MONTGOMERY, Ala. — One of the dichotomies in play during the Berkley Power Bait Trophy Chase on Lake Jordan involved current. The generating schedule at Bouldin Dam was undependable at best, but at times a discernible current actually did sweep down the Coosa River impoundment. Depending on who was talking, however, that current helped the fishing, made no difference, or caused bank-runners to move to parts unknown.
The 12 pros taking part in the second phase of Toyota Championship Week here won't have to wonder about how current will affect the fishing on the Alabama River; they'll know soon after the first practice day begins Tuesday morning. Current is a constant here. The Alabama River is formed by the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers between Wetumpka and Montgomery, and running water is as predictable as the hot weather of mid-September. If anything, there will be more current than usual as Lake Jordan's Bouldin Dam is due for its biennial inspection, which means the impoundment will be drawn down 4 to 6 feet during Part II of Championship Week, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph.
Theoretically, current is supposed to activate bass, but if it's a constant part of the environmental neighborhood, its effect won't be as dramatic as is usually the case in a lake. What, then, will be some of the more important factors be that affect the fishing this week?
"Finding bass that aren't constantly being worked over is always the biggest challenge," says Texas pro Gary Klein, whose river-fishing credentials make him one of the favorites here. "The guys who will do well are those who can present a lure precisely into spots that are extremely difficult to reach, and the guys who find offshore bass in places that most fishermen wouldn't think of looking."
Though Klein's observation is a bit obtuse and longer than the average fortune cookie prognostication, it's actually spot-on in terms of what will be required by the Alabama River in return for its chunky spotted bass and big largemouths.
To accomplish their mission of gaining fishing immortality in this, the first post-season tournament of its kind, the anglers will have about 80 miles of water to fish, which means that the river "will fish bigger," as Alton Jones puts it.
"There's definitely more room for 12 anglers to spread out and not be so concerned with boat traffic or getting in each other's way," says Jones. "The river is more off-colored than Lake Jordan so that's going to require some adjustment, and the lure choices and tackle no doubt will be different because of the current and all the cover."
Several huge creeks and bays lie between the Bouldin Dam tailwaters downstream to Jones Bluff Dam and the backwaters are always good for a few hefty largemouths, though early autumn isn't prime time. More likely, the two-day tournament will be won on the river or in creeks and coves within shouting distance of the river. Bouldin Dam is sure to get some play, as its tailwaters will be seething with spotted bass lured by the increased volume of current and what the Lake Jordan drawdown might send their way. Downriver, along banks swathed in kudzu, there are thousands of logs and laydowns as well as grass beds, riprapped river bends, and sunken points and sandbars where spotted bass and largemouths gang up.
Though threadfin shad are the primary forage in the river, crawfish and various types of minnows attract attention from bass, as do giant gizzard shad. Consequently, large, wide-wobbling, deep-diving crankbaits account for numbers of heavy largemouths, and jigs, spinnerbaits and soft-plastics of various shapes and sizes usually fill out the repertoire of successful late-summer lures.
All of the competitors vying for the Bassmaster Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year crown have fished Alabama River tournaments before, and Klein's history with the river dates back to the 1981 Bassmaster Classic, where he finished in 27th place. Tommy Biffle finished third in an Elite 50 tournament here in 2004; Gerald Swindle was 11th in the same competition. Mark Menendez wound up third here in a 2003 Open, while Skeet Reese was 14th, Kelly Jordan was 15th and Kevin VanDam came in 18th. The latter placed 12th in the 2004 tournament where Biffle was third. In a 2005 event on the Alabama River, Randy Howell came in fourth and Menendez placed fifth.
And then there's Mike Iaconelli, whose best previous showing in an Alabama River tournament was 41st place. However, since that event in 2004 it seems he's always managed to nudge his way into the spotlight no matter what the fishery or the circumstances.
"I like river-fishing. I'm looking forward to fishing the Alabama River again," says Iaconelli, riding the crest of a building wave of momentum after winning the Berkley Power Bait Challenge on Lake Jordan. "Anybody in this crowd is capable of catching some huge stringers on this river. Whoever wins will have earned it, because nobody in this field is going to give anything away."