A lot is on the line next week for Bassmaster Southern Open competitors when they hit Lake Guntersville for the circuit's season-ending tournament out of Guntersville, Ala.
About 200 Southern Open pros will compete Oct. 16-18 for the event's title and $45,000 first-place prize. An equal number of co-anglers will be out to win their division's first-place prize, a boat package valued at $32,000.
Most importantly, pros also will be competing for points to earn invitations to the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series, the highest level of competitive bass fishing, and the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.
Those who wrap up their Southern Open season in the top 10 in the standings will be eligible to join the Elite Series. The top three will qualify to compete on the Red River in the Feb. 20-22 Classic out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.
"I'd love to be able to fish the Bassmaster Classic. I'd really like to do that. I've come close several times, but haven't made it," said Southern Open pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., who is fourth in the standings going into the Guntersville event.
The full Southern Open field will compete Thursday and Friday, with only the top 30 in each division qualifying for the final day of competition Saturday.
Fans are invited to the Open's Thursday-Saturday takeoffs and weigh-ins at Lake Guntersville State Park. The pros will launch at 7:45 a.m. ET, and the weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 3:50 p.m. ET. All events are free and open to the public.
Bassmaster.com will provide coverage that includes live, streaming video of the daily weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards beginning at 3:50 p.m. ET each day. Photo galleries and daily results also will be available at Bassmaster.com.
A perennial BASS favorite, 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville has hosted 18 pro-level BASS tournaments since 1976, including the Bassmaster Elite Series Southern Challenge in April 2007. The 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., won the 2007 Elite Series event with a four-day total weight of 66 pounds, 3 ounces. He honed in on big bass that were ambushing spawning shad along grass lines.
A pattern built on springtime shad behavior won't help Open pros in October. And the big Tennessee River impoundment's well-known grass-mat pattern might not produce, Pugh said.
"Everybody knows Guntersville's typical fall pattern, when bass move up and topwater frogs can take them off grass mats," said the pro, who lives about 45 minutes from Lake Guntersville. "But the grass mats haven't been dominant this year — the mats are just not there like they used to be. So it probably will take something a little different, like a deep jig bite or a deep cranking bite, to do really well.
"They've been keeping the lake at full pool, but there are fluctuations," Pugh added. "If you are on a grass bite, and that water comes up an inch or two, that can really hurt it. Other than that, there's not too much that can mess with the bite. If the wind blows, they bite. If the wind doesn't blow, they bite."
Another Open contender is Elite pro Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla. He's in second place in the Southern Open points race.
"I'll have just two or three days of practice time, but that should be enough. I really like Guntersville, and feel I understand it a little bit. I'm pretty much just going to go flip to grass," said Scroggins, whose most recent finish on the lake was fourth place at the 2007 Elite event.
Pugh estimated that 21 to 22 pounds a day would keep a pro on top of the leaderboard in next week's three-day Open.
"It may take a little bit more if the water cools off, maybe 23, 24 pounds a day," he said. "Say, a total in the 62- to 65-pound range."
Scroggins' best guess was slightly lower: 17- to 20- pounds a day.
"It's a great lake, and it always takes quite a bit to win there," he said. "There are several Alabama pros with a home-field advantage, so it's going to be an interesting deal. Matt Herren, Greg Pugh, Aaron Martens — any one of them could do well there and claim the Classic spots."
The three pros Scroggins mentioned hold top-five positions in the points race. Herren, who's from Trussville, Ala., is tied for fourth place with Pugh. Martens, an Elite Series pro from Leeds, Ala., is third in points. Elite pro Peter Thliveros — who, like Scroggins, is from Florida — leads the points pack.
Thliveros, Scroggins and Martens already have qualified through the 2008 Elite Series for the 2009 Classic. However, if any of them qualifies through the Southern Open circuit, that pro will be awarded a Classic spot via the Southern Open tour. Should that happen, BASS would work down the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and award a Classic berth or berths to pros who didn't qualify among the top 36 via the Elite season.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava., Mo., is first on that list. The 2009 Classic would be his 32nd, more than any other qualifier.
Information about the Guntersville area is available from the Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.marshallcountycvb.com. The Open's host hotels are the recently refurbished Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge, www.alapark.com, (256) 571-5440; and the lakeside Guntersville Holiday Inn, www.holidayinn.com, 1-877-863-4780.
Bassmaster.com include Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter, Yamaha, Optima Batteries and Triton Boats.
Local sponsors include the Marshal County Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
Location and Field
Bassmaster Southern Open
Oct. 16-18, 2008
7:45 a.m. ET/3:50 p.m. ET
Lake Guntersville State Park
7966 AL Hwy. 227
Guntersville, AL 35976
For 40 years, BASS has served as the authority on bass fishing. With its considerable multi-media platforms and expansive tournament trail, BASS is guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry leading publications Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Fishing Tackle Retailer and comprehensive web properties in www.Bassmaster.com and www.ESPNOutdoors.com, the organization is committed to delivering content true to the lifestyle. Additionally, television programming on ESPN2 continues to provide relevant content from tips and techniques to in-depth tournament coverage to passionate audiences.
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