After an exciting finish to the fourth event of the Bassmaster Elite Series season on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake, the Elite pros head to Alabama and Lake Guntersville for the May 7-10 Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge out of Guntersville, Ala.
Guntersville has been the site of more than 20 previous BASS events, including the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, won by Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo. The last time the Elite Series visited the popular fishery, in 2007, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., the reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, outlasted the field to claim the trophy. VanDam's winning weight of 66 pounds, 3 ounces, was more than 7 pounds the better over St. Louis' Mark Tucker, who finished second with 59-1.
"Things are sure to be different this time around," VanDam said. "You can always count on a slugfest at Guntersville. It's one of the finest bass fisheries we have."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Southern Challenge on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, May 16, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for all regular-season Elite events and the two postseason events will air live on ESPN360.com, ESPN's broadband sports network, while a wealth of unique content will also be available at Bassmaster.com.
The Southern Challenge includes a top prize of $100,000 and awards valuable points in the 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title race. With 1,063 points, VanDam leads the AOY standings after winning the April 23-26 Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake. Trailing him are 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion and 2007 AOY Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., in second with 998 points, and 2008 Classic champion Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, in third with 986 points.
The top 12 pros in the AOY standings at the end of the regular season will advance to the two-event postseason, when the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be determined.
In the 2009 Rookie of the Year standings, Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., who finished second at the Blue Ridge Brawl, is in the lead with 921 points and an overall standing of seventh in the AOY race. Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., is second in the ROY standings with 730 points.
In 2007, when the Elite event was shortened to three days because of inclement weather, VanDam concentrated on spawning shad along grass lines with a ½-ounce Strike King KVD Pro-Model spinnerbait in blue shad and either a Strike King Series 5 or Series 6 crankbait, depending on the depth of the milfoil.
He made milk runs to specific spots in the middle of the lake, keying on areas near spawning flats where bass were moving toward the shad spawn. Well known for his fast-paced methods, VanDam had to slow things down considerably to work the spinnerbait in the grass.
Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., is looking forward to the Guntersville stop and heard good reports.
"I've heard that in the last six weeks, the locals have really been crushing them," Ashley said. "I think it will take more than 80 pounds to win the tournament and to key in on the shad spawn. I'm going to focus on the main lake and secondary spots. The bass pre-spawn should be in full swing by the time we get there. It should be a slugfest."
Fans are encouraged to attend the Southern Challenge's daily launches (7:15 a.m. CT) and weigh-ins (4 p.m.) Thursday through Sunday at Lake Guntersville State Park, 4242 Aubrey Carr Scenic Dr., Guntersville. After Day Two's competition Friday, the field will be cut to the top 50 anglers for Day Three. Only the top 12 will go on to compete in Day Four.
At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, fans are invited to experience Bassmaster University, which includes the "Ask the Experts" session with Elite pros at 3 p.m.
Sunday's activities include the live taping of Hooked Up, hosted by ESPN Outdoors personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders. The show, which will air live at 3:30 p.m. ET on Bassmaster.com, will preview Sunday's final weigh-in.
All events at the Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge are free and open to the public. Up next in the Elite Series is the June 3-6 Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake out of Paris, Tenn.
Local sponsors of the Southern Challenge are the Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce and Marshall County.
Official sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite Series: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, BOOYAH Baits, Evan Williams Bourbon, Mercury, OPTIMA Batteries, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Outboards.
Supporting sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite Series: Bass Pro Shops, Costa Del Mar, Ramada, SpongeTech and Triton Boats.