Combs has plenty of room to grow

When I received my Day 1 Marshal Pairing last night which revealed I’d be spending the day with Keith Combs, I had visions of spending the day watching him hurl a Strike King 6XD all over the Tennessee River fishery.

To that point, we’ve been in the boat together a shade over four hours and I just saw the crankbait for the first time today.

Combs has four fish in his Ranger livewells that go just shy of eight pounds. He’s caught those four, along with a number of shorts, on a Strike King Thunder Cricket and he keeps mixing in a jerkbait presentation in an effort to, “keep’em honest,” as Combs put it.

The Shimano Seaguar Pro from the Lone Star State has been running a series of shallow water humps so far today which yielded him marginal results in practice.

“I caught 13 to 16 pounds each day in practice,” admits Combs. “That should be enough here this week to get paid, but this has been even tougher than I expected so far today.”

Not sure how much longer Combs plans to give the hump thing a go but he has indicated he’s headed up to fish docks here soon. At any rate, Combs has plenty of room to grow if he can collide with the right Guntersville fish.

Early to rise, early to the scales

With most of our Bassmaster Elite Series schedule weighted on the springtime side of the calendar, we rarely see takeoff times as early as 5:30 a.m.

I'm more curious than anything else about how that will play into the time management of the anglers. Many practiced from sunup until 9 p.m. Chris Zaldain and Brock Mosley practiced for 13 hours, and they are only two examples.

What will be interesting to note, and I'll pose this question at weigh-in, is how that timeline affects the early and late bites. If an early bite is your game, then you will have plenty of time to give it a run. But what about all the guys whose best time during practice was later in the afternoon? As in 3 p.m. or so and beyond?

The weigh-in could provide the clues. The first flight is due back at 2 p.m.; the last flight checks in at 3 p.m. Let's see how it all pans out.

Hudnall lands 6-5 early

Derek Hudnall had the big bass lead at 8 o’clock this morning, thanks to this 6-pound, 5-ounce largemouth he landed at 7:37. It’s almost half the weight of his 14-pound, 13-ounce limit, which had him in second place 2 1/2 hours into Day 1 at Lake Guntersville.

Birds, drones and keepers

Below the cackles of a tree full of cormorants, Frank Talley is ripping a couple different moving baits through shallow grass on the end of a narrow island. A few birds cruise by at low altitude and a bit later the drone appears and hovers for while. Talley delivers and a second keeper quickly enters the live well on his Caymas. Cody Hollen comes over and they enjoy a casual conversation. It’s a beautiful day and these guys are calm and relaxed.

Chris Reynolds

Northern anglers feeling at home

Lake Guntersville is unusually clear in many areas. As Hank Cherry put it yesterday, “Some of the water here is as clear as it is up north. Scary clear.” Scary clear to some, maybe, but feels-like-home clear to northern anglers, none more so than Wisconsin native Caleb Kuphall this morning. He’s taken advantage of a milfoil flat in 6 feet of water to put together a near-20-pound bag. It includes a 5 1/2-pounder, a 5 and a 4-0 for 19-4, according to BassTrakk.

Swindle: Heavy spaghetti and soaking crankbaits

At the end of a speed walk back from a boat ramp bathroom, and just before launching at Day 1 of the Berkley Bassmaster Elite Series on Lake Guntersville, Team Toyota’s Gerald Swindle took time to talk about everything from soaking his Rapala crankbaits to wife Lulu’s spaghetti.

Q: You posted a picture on social media last night of Rapala crankbaits soaking in water inside a Y’all Sweet Tea mug, what was going on there?

Swindle: I had drilled four microscopic holes in them to let the water soak into the famous Rapala balsa wood, which will make ‘em sink a little better, and dive a little deeper.

Q: How many pounds would you be happy with catching today to go to bed tonight knowing you had a great day, and a solid chance at Sunday’s Top 10?

Swindle: 21-pounds

Q: What’s the very first lure you’re going to throw today?

