LAKE GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Kelly Jordon experienced the Guntersville bass fishing boom this week during the Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge, but couldn't draw on any of the winning magic he displayed in 2002, when he won a tour event of the fabled Tennessee River impoundment by 6 pounds over Kevin VanDam.
Entering Day Three, Jordon was in 22nd place and within striking distance of making the top-12 cut, only a little more three pounds out. Unfortunately, an 11-pound, 4-ounce catch dropped him all the way to 48th place in the standings.
"I made some choices to try to get into contention," Jordon said. "I had one ledge that had big ones on it — I caught all my weight yesterday in 10 casts and the fish were all between 5 and 6 pounds. Today there was very little current, which meant not bait and no big fish. I moved around a lot to see if they had repositioned and then scrambled to catch what I did."
Even with a tough final day that saw him jeopardize his chances of making the Classic, Jordon still was in awe of the fishery that has materialized in northern Alabama.
"This place is just incredible right now," Jordon said. "My grass fish and my ledge fish didn't fire for me today, but I had a great time here and I can't wait to come back."
One big fish fry
For a fleeting moment Saturday afternoon, Jordon thought he had the Big Bass prize cinched. But the fish that swallowed his deep-diving crankbait was a flathead catfish that he estimated to have weighed at least 50 pounds.
"Kelly fought the fish for about 20 minutes before he finally got it in," said his Marshal, Nick Carlyle of Madison, Ala., who helped Jordan boat the fish and then took his photo with it before the whiskerhead went back in the water.
"It had me excited there for a while," said Jordan, who finished in 48th place. "I guess that catfish ran off all my bass; maybe it ate them."
What's in that stuff?
In Thursday's opening round of the Southern Challenge, a number of frisky bass escaped from the holding bags of various contestants and got loose in the weigh-in tanks. They eventually were dipped out with nets and returned to their rightful, if temporary, owners.
Some anglers conjectured that tournament officials were using an additive that kept the bass "juiced up," but not so, according to Chuck Harbin, assistant tournament director.
"We put Aqua Haul in the tanks, but it's essentially sodium chloride that promotes slime secretions in the bass and also boosts their electrolytes. But that's it; there are no secret ingredients."
Whatever is in the bass Gatorade, it works. The survival rate of bass returned to the water after Elite Series weigh-ins is practically 100 percent, with only one fish succumbing so far after five tournaments.
The one that got away
Gary Klein finished in 16th place, but might have made Sunday's finals had he caught the bass that broke off Saturday afternoon. Klein was cranking a shallow flat when the bass latched on to his lure and swam toward the boat. Klein had been catching average-size fish all day and figured that this one was no different.
When it got to the bow of his boat, however, the fish kept going and Klein suddenly realized it was a lunker.
"She finally jumped beside the boat and I bowed to her but she just short-lined me and broke off," Klein noted. "She was a good 8-pounder, and it cost me a minimum of five spots in the standings. But, hey, that stuff happens to everybody sooner or later."
"By gosh I lit it up today."
— Marty Stone
"I've caught a 5-pound average the last three days and I'm afraid I might not get to fish tomorrow."
— Mark Menendez
"I don't think I've ever been sent packing with 70 pounds."
— Denny Brauer
"Today was probably my worst day, I probably only caught about 50."
— Kevin Wirth
"It's not very often you get to throw 5-pounders back."
— Skeet Reese
"There was a lot of heartbreak out there today."
— Kevin VanDam
"Culling 5-pounders is a bad problem, but it's a lot of fun."
— Aaron Martens
"You would hang a 3-pounder and wish it would jump and throw the hooks."
— Jeff Kriet
"It's sad to say you can catch 62 pounds and finish buck-naked last."
— Gerald Swindle