GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Terry Scroggins had just launched his boat on Lake Guntersville for the first time this season.
"I bet we can catch 'em just around the corner," he said that cold, damp afternoon, a week before competition was to begin in the Alabama Charge on Pickwick Lake, about 100 miles to the northwest.
He dropped his trolling motor into the 50-degree water about 75 yards off shore, pointed to a pipe sticking out of the bank near a bridge, and said "cast right there."
Within seconds, we both hooked into 3-pound bass and it was like that for the next 30 minutes; one good fish after another, with some weighing up to 5 pounds.
How did he know?
"This is a classic prespawn spot — textbook, actually — for this time of year," the Florida pro shrugged.
It was a spot where he has caught them before this time of year, yet his ability to call the shots without making a cast distinguishes one of the many differences between pro and amateur anglers.
As we looked around the lake, other bass anglers were thrashing grass and banks with a variety of shallow running lures. Yet, we sat over 16 feet of water, casting deep-running Fat Free Shad crankbaits to an old roadbed that meandered across a creek.
"If the water warms up next week, those fish we're catching will be trying to spawn in the back of this creek," Scroggins surmised. "But the water's too cold, so they're staging here. It's a premier spot to find them when the water is in the 50s."
The roadbed was covered with broken cement, rocks and other debris. It rose to about 7 feet on top before tumbling into the creek channel. The bass were feeding on shad that could be seen flitting on the surface throughout the day.
We were sitting about 3/4 of the way back into the creek, and the spot offered the last deep water before the creek petered out onto the flats in the rear.
"The other thing that makes this good is current," Scroggins continued. "They're pulling water through the causeway, and that creates a feeding frenzy. Every big fish in this creek is ganged up here waiting to head into the back to spawn."
You could feel the crankbait bang along the road, and each time we paused it to allow it to float free of debris, a bass would smash it.
"That's another key this time of year — deflect the bait off objects," Scroggins added. "Even though our baits run 15 feet deep, we can bang them over that shallow road and make them move erratically, and that's what triggers a lot of strikes."
Will this be a pattern he will employ on Pickwick during the Alabama Charge?
"If the water temperature stays in the 50s, I guarantee you the guy who finds something like this is going to catch 'em good," he said.