Is Mother Nature setting up BASS fans for another nail-biter, like the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Alabama's Wheeler Lake, in which upstart Jeremy Starks of Charleston, W.Va., defeated bass fishing's best, four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam?
Wheeler Lake will keep Bassmaster Elite Series pros guessing right up to the start of the April 2-5 Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel out of Decatur, Ala., as the lake typically doesn't fill up until mid-April. Elite Series pro Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., said that water levels could dictate what the fish are doing when the Elite Series hits the northern Alabama fishery.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Dixie Duel on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, April 11, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for all regular-season Elite events and the two postseason events will be live on ESPN360.com, ESPN's broadband sports network, while a wealth of unique content will also be available at Bassmaster.com.
With 1,063 miles of shoreline, Wheeler is the largest of three Alabama lakes that connect with the Tennessee River. It has been the host of 10 BASS events, including the 1974 Bassmaster Classic and also will feature the second Bassmaster Southern Open of 2009, set for April 30-May 2.
With a four-day total of 78 pounds, 10 ounces, at the Southern Challenge in 2008 on Wheeler, Starks beat VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., by 8 ounces. Fishing an old submerged creek that fed a main channel with subtle bends, Starks used a 10-inch Berkley power worm in a plum color. He managed his fish carefully throughout the tournament, throwing just 25 casts to his best spot before Day Four.
"You couldn't script it any better than this," Starks said after claiming the trophy. His teasing remark of "Kevin Who?" during the tournament has since become rather famous. "If you're going to beat somebody, it can't get any better than beating the best in the world."
Horton predicts that the Elite pros will find some good-sized bass at Wheeler, where pros tend to be able to cover more water more quickly and tend to fish shallow with everything from crankbaits to spinnerbaits to jigs this time of year.
"We'll see a lot of pre-spawn and sight fishing," Horton said. "I'm guessing it'll take 16 a day to make the top 12. Maybe 20 pounds a day to win it."
Fans are encouraged to attend the Dixie Duel's daily launches (7:15 a.m. CT) and weigh-ins (4 p.m.) Thursday through Sunday at Ingalls Harbor, 701 Market Street NW, Decatur. Before Day Three competition Saturday, the field will be cut to the top 50 anglers. Only the top 12 will go on to compete in Sunday's final day.
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 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN360.com, will preview Sunday's final weigh-in.