seen going to and from the dam. However, the fishery drew mixed reviews as the anglers experienced mixed results.
"I guess I was expecting a lot more to happen at Bouldin Dam," said Skeet Reese, who's currently leading the Angler of the Year race, 16 points ahead of Kevin Van Dam. "I didn't find what I needed; now I have to decide whether I'm going to stay up in this end or go downriver again. I guess I'll... no, I haven't made up my mind yet."
Like Reese, Mike Iaconelli wasn't too thrilled with the reception he got from the Bouldin tailwaters, but he isn't willing to write off the upriver stretches just yet.
"I've had too many people tell me that there are big spotted bass below Bouldin Dam," noted Iaconelli. "I believe that there are enough bass scattered around up here to win the tournament, but there doesn't seem to be any consistent pattern going on that I've found."
Several anglers were conspicuous by their absence when the current started to flow at Bouldin Dam. Tommy Biffle, whose specialty is pitching and flipping to shoreline cover, wasn't there, nor were Todd Faircloth or Gary Klein. Though they could have arrived later, their failure to appear at midday might have been an indication of their intention to stay in the south end of the river, which is known more for its big largemouth bass than for its hefty spotted bass.
Gerald Swindle made his mind up Wednesday after sampling Bouldin's fare and finding it wanting. He's sticking to the south end. It was slow going for him and others Tuesday morning before dam keepers at Jones Bluff Dam opened the gates, but his practice day there ended on a promising note.
"I wouldn't say I was just overjoyed with what I found down south on Tuesday, but later in the day after the current picked up down there I did get on a little pattern that I'm going to try again Thursday," confessed the Alabama pro. "For whatever reason, the big spots aren't biting upriver, so I'm going back to where I did catch some fish.
"Actually, I only hit a couple of places, and for the most part I'll be fishing new water with no preconceived notions about where to fish," continued Swindle. "I think I've got a pattern, and sometimes a pattern is better than a place. Somebody else might get on your place, but you can take a pattern with you and go somewhere else."
Whether some of the anglers are trying to fake out the competition and head upriver again Thursday remains to be seen. But, if lack of current downriver was the issue Tuesday morning in practice for Swindle and others, and all that was needed to turn on the largemouth fishery there, it shouldn't be a concern Thursday and Friday in the competition. North and south, the water is on the way.