Swindle: One of those custom-soaked DT crankbaits.

Q: How was Lulu’s spaghetti last night?

Swindle: Good and gone. I put four paper plates together to hold the weight of it all.

Q: You’re a music lover. What song is stuck in your head right now?

Swindle: Old school country – John Conlee’s “Rose Colored Glasses.”

“These rose-colored glasses that I'm looking through show only the beauty. 'Cause they hide all the truth.” – John Conlee (1978).

Cherry and company

Hank Cherry, Cody Hollen and Frank Talley are all fishing in a confined area. Cherry is the defending world champion who won his title here in 2020. Talley won here last June.

The trio are fishing a massive eelgrass flat growing around an island. The strike zone tapers from 15 feet to the shoreline, and jerkbaits and other reaction baits are the lures of choice.

Yesterday I talked with Cherry while doing Dock Talk. He told me due to the strong easterly winds that he's fishing on the east shore to avoid it. The wind is relatively calm now, but daytime heating kicks it up.

Fishing frenzy near Goose Pond

Not far from Goose Pond we came upon five Elite anglers mining a feeding frenzy. Three of the guys were catching bass on nearly every other cast. And not surprisingly, those three were at the top of the BassTrakk leaderboard, at least for now.

Pat Schlapper is in first with 14-6. Drew Benton is second with 11-4. And David Mullins is third with 10 pounds. All have limits.

Darold Gleason is in on the party with three keepers for 5-8. And Shane Lineberger is here as well, though we have not seen him catch a fish.

While the flurry was taking place the guys were joking and sharing information.

“I must be throwing the wrong thing,” said Lineberger. Benton tossed his lure over near Shane so he could see it. “I don’t have one of those,” said Lineberger.

“It’s the only one I have and they don’t make it anymore,” said Benton. “I sure hope I don’t lose it.”

So it’s, right place and right time for Lineberger, but the wrong lure. Thus are the vicissitudes of fishing, whether you are fishing for a living or just for fun.

He proceeded to depart the area. The frenzy has died down for everyone else and the party atmosphere has calmed down.

Where are Guntersville’s big bass?

In the two previous times the Elite Series came to Lake Guntersville in May, it took a four-day total topping 100 pounds to win. On May 6-9, 2010, Aaron Martens won with 107 pounds, 8 ounces, and three other anglers topped 100 pounds. On May 7-10, 2011, Skeet Reese won with 100-13. But that was more than a decade ago.

Guntersville still ranks as one of the best bass fishing lakes in America. The big bass haven’t disappeared. But last fall’s Elite Series win here by Frank Talley showed how fickle the bass bite can be at various times of year - no matter where you’re fishing. Talley won with a four-day total of 64-3, an average of just over 16 pounds a day. After three days of practice, it seems Lake Guntersville has presented the Elite Series anglers with another puzzle to solve.

“You can do anything you want and catch 2-pounders,” said Brandon Palaniuk. "But 2-pounders aren’t going to cut it, and 3-pounders are hard to come by right now.”

Shortly after the 5:30 a.m. takeoff this morning, BassTrakk was lighting up with fish catches. And Pat Schlapper, the Elite Series rookie from Wisconsin, put a 5-pound, 5-ounce bass in the boat at 6 a.m. Maybe the puzzle is starting to be solved.

Combs starting his day

Good Morning from the Berkley Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Guntersville

Keith Combs is starting his day in an area he found early in practice. According to Combs, practice was rather difficult. Combs was expecting to come to the Alabama fishery and locate the ledge bite but that hasn’t materialized for him yet.

While he’s not found the desired ledge bite that is the preferred method of catching this time of year, he’s seen a few fish still on beds and admitted that we could be junk fishing a little today until the Strike King Pro from Texas is able to get into a rhythm.

Combs, an Elite Series veteran, has won over a million dollars fishing at B.A.S.S. in his 11th season with two wins under his belt.