This week's Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville is shaping up to be one of the better contests of the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series. By most accounts the favorite is Kevin VanDam. Greg Vinson doesn't disagree with that assessment.
"I don't see how you can pick anyone else. His record here is extraordinary, and he's hot this year. That's about all it takes to get on top and stay on top. But don't forget there are dark horses in this tournament — guys who know how to bass fish and know how to win.
"Tim Horton is my pick in that category. He's somewhat local with a lot of experience on the lake, he knows how to win, and he's a really good offshore angler with the skills that'll be needed in this tournament."
Those skills include developing a pattern that'll produce heavy keepers from a multitude of locations. Vinson reports water temperatures around 70 degrees with stormy weather, heavy rain and tons of stained water flowing into the reservoir from the Tennessee River.
"The fish are scattered as of right now (Tuesday evening). With the weather forecast the way it is, I'd say they'll stay that way — halfway between the beds and their summer holding areas. And they'll likely be moving from one staging area to another.
"That'll put a premium on anglers who can develop productive milk runs. I don't think anybody will be able to camp on a mother lode of 5 pounders. Frankly, the best spot I've found so far produced three keeper bites. That's a stop along the way, not a winning spot."
That doesn't mean, however, that Vinson is predicting light weights.
"I'd guess it'll take 16 pounds a day (32 pounds) to make the first cut, 18 a day (54 pounds) to fish on Sunday and 21 pounds a day (84 pounds) to win this thing. Don't forget, this is Guntersville. Conditions might be a little tough, but are a lot of big bass in here. Whoever finds the right pattern will bring some serious weight to the scales over four days of fishing.
"And, speaking of serious weight, I'll predict the biggest bass at about 8 pounds. If that sounds small given my other predictions consider the fact that nearly all of the bass will be post-spawn. The big, egg laden females are mostly gone. That'll reduce the possibility of catching a monster. Reducing the possibility doesn't mean impossible, though."
Taking everything he knows into consideration, Vinson believes most anglers will stick with standard post-spawn lures. He looks for spinnerbaits, crankbaits and maybe a few worms to rule the day.
"I don't see anything out of the ordinary. But, you never know. There may be a topwater bite developing, especially early in the morning. Even if that happens, however, it won't change the strategy of the tournament much.
"And forget about rat fishing and bed fishing. The grass isn't thick enough for a rat, and after Thursday there won't be enough bed fish around to make a difference. This'll be standard meat and potatoes bass fishing; at least that's the way I see it as of this evening."
Guntersville covers a lot of water — just over 69,000 acres. Almost anything can — and probably will — develop as the tournament rolls along. If our Wetumpka, Ala., pro has it right this will be an event to remember.