Bassmaster Southern Opens pro Adam Brown of Attalla, Ala., knew he had to be a quick study to learn Smith Lake for the May 13-15 event out of Jasper, Ala.
"Shallow water is definitely my strength, so I had avoided Smith like the plague," he said. "It's real deep, real clear and a lot different than other lakes in Alabama. I've only been on Smith a few times in my life, even though the lake is only about an hour and a half from where I live."
Deep it is. At Smith Dam the Warrior River impoundment measures 264 feet. There are a few shallow backwater areas, but most anglers take their bass off the lake's rocky underwater points and quick-dropping bluff walls.
And clear it is. Last weekend when he was scouting, visibility was around 5 to 8 feet in the main lake. That actually constitutes stained water for Smith, he said. Muddy runoff from recent hard rains has cut into the clarity.
The lake holds largemouth, but spotted bass have ruled for many years — 32 years, to be official in the count. The state's official spotted bass record of 8 pounds, 15 ounces, came from Smith Lake in March 1978.
Brown said most of the spots he saw appear to be in the postspawn stage.
"I think the tournament is at the right time for this lake. Spots are moving off the beds. The shad are starting to spawn, so it should be a good topwater bite. I believe this tournament will be won on a Spook, a Sammy — something on top," he said, referring to a Heddon Zara Spook and Lucky Craft Sammy topwater lures.
About 13 to 15 pounds on each of the three competition days should be enough to take the winner's trophy, he estimated.
Brown would like to be among the anglers bringing in the heaviest bags. He has his eye on snaring one of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic berths that will be awarded at season's end to the top two Southern Open anglers in the points standings. The top seven anglers will be invited to join the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series.
"The Classic is everybody's goal, I think from the moment you pick up a rod," he said. "And I'd like a chance to fish the Elites."
Brown, now 36, said he's been tournament fishing since he was 15. Until this year, the demands of his custom countertop business had restricted him to one-day events in the Bassmaster Weekend Series and a few other circuits.
"I decided this year that it was time to step it up," he said. His first pro-level BASS event was the 2010 Southern Open season opener on Florida's Lake Okeechobee, a lake on which he'd never before competed. He finished ninth, thus securing ninth place in the division's standings.
The Okeechobee victor, thus leader of the points race going into the Smith Lake event, is Bassmaster Elite Series pro Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala.
After Okeechobee, the points race instantly became intriguing when Lane's brother and fellow Elite pro, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., scored second place. He's just 10 ticks behind his older brother.
The siblings not only keep the rivalry friendly, they help each other when they can. All the same, Chris Lane took time to make two recent scouting trips to Smith to prep for the Open.
"Smith is a lot different than the Tennessee River lakes in Alabama," said Chris, a Florida native who now lives on one — Lake Guntersville, which also happens to be the site of this week's Elite event, the May 6-9 Synergy Southern Challenge. "Smith Lake has little or no grass; it is very, very deep, and the water's really clear. It has a lot of fish in it and a lot of big spots — 4- to 4 1/2-pounders."
To fish the clear water effectively, he said most anglers will reduce line size and use a less visible line, such as a fluorocarbon. Anglers will tend to scale back on lure colors, picking, say, a natural finish instead of a knock-their-eyes-out chartreuse.
He estimated a pro will need 12 to 13 pounds a day to be on top.
"I think a jerkbait will work well; I think trolling a Carolina rig or football jig off the points will play a big role too," Lane said.
Besides the Lane brothers, several other Elite pros are signed up for the Southern Open tournament. One is Florida's Terry Scroggins, who won a 2010 Bassmaster Classic berth as the 2009 Southern Open points winner. Scroggins is now tied for third place in points with Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala.
While pros will compete for the first prize of approximately $45,000, co-anglers will be fishing for a top prize of a boat/motor rig valued at $34,000. The full field will compete Thursday and Friday. The top 30 in each division will advance to the third and final day.
Fishing fans are invited to watch how it all goes down. Free and open to the public are the daily launches and weigh-ins at Smith Lake Dam, 640 Powerhouse Road, Jasper, AL. Boats are scheduled to take off at 5:45 a.m. CT; weigh-ins will begin at 2 p.m. CT.
Bassmaster.com will provide daily coverage with results, standings, analysis and extensive photo galleries.
The host organization and local sponsor is the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County.
Bassmaster Opens Official Sponsors: Toyota Trucks, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Skeeter Boats and Yamaha.
Bassmaster Supporting Sponsors: Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota and Triton Boats.